Fearless feminist and online sensation Clementine Ford is a beacon of hope and inspiration for thousands of Australian women and girls.
According to Anne Summers, her book Fight Like A Girl is ‘an impassioned call to arms for girls of all ages’. In this feminist memoir and powerful polemic Ford shares her stories of anxiety, anorexia, abortion and birth. She takes on women against feminism, rampant misogyny, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women.
As a modern-day feminist Ford believes that it’s perhaps more challenging now for women to powerfully identify and align with politics because sexism and patriarchal oppression is no longer explicit; it is insidious.
‘It makes it difficult to explain to people, and sometimes I think the struggle might have been easier in the 70s when it was around equal pay, around representation in the workplace or government. It is really difficult to explain to people what we are up against now. It’s like explaining what a gas is. You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, but it’s everywhere around you.’
Ford’s online critiques have made her a visible target for online trolls. Something she writes about in her book.
‘A lot of the stuff people say to me is reportable, but the police don’t really care. They can’t be bothered doing something about it and the solution I am offered is to get offline.’
Once again the predominant ideology is to blame the victim for the behaviour. It’s the same approach as don’t walk at night or don’t wear a short skirt. Asking the woman to modify her behaviour rather than asking the man to modify his.
Clementine believes this response is underpinned by a very simple fact. ‘It’s much easier to target women’s behaviour because we are comfortable telling women what they should do.’
A common insult that Ford investigates is to use a woman’s self-image to denigrate her. Instead of ideas being questioned, very often as a writer she’s called ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’, an insult most outspoken women have had levelled at them at some time in their career.
‘I look at the underpinning of fat and ugly and it’s meant to erase women; it’s the rent we pay for having an opinion…’ says Ford.
‘The most beautiful women in the world can say something a man doesn’t like, and she’ll have that kind of abuse levelled at her.
Anger is expressed twofold. Part of it is being outraged; after all, this woman who is supposed to express a function and they have to reassert their power.
‘In one point in my book I liken this to a boil. Previously there was this nasty boil that people just ignored; they weren’t confronted with the true hideousness of it. As a result of cleaning the wound we are cleaning the pus out.
“The mistake is to ignore these people. The truth is they are functioning members of society.’
But trolling and insults don’t diminish Ford. She continues to speak out loudly, in spite of the hateful vitriol.
‘It’s quite liberating to embrace it on an individual level,’ says Ford. ‘It doesn’t bother me if some man on the street says I am an ugly bitch. It’s not something that is going to send me home. I am an ugly bitch and no-one wants to fuck me. It’s meant to reduce us as women because we all still live under the big umbrella of the male gaze.’
One of the issues that Ford takes on is ‘choice feminism’. The idea that informed women make ‘choices’ about their social roles, about botox use, about how they dress or present themselves in the world.
‘Choice feminism is really ignorant. It’s ignorant of the pressures of capitalism, of race. It says, It’s my choice therefore it’s feminist. It’s not.
‘How much can any of us ever say that our choices are free? As humans we don’t make free choices, we make choices based on the conditioning of women in society. If we lived completely by ourselves, in the wilderness, and had nothing to do with human civilisation then maybe those would be choices. But all the choices we make are informed by a system of currency that we perceive we gain from – and in that system there’s no way women can win. They get shamed for too much plastic surgery, and they get shamed for looking old. Our media tell us that women are driven by vanity, that we are self-indulgent. This is why women aren’t put into positions of power.
‘Sometimes I like to go through the supermarket aisles and take photos of the magazine covers; the same woman lost five kilos on one magazine and then in another they’re showing us how fat she is. They say she can’t stop eating pizza. Taylor Swift is a young woman not yet in her 30s; every single relationship that ended, which is normal at that age, is depicted as a failure.
No-one says that about men’s relationships.’
Clementine believes that as a culture we are suffering from internalised misogyny.
‘We have been conditioned into this lie that women’s success can only come at the cost of other women. If she is successful then I won’t be. She has the limited amount of success that women are allowed. So I need to take that from her. Women say I’m not like that. I agree with you. I’m not that kind of woman. Most men generally aren’t conditioned to turn on each other to placate large groups of women. They don’t sit in opposition to large groups of women to align themselves with a dominant female.’
This is how Ford describes women who declare themselves as anti-feminists. ‘These young women are gleeful about aligning themselves with men. The say, ‘I enjoy male attention’ . One of the most heartbreaking things I come across is young women saying I have been raped or sexually assaulted but I know it was my fault because I didn’t take proper precautions.’
‘We continue to blame and shame girls for boys’ uncontrollable sexual appetites. Boys can’t be blamed for that because it’s their biology; men can’t be controlled for that. This is why it’s so difficult to have these conversations; society doesn’t want to acknowledge they have set these parameters.’
In her book Ford tells that she wasn’t always a feminist. For her, finding her voice, her passion and her politics was integral to finding herself.
‘It was glorious becoming a feminist,’ says Clementine.
‘It was this explosive beautiful tribal thing. I finally had a girl gang I could talk candidly with about the issues that plagued me. Having that freedom was incredibly liberating. I think it needs to be spoken of again and again: women connecting with women; and it’s not just about progression or mentoring, it’s about having a space where women can be open and candid, not shield anything or downplay anything, and not having to justify the life you have lived.’
Clementine Ford is a featured writer at this year’s Byron Writers Festival, 4–6 August. For tickets and program information go to byronwritersfestival.com.