I’m rarely intimidated by anyone or anything, but I did feel in awe of author Jane Gilmore before our Perspectives podcast ‘The F Bomb’. I was anxious about being an amateur feminist vs her card carrying one, but Jane was fast to reassure me my credentials were fine.
“Nobody springs fully formed from the brain of Roxane Gay so to say I am now the perfect feminist and I never get anything wrong and understand all of it, it’s such bollocks,” she said.
"There’s still things I don’t understand and still things I haven’t decided how to think about it. I still internalise stuff—it runs so deep, all those lessons we learn since we were babies, and I still make mistakes.
"My daughter turns around and says, “Why am I doing the dishes and Luke is taking out the rubbish?’ and I’m like, 'Good question, why are you?' It took her to put it out, so this idea that you’re a good feminist or an amateur feminist is bullshit.”
Jane’s definition of how she describes feminism and what it is to her fascinated me. It's about perspective and willingness to learn and understand from other people’s perspective.
“The word I use is liberation," she said.
"Liberation from those ideas about gender that keep us locked into tiny little squares, so small that to be a good woman you have to be pretty and slim and white an attractive and not too opinionated and not too annoying and keep yourself small, physically small and emotionally small and intellectually small."
At the same time, "men are also really limited in what they can do, they have to be strong and stoic and powerful and in control and in charge and never vulnerable or emotional," Jane said.
"They’re allowed to have rage and lust and that’s about it. Of course they have the full range of complex competing emotions that all humans do, but to express it diminishes them as a man.”
A game I like to play is the hypothetical, Queen For a Day—you know, what you would do if you had full power over everyone and everything between (in the time frame I use) 8am and 8pm.
Jane—who said if she was in charge she'd probably kick off a bit later than 8— admitted sometimes she loves to lie in bed and read all day with her dog, but if she had the opportunity to change global economies and institutions there would't be much downtime.
We both agreed one of the first things we'd do—for me, it would be ticked off between 10 and 11am before morning tea—would be tackle prison reform.
Punishment is not proving to prevent recidivism. I would reform it so it became education about emotionality, about healthy boundaries, about how to restore fragile non existent self esteem, recognise and identify our emotions, then educate them on a skill they can take to the community.
Have you seen PBS' 2019 documentary College Behind Bars? It revealed the transformative power of higher education through the experiences of men and women in prison, how teaching people in jail means when they're out, the recurrence of crime plummets.
Jane agreed reforms are vital, but are politically difficult to sell. “If you educate people ... they don't commit crimes again. This is not some airy fairy leftie academic bullshit thing, it’s proven.”
The subject of prisoners and punishment is of deep interest to the freelance columnist, who recently finished her Masters in journalism at Melbourne University.
Her must-read 2019 book Fixed It shone a much needed light on how acts of domestic violence are treated by the media, and she’s a passionate advocate for prison reform and education.
In it, Jane turned around headlines which had run in mainstream media stories about domestic violence, a technique which I think has improved things in the awareness about how the stories are now sold in papers and online.
One example was an original Cairns Post headline: 'Police charge young male with illicit attack on young mother.' Under Jane's edit, it became 'Man charged with attempted rape of woman.'
“Illicit attack makes it sound like he pulled her pigtails or something," said Jane, whose technique is effective in its simplicity and purpose.
"There’s no point yelling at people. It’s about getting them on board rather than blaming or shaming. A friend calls it the difference between calling people out and calling them in.”
“I think the conversation needs to be about the perpetrator firstly. We need to stop thinking about them as either evil monsters or a good guy that made a mistake. Those things are not true,” said Jane.
Gender issues and domestic violence don’t make for light conversation but they are so important now, with the Morrison government issuing draft terms of reference on May 31 for a new inquiry into domestic violence.
“This is not just a thing where we’re saying lives would be better for women,” said Jane of social change. “Lives would be better for everyone. Nobody loses out of this and the benefits are huge.”