Ageism and sexism have always been dance partners. Like peas in a pod. Like flies to shit piles.
I felt invisible until I was 45. So whilst I’ve packed as much as I can into my life, I’ve mainly kept my head down and tried to stay invisible.
Then I started doing comedy. Now as I enter my 49th year I am more visible than ever and here for the long haul.
For the first time in my life I feel my story is important. That all our stories are important. If we are going to get truly intersectional, now is the time.
I wanted to write about the feminist cause and how long it takes to get things done and how we will always need feminism. But then I thought that was best told through my story.
Largely because, now, more than ever I am beginning to see the signs of a new “ism” for me.
I know ableism. This is a reality of being on the spectrum and having some acquired injuries as well.
I know sexism. All too well and I tell these stories on stage as a comedian to remind the world we still need feminism. I have experienced the “tone policing of the patriarchy” where I wasn’t allowed to like myself, let alone be proud of my achievements. Men and women in my circle of influence ran me down for any shred of pride. Until I left that circle of influence.
But this fucking ageism that says I am not allowed to be proud of where I’ve come to because I am now less relevant or need be humble? WTF. This is usually spoken before they know my history, based on zero knowledge of that story. However I’m “older” and these generalisations are usually accompanied by a range of comments about age.
Sometimes the use of humility, “stay humble”, is just another way the patriarchy tones polices women. I’ve done my fair share of self-depreciation sheathed in a supposed “humility”. No more.
I’m not promoting myself as dull for no-one, not even for the Dalai Lama.
As a side note, I’ve been retreating and studying eastern thought on subjects such as humility for a decade now and I’ve met a few significant Lamas. None quite the Rockstar of his holiness, but the contradiction of people commodifying Buddhism to the west so it can be culturally appropriated is not lost on me. I’ll just use mindfulness and meditation as techniques in and of themselves and stop trying to twist humility to serve the patriarchy.
I find it fascinating when women use humility in a way that was once used like “sweet, nice and passive” was once heavily used for oppressing women. Internalised misogyny is something we all work to recognise and manage.
Now I am proud of my achievements, proud of my place on the autism spectrum, proud of my association with feminist action (even before I called it that) – and that new ism of ageism is interfering with my pride.
I am not having any of this ageism wank masquerading as “relevance”. It can fuck off. I’m going to tell my story, whether people think it is relevant or not. Because there will be someone who benefits, someone who walks away from it feeling better or more empowered. Even one is enough.
I currently work with a group of 40 plus of the cleverest women and men I have ever worked with. I’m not naming that organisation because I like to keep my public face and private face separate. But let me just say I regularly don’t feel bright or clever enough to work with them at all. I feel like an imposter sometimes.
Today my Chief Executive Officer reminded me it was time to let that go and by golly gee gosh (irony alert: isn’t that just such sweet older lady talk, I’m just saying it like some expect me to!) – she is right. I am one of this crew of clever people. But this story isn’t just about me or the cohort I work with. It’s about how all women survive. It’s another story of survival and resilience. We really do need to honour ALL our stories.
This ageism is interesting, especially when a woman nearing 50 is assumed to have had a “traditionally female life”. Or that her history is not as relevant as younger contemporaries (whether traditional or otherwise). This suggests that we only assign value to whatever story is commodified by popular culture. Still, popular culture tends to, unfortunately, reinforce sexist norms about a woman’s beauty being most important. She is then, either a relic of the past, or, less relevant as she ages. If she dares modify her appearance she is then told to act her age.
Damned if you age gracefully, damned if you age disgracefully, just damned if you age. So age! Age however you fucking want and enjoy every freaking bit of it.
I’m here for the long haul as a feminist as old and irrelevant as some might assign me. As I always have been a feminist, unknowingly for a period, but nonetheless worthy of the label.
So, it matters not what anyone else thinks really. Besides, if I can wear a large vulva costume on stage and sing rewritten show tunes about reproductive rights – I clearly don’t care if certain quarters don’t like me. My audiences have been happy and the audience does not lie.
Desperately staying relevant is the new corset. The foot in our back is the patriarchy.
I was originally an accidental feminist who was most influenced by a father who didn’t believe in traditional notions of gender. I now know that as an AS woman I am less likely to be drawn to traditional notions of gender binaries, so that makes sense. I never understood “girl stuff” vs. “boy stuff”. If I wanted to do something, I did it, aided and abetted by a father who was 20 years older than my peers’ fathers. It wasn’t until I was studying at 28 I discovered the world of feminist literature and then I realised I was quite the feminist. I have worn the label with pride ever since.
I joined the military as a teen because I hated school and dropped out in year 11 and I decided to follow the rather dreadful family tradition of service. I started out a clerk supply in the Royal Australian Air Force, even though I had applied for technical positions. I had done all my trade related subjects at high school, but I was told I did not have the “aptitude”.
A year in to my service, my Commanding Officer at 486 squadron Richmond noticed my tech ability and let me become what he called a “pseudo-techo”. I was trained to do duty crew on the flight line – marshalling, refuelling, towing and doing general checks of Hercules C130 aircraft. When the bases education officer revisited my recruitment tests, I most certainly did have the right aptitudes and there were tech places when I signed up. So some sexist creep decided they wanted to limit the numbers. This is a story I have heard from quite a few women in the forces from the 1980’s and 90’s.
