Written by Satara Uthayakumaran
There is a current trend in activism; that it must be aesthetic.
That it must be pleasing to look at and satisfy the hunger of those with quests to make their lives more meaningful, whilst still being palatable and visually pleasing on a high school powerpoint. That it must fit the agenda of social media influencers if they are to post about it or be condensed into less than two hundred characters to fit a Tweet. As a result, the uglier, convoluted, messy and jarring aspects of injustice are often ignored by the public and left to rot, whilst edited photos of protests cover the latest issues of magazines across the globe.
There has always been a trend when it comes to this kind of activism. It looks pretty and is easy to fit into a textbook. Patches on bags, progressive laptop stickers, pins on blazers. The starter pack to fighting injustice which you could buy on Etsy for $20. This has an appeal, somewhat sensuous and also bold. As bold as the red lipstick, put out by your favourite make-up brand in line with their new social justice campaign.
Media attention is constantly drawn to the beautiful. It’s a historic truth.
Recently on the ABC program, Q+A, journalist Stan Grant pointed out that the March for Justice Protests were not the first time that women had cried out as a result of gross mistreatment. He did not hold back when critiquing the press for their constant ignorance to the pleas of other women to hear their voices. Grant stated “when I have seen Aboriginal women marching and protesting and calling for support for generations, I did not see the same women outside Parliament House…When poor women, when migrant women, when refugee women have suffered these things, I did not see the same media attention…Poor women do not end up on television programs, they are not on Q+A” and perhaps the most impactful statement of all, “when it becomes a white middle-class issue, when it is in private schools, when it is in Parliament House, when it is in the press gallery, we take notice.”
We call out Australian history, but this is a shameful part of the Australian present.
Annabel Crabb’s TV series Ms Represented was marked by the ABC as a pivotal program in pointing out the blatant misogyny in Parliament House. Whilst this alluded to the historical injustices perpetuated towards the first women in government, only four women of colour were featured in the entire series, three of whom were only featured in the first episode. And, whilst Julie Bishop spoke about how she felt attacked by not being able to wear her Armani suit, there was radio silence about the way racism and sexism compounded when Linda Burney became the first Indigenous woman to be elected to federal parliament.
To add to the way marginalised voices have been drowned out by louder, whiter voices, First Nations Academic Marcia Langton in 2018 critiqued a government report, released by Our Watch, that claimed domestic violence committed against Indigenous women and children was a direct result of colonisation. This is an argument most movements would find convincing, however Langton disagreed. She argued that some of the report’s findings were a result of the way white feminists ignored First Nations women and assumed to know an issue that they did not. Only recently has she once again called out the way Indigenous people are rarely consulted or involved in decisions made about responding to domestic violence in rural communities.
Similarly, issues that are prevalent to women within the disabled community are too often perceived as having little to no relevance in the mainstream feminist movement, and if they are, will often be treated as secondary. As author Rosemarie Garland Thomson highlights in her work, Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory, feminist assumptions often fail to consider the situations of women with disabilities. She goes even further to say that disability can complicate a mainstream feminist’s understanding of the female body and how oppression is typically perceived, creating disjunction simply because mainstream feminism is unable to account for those who do not have the typical characteristics of people assigned female at birth.
We are unaware of our own biases when we attempt to be inclusive of all voices.
The Australia we exist in now reflects many faces, multi-faceted opinions and complex issues. If we want to call out the toxic culture that impacts all women in Australia, it is our ethical duty to recognise every victim, and how their colour, appearance or socio-economic background intersects with their experience of discrimination. We must all take proactive steps to research the hidden truths of mistreatment in this country and fight back when those who have even less of a voice are pushed to silence.
Satara Uthayakumaran studies Arts/Law at the Australian National University. She has previously written for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Sydney Morning Herald. Satara has also appeared on national television, most notably for her conversation with previous Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on women of colour in leadership.