For part one of the interview, click here.
Do you think that there is such thing as women’s writing (as separate to “normal” writing/men’s writing)?
My character Sophie ponders this in My Candlelight Novel, and I don’t think she comes to a firm conclusion. Virginia Woolf said that you shouldn’t write as a woman or as a man: you should be woman-manly. But I think that because writers bring their own experiences of the world into their work the writer’s gender (and class and sexuality and race) must creep in there and influence it. There would be something wrong if it didn’t, surely. And women’s subject matter has often been seen as irrelevant (writing about war is more important that writing about a drawing room: Woolf again).
Do you actively call yourself a feminist? What does feminism mean to you and your writing?
Yes, I would call myself a feminist; I think it’s so ingrained in me that I don’t notice it. When you write, I don’t think you should try to insert values – they are implicitly there. Though maybe people could read my writing (and deconstruct it?) and conclude I’m not a feminist. That would be amusing. I would also call myself a socialist and even an anarchist, though all I do these days is sit in the country and write books. And grow vegetables (my ‘grassroots defiance against the capitalist diet’). I have a history, as you know, as a poster artist – there’s this playful aspect to the way I encounter and criticise the world. Basically, I’m unconventional. I go my own way, don’t care shit for the middle-class way of life.
As someone who would have experienced both the second and third (and subsequent?) waves, what do you think are the most important things feminism has achieved since the 1960s? What do you think still needs to be done?
( Discuss, in 60,000 words? – I’ll try to be brief) When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s I became aware of the limitations placed on women, as countless women in all ages and places must have. Who doesn’t notice that they are oppressed? But at that point in time, due to historical and economic circumstances it became possible for women to begin organising again. Firstly, in my teen years, I was a socialist, and also opposed to the war in Vietnam, something that ‘politicised’ a lot of people in those days. Then when I left school, and went to Sydney, I encountered the women in the so-called second wave. Issues: equal pay, abortion, even the right to walk into a public bar! ‘Not the church, not the state, a woman should decide her fate’. This basic right to control what happens to your own body. Access to contraception if you were unmarried. Domestic violence – there was an need for women’s shelters, and changes to the way girls were treated in the welfare system. Most of us would have called ourselves socialists: class and opportunity was an issue. (But of course there were many kinds of women’s groups; the one I’m talking about is the Glebe Group, which was based near the university). On an early march I went on, men jeered at us and yelled that we were too ugly to get boyfriends and were all lesbians. (Oh, scare us with that!) I always loved the look of the women I mixed with, so completely themselves, busy with things that mattered to them and confident and happy with their bodies; not bothered about dieting or making themselves acceptable for the male gaze. Many of us were very young, and some were in their 30s or 40s. There were much older women such as Bessie Guthrie who inspired and educated us, and who was central to so many campaigns. But I haven’t answered your question. A lot has been achieved, but attitudes take more than a few generations to change. Keep fighting, sisters!
You’ve mentioned that your current manuscript will partly be about feminism and the women’s liberation movement in 1972. Why did you choose to feature this? Why do you think it is still relevant for readers in 2012?
40 years on: it’s part of history. This year is also the 40th anniversary of Dennis Altman’s book ‘Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation.’ It was a watershed year. The Whitlam Labor government was elected in December that year. Did you know that one of the first things they did was take the luxury tax off the contraceptive pill? A ‘luxury tax’ – can you imagine? Whatever its health drawbacks (and it was a lot safer than abortion or continual childbirth) ‘The Pill’ as it was called freed a lot of women. And Labor brought the troops home from Vietnam, and released imprisoned draft resisters. Fighting in dodgy foreign wars is still an issue. But mainly (and here’s place again) I had an urge to write about those times. Memory and loss. I have a novelist’s eye – always have had. I wanted to capture the texture and atmosphere of the times – and they were strange days, indeed. Particularly the house that was the centre of the Glebe Women’s Liberation group, 67 Glebe Point Road (now it’s the Cafe Rolling Stones), where I lived not once, but twice. I was a funny, idealistic little girl from the country in a duffle coat, a nascent novelist, looking at it all and taking it all in. I didn’t know that one day I would write about it. But that’s what novelists do.
If anyone has any questions of their own, I’m sure Jo wouldn’t mind answering them here, so leave a comment!