With my CO’s support I quickly applied to become an Instrument Fitter (known as a re-muster when you are already in the services). Off I went to trade training and then went onto to be one of the first female Avionics tech to graduate (this was after becoming an Instrument fitter first).
I found myself part of a total quality team leaders’ group in the Royal Australian Air Force that convinced command to bring in paper recycling. It’s a funny story – I’ll tell it one day. So, yeah, green sensibilities are not new. Sorry not sorry.
I also need to say that the two women in a unit of 300 had to ask for a toilet to be allocated to us. Then we had to share it with senior officers who went to extreme lengths to keep it to themselves (a story for another day). We were required to walk 500m, only to be abused for taking too long to pee. Yeah, you read that right. This was 1992, not 1942.
When I left the RAAF, I went on to train as a Scuba Dive Master (and there were very few females in the industry).
Unfortunately, I did a round with “the bends”. Surviving two forms, Neurological and Musculoskeletal Decompression Illness after a dive went wrong and I rescued two students in bad conditions. I was treated in a hyperbaric chamber for a few days on 100% oxygen. This was after being flown at low altitude from Maroochydore to Townsville and after a long delay. Horrifying. Painful. Debilitating and almost fatal.
The next few years were more hell and I successfully sued my dive operator for damages, only to get a mere $25 000 after six years of lost income. At that time the insurance giant HIH was crashing and my dive operator was insured with a subsidiary. My payment was limited as part of the government bailout for HIH.
I went on Today Tonight at 23 to raise awareness of the need for a hyperbaric chamber in Brisbane. For bends patients, cancer patients and the gamut of other conditions that benefit from hyperbaric medicine. I got 1000 signatures with others working on a petition. Thank goodness for all those electronic petitions now, I don’t have to walk the streets and talk to people I am literally scared of. Comedy audiences are further away…over there. Now there is a shiny Hyperbaric Medicine facility at Wesley Hospital.
I have a copy of a dreadful That’s Life magazine with a story about me in it that a friend returned to me last year, she had hung onto it for over 20 years. The reporting was all about my husband’s despair about my difficulties, not about my bravery or my recovery. But that was considered the only thing important in 1994. It was also part of the narrative that covered up the abuse of women with disabilities or mental health issues.
At 27, a new mum and in the abusive marriage from hell, I decided to go to University, despite still recovering from an acquired brain injury. In addition, I was regularly being misdiagnosed with a range of mental health conditions at the urging of my abuser who actively informed the medical process and who worked hard to keep me sick. It’s hard to cope and heal from significant injuries while being tortured in other ways.
It’s so easy to blame domestic violence on a woman’s mental health, particularly when she is recovering from a serious injury/illness. Any retaliation can be deftly blamed on her and the society that has normalised that violence goes “but the wife was crazy”. It’s a view that, thankfully, today is beginning to fade as we strip back the myths of violence against women.
Interesting how I have thrived ever since I left that relationship. If that is not proof enough, I don’t know what is. I have never remarried and came out as bisexual in my early 40’s.
It turns out that in my mid 30’s I was properly diagnosed with Asperger’s but I rejected it until my 40’s. Every treatment (except for my forays into mindfulness and meditation) up until then was potentially damaging and I wasn’t sure I wanted another label. The earlier PTSD diagnosis was accurate, but that was made worse by abuse.
In the late 1990’s I worked hard to use the techniques a neuropsychologist taught me to rewire my brain. I learned to manage my mental health and what I know now were AS meltdowns, not psychosis. I can now de-escalate them by working with my sensory differences (hypersensitivities to noise, sound and my vision) instead of working against them.
At 34, I graduated from the University of Queensland with Honours in Anthropology (socio-linguistics). I left my husband and went to become a sacred sites anthropologist in Alice Springs.
I lived in Alice Springs for two periods of 9 years and 2 years. I did interesting social justice related work. Drove 26 000 km off road and recorded song and story with local Aboriginal people. Worked with violent men in maximum security educating about family violence. Helped build Indigenous road crews along the Tanami Road. Worked as a homelessness advocate. Worked for Alice Springs Women’s Shelter and for Gap Youth Centre in differing capacities.
In between stints in Alice Springs I did similar work and a bit of lecturing in critical literacy in Cairns in Far North Queensland. I then did 6 months in China teaching English part time while I finished writing my historical fiction book (which is currently with last edits with a publisher – hopefully to go to print in the next year all going well).
Then did a year in Darwin in 2015 (and then back to Alice Springs in 2016). During that time I doing stand up comedy and it has morphed into women’s rights issues based comedy and my solo show about growing up different.
In July I moved to Melbourne. I experienced a low-level sexual assault at work in February in Alice Springs. A random off the street tried to force his way in a building while groping at my breasts. That was it. I’d had enough of frontline work. I struggled with it and got lots of counselling. Had some months off and had to live off the good will of friends in Melbourne for accommodation during that period. It was extremely difficult, but I am glad I decided to take a leap of faith and come home to Melbourne (I was born here, but have not lived here since 1974).
So the sexists, the ableists and the ageists can all kiss my broad, middle aged, cottage cheese, faded tattooed ass.
I’m here. To stay. See you at Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The show’s called Mad Pride. It’s the 4 – 5th April (I’m the 5th) at 7 pm. Firefly Room – Newmarket Hotel. Inkerman St. St Kilda.
Book at http://www.comedyfestival.com.au