Jane Caro in conversation with Alex Sloan

It was to the ANU’s brand new Kambri Cultural Centre that we went for this week’s ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author event with Jane Caro, who is doing a book tour with her new book Accidental feminists. Kambri is not as cosy as the old venue but is bigger, more flexible, and offers a cash bar! What’s not to like? Oh, and to add to the enjoyment, there is, on the lecture theatre’s side wall, an impressive 20-metre-long Sidney Nolan mural, The Eureka Stockade, which was donated to the University by the Reserve Bank of Australia, for whom it was originally created in 1966.

Anyhow, as always MC Colin Steele started the evening off with some housekeeping and then introduced Jane Caro (who needed no introduction) and her interlocutor Alex Sloan (who needed no introduction – in Canberra, anyhow). And then we were  off …

With no beating about the bush, Sloan got stuck right in by sharing the Walkley Award judges’ comment that Caro was “an invaluable warrior for women’s rights”, and then referring to Caro’s comment on the morning’s TV show Sunrise regarding the renewed asylum-seeker/people smuggler debate. Caro said that “Australia needs to find its moral compass again” and that the scare campaigns being waged against “people who are in tragic circumstances” means we “have reached a new low in this country.” Sloan asked Caro to comment on this, particularly regarding the reactions to it.

Say what you think

It was the perfect question for Caro to explain her modus operandi. She’s not “going to play the stupid game” and hide from unpleasantness, she said. This is about morality, and she believes that “If you say what you think, and mean it genuinely, nothing bad happens.” I like this faith!

The problem, she says, is that we worry too much about what we say, and how we look. She learnt – with, she wasn’t afraid to admit, the help of therapy – that she can’t control how people respond to her, so she now just says what she wants. She’s not here, she said, to be liked or approved of. Confidence, she believes, comes from recognising this, and from realising that there is no magic formula, that risk is a reality.

Jane Caro, Accidental feministsThe conversation then moved to the main reason we were there, her book Accidental feminists. It was inspired by her discovery that women aged over 50 comprise the fastest growing group of homeless people. She was shocked because this was her age-group, a group she’d believed revolutionary because they were the first cohort to earn their own money for most of their lives. Why were they ending up in this situation?

At this point the conversation turned historical, to how things were in the 1950s to 70s:

  • many girls were discouraged from continuing their education because they’d only be working for a while and then getting married.
  • many women were suspicious of/didn’t support Women’s Libbers (Feminists today), feeling that their lives were being criticised rather than that they were being “offered new horizons.”
  • women were brought up with a sense of inferiority, of feeling lesser, something which continues today. (For example, women are still less likely to speak up in public gatherings.)

Caro quoted Hugh Mackay’s definition of feminism from his book What makes us tick?:

Feminism is the fight by one half of the human race to be taken seriously by the other half.

Sloan asked Caro, how, then, had these “accidental feminists” come about. Caro identified a few causes, which were obvious to those of us who lived through this time:

  • the Pill which “unshackled women from their reproductive system” providing them with choices never available before
  • the Whitlam government’s provision of free tertiary education, which saw more young (and in fact middle-aged middle-class) women go to university.

What about the men?

Next Sloan moved onto the role of men, quoting ACT feminist Virginia Haussegger’s suggestion that men should be seen as crucial part of the solution, not the problem. Caro agreed, suggesting that feminism, in fact, offers men, too, the opportunity to live broader, freer lives. She also said that men are starting to defend women. Hmmm, my immediate reaction was why should women need to be defended by men, but Caro second-guessed that when she went on to explain that male champions are important because they put people on notice that it’s all about being human.

A brief reference was made to the #metoo movement whose main benefit Caro suggested is that it is shattering the silence, because silence puts the vulnerable at risk.

From here the conversation covered a variety of topics. One concerned “dutiful daughters” and the fact that women tend to take on the major caring roles – for children, for parents – which interrupts their working lives. She reported Betty Friedan’s criticism of the anti-feminist group, “Women Who Want to be Woman”. Friedan pointed out that such women “are one bread-winner away from the poverty line”. Caro discussed this in some detail in the Australian context – particularly regarding women’s inability to get jobs when they are older, the gap between when they are no longer employed and are able to access the pension. She somewhat jokingly suggested that the most important financial advice for women is to “work on your marriage!” Hmmm, perhaps that’s what the “women who want to be women” think they are doing, but my, they are taking a risk.

I have just given the bare bones here. The actual conversation included several anecdotes, not to mention facts and figures, to support Caro’s arguments, but you’ll just have to take these as read I’m afraid. That sort of detail is hard to capture while trying to enjoy yourself as well!

