Aint No Damsel in Distress: Clementine Ford Talks Fighting like a Girl

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Words || Nikita Jones

There’s a gratifying anger that comes out of feminist writing which has been my jam since I learned how to be mad about things other than bedtimes. Anger, I found, was a favourable alternative to the internalised hatred and hypocrisy generally typical of the female experience. Later, I learned that anger had a name, Feminism.

‘Feminism is about finding a way to be a woman that doesn’t hurt’, Clementine writes in her book, and it’s neither the first nor the last time I feel like she’s plucked those words from my own head.

Fight Like a Girl is Clementine Ford’s manifesto. ‘Welcome to the war room’, she says at the close of the first chapter – and we’re already there with clipboards. Over the past week Ford’s book tour has sold out events all over the country. Fight Like a Girl reads as if the St Crispin’s Day speech is being delivered to an army of feminists. By the end of it I’m ready to follow Ford into the battlefield and take over the throne of France.

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I ask her how it felt to write something so heated and powerful. ‘It was cathartic,’ she says. ‘It was enraging, it was galvanising. All the sorts of things that I would like people to experience while they’re reading it are things that I felt when I was writing it.’

The book is also a memoir of Ford’s personal gendered experience including her pre-feminist encounters with feminism. Even as one of Australia’s leading feminist writers and speakers, Clementine Ford can’t claim to have come out of the womb kicking and screaming about the patriarchy. ‘

Everyone starts out on their feminist journey at some point. We’re not born fully formed feminists with a complete understanding of the history of the world and interactions between everyone.’

This is a point that is too often ignored. Something younger feminists might appreciate about Fight Like a Girl is Ford’s willingness to acknowledge and work through the various missteps she recalls from her own ‘feminist journey’. She writes about hating other girls, (‘Cheryl was a two faced moll’) and attempting to be ‘one of the boys’, exposing these common girlhood experiences for the symptoms of patriarchal oppression that they are. But she also writes about growing up, realising things, finding a group of women friends who changed her life, and all the wonderful, funny, intelligent feminist authors she encountered.

‘The only way change will happen is if we agitate.’

There is an intermittent gurgling in the background on her side of our phone call. ‘I’m just trying to feed my baby, so if you hear any sounds that sound like a pig troughing, then that’s him.’ That little gurgle is in the book too, as a foetus in chapter six and a newborn in chapter seven. I asked why she felt that her book needed to be so personal and steeped in her own experience. ‘It’s immensely powerful to listen to another woman describe experiences that we might have had growing up so that we can go “OMG that happened to me too”, and I’ve always been made to feel like it was in my own head or I was overreacting!’

The chapters in Ford’s book are each dedicated to broadening these gendered experiences and uncovering their greater relevance. She takes the necessary time to pick apart surface-level issues, exposing the huge systematic sexist machine underneath. Ford acknowledges that being made aware of these systems can be uncomfortable, it can feel shameful, but ‘the only way that change will happen is if we agitate’.

‘Do you find the term ‘radical feminist’ complimentary or offensive?’ I ask, because the search results for “radical feminist Clementine Ford” are an assortment of Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald articles using the epithet to very different effects. A link to Ford’s own website sits directly above someplace called Anti-Feminism Australia’.

‘I find it complimentary. How I interpret it for myself,’ she reasons, ‘Is a feminist who is uncompromising, who wants to see radical change in the world, not by figuring out how women can make a patriarchy work in their best interests and work as individuals, but figuring out how we can actually dismantle the whole system’.

As a tangible example of this she exposes the tokenistic danger of something like choice feminism, which is, ‘just such a small part of what feminism is. Of course women should be able to dress however they want. But as a tangential issue to that, who’s making the clothes, you know? If we prioritise individual choices then there’s always someone on the bottom who’s being fucked’. What needs to be prioritised instead is a complete uprooting of systematic exploitation.

‘The radical ideas about feminism that Ford heralds are starting to find their way into the mainstream.’

This distinction between regular old change and radical change is important because it’s right at the heart of modern feminism. It’s the cornerstone of the argument that yes, feminism is still necessary in the 21st century. The radical ideas about feminism that Ford heralds are starting to find their way into the mainstream. The rise of intersectional feminism edcuates people about intersecting systems of oppression. From the #yesallwomen movement – which reminds people that a handful of ‘super right-on guys’ don’t magically fix rape culture – to the various responses to the #womenagainstfeminism movement that Ford cites in chapter eight.

For Ford, understanding feminism, especially if you’re going to call it radical feminism, is about discussing and questioning. It’s about ‘enabling situations where we can have conversations with each other, where we’re all learning or we’re all having a discussion that might end up with us having completely different conclusions’.

The deliberately nuanced take on feminism in Fight Like a Girl is a testament to Ford ’s dedication to these explorative kinds of discussions. There’s the classic Clementine Ford distilled fury, but there’s also a self-aware sense of patience, optimism, and inclusivity. It isn’t just a manifesto; Fight Like a Girl is a stand-up routine, a reading list, a memoir, and most importantly, a conversation.


Fight Like a Girl is published by Allen & Unwin.