There’s an emphasis on self-empowerment within contemporary feminism which I think is hugely important. But I also think that the idea of self-empowerment can become tangled up in capitalism’s consumer culture, and social media-driven narcissism, in ways that can warp it into an aggressive individualism. The kind of thinking I’m referring to privileges the ‘right’ to do whatever one wants to do for themselves over anything resembling genuine and thoughtful care for other people.
Last week, people gathered around the Opera House in Sydney, disgusted by how politicians had allowed a World Heritage public space to be sold off to the destructive and predatory gambling industry. As the protest swelled, it was reported how ‘the whole kitchen staff from the Bennelong restaurant gathered at their windows and gave the protesters a standing ovation.’ While a worker takeover of the Opera House seems unlikely, it also seems instinctively no less fair to give them a say in how their workplace is run.
Australian letters is like a microcosm of Australia itself: culturally diverse, politically varied across different states, tense and conflicted or humorous or affecting in turn. If there is one thing we may say about our literatures it is that there is a common thread of darkness underneath. Whether that thread references an unvoiced violence or subsumed toxic masculinities, or a wilfully forgotten colonial past, it is traceable in much of our writing, especially in the short story form.
Part of what underlies this debate is that the Yes campaign for marriage equality in 2017, in its most formal organised form (under the banner The Equality Campaign), emphasised LGBTIQ equality in private family life, rather than broader public life. The campaign quite explicitly decided not to defend Safe Schools, gender diversity, or to confront the homophobia and transphobia stirred up by the No campaign.
The past is always with us and carried over into the future, and this was evident in all submissions to the Mildura Indigenous Writers Award. The writing was diverse, engaging and overall very moving. History as ‘past-present-future’ was a strong theme.