Q & A

There was a Q&A but the session was recorded so if you are interested, do Google the event in a couple of days. Meanwhile I’ll just share a couple of the points that were made:

  • Caro hates the term “work-life” balance because she doesn’t see them as separate things. Work is part of life. Now this could lead to a whole new conversation and what “work” is and how we “value” it, and it was clear than Caro has a raft of arguments to support her view.
  • Reference was made to Julia Baird’s recent article about politicians, merit and quotas. Worth reading if you haven’t seen it.
  • Caro argue that there’s nothing wrong with preaching to the converted. If you don’t keep them on-side someone else may convert them! Further, “the converted” have a sphere of influence which they can impact if they are kept informed and on-side.
  • Caro critiqued women taking their husband’s names. Women, she said, argue they’re assertive at work but then take on a “placatory” attitude at home. Yes! I truly cannot understand why contemporary young women are regressing in this regard. It’s a small thing in one sense, but in another it feels indicative.

Finally, when asked what advice she’d give young girls, Caro said:

Look to your Super. You are not here to make someone else’s life brilliant. You do not have to perform a role. Your job is to become as fully yourself as you can.

An interesting, inspiring and, yes, entertaining conversation, that was nicely managed by Sloan who, with the professionalism she’s known for, went with the flow while also ensuring the main issues were covered.

ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author
MC: Colin Steele
Australian National University
18 February 2019

My literary week (14), lists and a celebrity

I don’t really need to write a post today having written two in the last two days, but there are a couple of things I’d love to share with you, so here I am for the third day in a row.

Reading group schedule

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universeFirst up is my reading group schedule for the first half of the next year, which we decided by consensus – with a bit of the usual argy-bargy – a few days ago. Here’s the list in the order we’ll read them:
  • Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe : strongly recommended by an ex-member (“ex” because she moved away) whose recommendations are usually spot on – and with supporting recommendation by Brother Gums whose taste is also impeccable.
  • Anita Heiss (ed), Growing up Aboriginal in Australia : for obvious reasons, and because if the University of Melbourne believes its staff should read it, then so should we!
  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead : because many of us have been wanting to “do” Marilynne Robison for some time.
  • Amor Towles, A gentleman in Moscow : because many of us have heard good things about it.
  • Sayaka Murata, Convenience store woman : because we’d like to include more translated fiction in our reading diet and this sounded interesting.
  • Mary McCarthy, The group : our “classic”, which some have never read and others are interested to read again in our current climate.
You will of course hear more about these as 2019 progresses …

Eric Idle in conversation with Alex Sloan

Eric Idle, Always look on the bright side of lifeAs most Aussie readers will know, Monty Python member Eric Idle is currently doing the rounds in Australia promoting his book Always look on the bright side of life: A sortabiography. I’m intrigued by that subtitle given the various discussions we’ve had here recently about memoirs and biography – but I haven’t read it yet so I can’t tell you what angle, if any, Idle has taken on the biography form.

Anyhow, the event I attended was part of the ANU/Canberra Times Meet the Author series, this one a paid event, with the ticket price including a signed copy of the book. I went with friends so didn’t take my usual copious notes. Indeed, I took no notes, so this will be a brief report.

I suspect most of the events ran pretty similarly, with a few variations depending on who “conversed” with Idle. Anne of Cat Politics, who occasionally comments here, went to the Melbourne event where the conversation was conducted by Michael Williams of The Wheeler Centre. She has written about it on her blog. We had a similar discussion, led beautifully by Alex Sloan, about Idle’s life and, career and his friendships with people like George Harrison. We also had a couple of songs, including the “Selfies” one (for which Anne provides a Youtube link.) Our event, like hers, ended up with Idle singing “Always look on the bright side of life”, except we had a small backing group, The Idlers, drawn from the Canberra Choral Society. That was fun – and I think they enjoyed themselves, too.

But, I think we may have had something else unique to us – a discussion about physics. Our event commenced with a YouTube video of Idle doing his “Galaxy Song”, after which ANU Vice-chancellor and Nobel Laureate in Physics, Brian Schmidt, came to the stage to introduce Idle. In doing so shared with us some – let us say – disagreements between Eric Idle and physicist Brian Cox about certain facts in the song. Schmidt suggested that, on one fact at least – to do with the power of the sun – he’s decided to agree with Idle. There was some lovely banter about all this, with Idle, who has performed the Galaxy Song with Cox, telling us that he’d told Cox that the facts were correct when he wrote the song: it was Science that had changed (due to that darned Hubble Telescope). You can Google Brian Cox and Eric Idle to find out more – if you haven’t seen them already.

Kate’s list of lists

As a service to us all, Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) has published a post titled Best Books of 2018 – A List of Lists. In it she has listed the Best of 2018 lists already published by magazines and newspapers around the world – with annotations explaining what they cover. For example, of Esquire’s list she says “excellent mix of 50 fiction and nonfiction titles” and for NPR’s Best Books of 2018 she writes “use the filters to wade through this 300-strong list”.
Kate will be adding to this post as more lists are published. If you love book lists, bookmark her post!

Quote of the week

Clare Wright, You daughters of freedomHopefully, by the end of next week I’ll have written my post on Clare Wright’s You daughters of freedom, but I can’t resist sharing just one of many wonderful quotes from the book. This one is not Clare Wright’s own words, but a description of England’s “suffragette agitators” by the UK’s attorney-general at the time. He called them “those unsexed hyenas in petticoats”. Really!? You have to laugh!