Thanks to a dear friend of mine, I got to watch this fabulous Oz documentary called “Brazen Hussies” which was a celebration of the women of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 60s and 70s who started the feminist revolution in Australia.
So many parts were utterly infuriating.
I watched archival footage of men crowded in bars that women were banned from entering, as their wives sat in their cars at the front of the bar, sometimes with their children, waiting for their husbands to come out, most likely pissed. I listened as women spoke about having no idea that they were allowed to dream of anything other than marrying a man and having his children. I watched men attack women who spoke about wanting to have equal pay for equal work and quip that a woman is actually worth-less than a man and their role is to acquiesce to the demands of the male.
And then there were the parts that made me feel total awe for these women who sparked a movement for social change, for to be that spark, means to put everything you have at risk.
These women were chaining themselves to bars, marching in the streets for childcare, for the right to a safe abortion, to keep their own baby even if they weren’t married without shame and with assistance. Indigenous women fighting for the right for equality for themselves AND their men. Women meeting together for the first time in their lives, and in the history of all of women’s lives, and being able to discuss this feeling of emptiness or distrust of a society which told them that they were nothing.
I felt real fear as I watched those women. Sometimes it was just one woman chaining herself to a building or to a bar filled with drunken men, and she stood there, stoic and seemingly fearless. At one event at the University of Sydney in September 1970, they allowed one woman, Kate Jennings, to speak at the event after much begging to the male activists, and she yelled into the microphone:
“It suits you to keep women in the kitchen, and in underpaid menial jobs, under your veneer you are brothers to the pig politicians…You’ll say I’m a man hating, bra burning, lesbian member of the castration penis envy brigade, which I am….And I say to every woman that every time you’re put down or fucked over – tell them to suck their own cocks!”
The response was a feeling of danger and the men in the audience started yelling:
“You belong on your back, you ugly bitch”
This response is really a normal response in patriarchy to a woman with a voice. Powerful women need to be silenced, and the best way to silence a woman, is to shame her. Shame is what puts us back in our boxes and tells us that we are not good enough or don’t have anything important to say. A woman with a voice is of course, ugly to patriarchy, and she needs to be reminded of this just in case she decides to speak again.
And the patriarchy tried to put those 1960s women back in their boxes. As the male control media did their damndest to put a stop to the empowerment of women by humiliating them and downplaying their achievements at every turn, they kept pushing forward and busting apart the myths of female weakness and building social structures so that women could survive in the world on their own if they needed to.
It made me think a lot about what I have been learning about the world in which my parents grew up in; the ways that my mum must have been taught to never go to the “dark side” of feminism. The ways that my dad was taught how to be a “real man” and to never show any weakness. The ways in which our socialisation processes tear into our individuality and make us question, and doubt, who we are or who we want to be, and instead sacrifice those desires to be acceptable to the status quo. There was a scene in the film where the women were sitting together sharing their experiences and one woman said that the person she was most angry with was herself, for not knowing that the whole story that she was being told about what a woman was, was total bullshit.
That old Ancient Athenian, Plato, wrote an allegory (aptly titled “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave”) in which he wanted us to imagine ourselves as prisoners in a dark cave where we have all been trapped in since birth, chained to face the wall in front of us beside prisoners in the same position. In front of us, all we can see are indistinct images bouncing off the wall and we can hear slight echoes of noises around. This is the only world that we have ever known and thus this is our reality and we don’t question it as we think that this is what the world is like.
This reminds me of those women who had all been raised in a culture akin to a cave; one in which they were told that they needed to be quiet, to do their chores, to be agreeable, not run too fast and look pretty. Where education was more about learning etiquette and learning how to serve, and if you questioned it, you would be punished.
The second part of the Allegory of the Cave is when one of the prisoners breaks free. They run outside and see that there is a whole world out there. There is sunshine and people moving freely. There are trees and grass and beautiful clouds in the sky. It is almost overwhelming in its beauty. The prisoner runs back to the cave to go and tell all of the people inside, “Wake up everyone, there is a whole amazing world outside, come with me, let’s be free!”. But the people don’t believe the prisoner. They think the prisoner has gone mad and they don’t want to leave their cave. It is their whole reality, it is all that they have known.
All of us live in a cave of some kind where we sit in the dark and we don’t want to listen to the person telling us to break free. But sometimes, when someone we love or admire tells us to wake up to the world that is messing with our brains, so that we can experience that freedom from hypnosis, we hear that message, just like those brave women who marched in the streets and fought for so many of the rights that we have today.
When I think about the world today and the caves that we all live in, I appreciate a lot that things have changed in many ways, but sometimes I fear that we as women are losing it again. If we look at the number of women in positions of power, the money spent on the diet industry, the time spent hating our bodies or trying to perfect them, the ways in which women still do the majority of the housework even if they work full time. The idea that a woman can “have it all” (which basically means that we have to do EVERYTHING and not be compensated for it). That women can’t be too sexual, too skinny, too fat, too out there, too quiet, have too many children or no children, that women can’t walk down a dark street at night without fear.
And I think of that sole woman chained up at that bar that it was illegal for her to enter, and many women getting violently dragged out of other bars by the law enforcement, I think that it is time to pay our respects to these woman, by risking something of ourselves for our friends, for our children, for other women in the world, so that we can all wake up from this cave that we find ourselves in that keeps us blinded by the fear of shame.
Sonya Renee Taylor, the author of “The Body is Not an Apology” says that all of us need to believe in “radical self love”; this is where we love ourselves, not just for ourselves, but in order to lift up all people around us.
It is time for some of this radical self love. Let’s all be brazen hussies and practice some radical self love as we bust out of these caves.