Each month we speak to an Australian writer about writing, feminism, and the connection between the two. This month we speak to writer and publisher Hilary Rogers, whose debut Girltopia is bringing feminism to children’s fiction.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism is simply equal rights for women and girls. And by this I mean equal opportunities, equal pay, equal representation in positions of power and – just as importantly but I think often overlooked – equal representation in positions of unpaid domestic work.
Was there a particular moment you can pinpoint that was crucial to the development of your perspective on feminism, and what it means to be a woman writer?
Yes! It was the moment my big sister Elspeth got angry with me for saying I wasn’t really a feminist. I must have been about 10 or 11. She was always a gentle, lovely thing but this made my sister furious. As she talked me through why she was angry with this comment I realised that of course I was a feminist. I’ve been gladly calling myself one ever since.
What considerations are there when writing for young audiences?
I think it’s vital when writing for kids to give them space to learn how to think, how to formulate their ideas. I never want to tell them what to think. I think each generation needs to take ownership of feminism in their own way. Girls today will have vastly different experiences of the world than their mothers, and their mothers’ mothers.
One of the real challenges in writing for kids is that in addition to your primary audience, you need to also consider the gatekeepers. Publishers, teachers and librarians, booksellers, parents – all these grown-ups have enormous power to block or endorse the books that make their way into children’s hands. So you’ve always got a dual audience that needs convincing and charming. No easy feat.
What messages are you hoping to communicate with Girltopia, and how should we approach talking about feminism with children?
I try not to start out with a message as such. I really don’t want to be talking at kids. But I do want kids to think about the shape of the world we live in. Given our society is still largely run by and for men, in Girltopia I put forward a scenario where everything is run entirely by and for woman and girls. I’m not suggesting this would make for a perfect (or even viable) world – this is not an anti-male trilogy – but I am hopeful that my readers might think a little more about how they can help reshape the future so that it’s run by and for everyone, not just old white guys.
How do you think the children’s publishing sector has developed or changed with regard to feminist content and books?
There has been a super exciting wave of kids’ books about strong women doing interesting things in recent years, mainly led by the fabulous Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. But we are still making books for boys or books for girls, so we’ve got a fair way to go! Historically we all think that girls will read anything, but boys will only read books designed for them. But I’ve had numerous boy readers on Girltopia and they’ve all been perfectly happy to read a book set in a world almost exclusively female, with only a few male characters. I think it’s time we grown-ups stopped making these assumptions.
Which women or non-binary writers do you think everyone should read?
I think Helen Garner is our best writer, male or female! But I honestly don’t care which women writers people are reading – from Liane Moriarty to Ceridwen Dovey and Sarah Krasnostein – I just want people to stop thinking women write for women and men write for everyone. This is a crucial issue. And when I look through the top children’s authors I still see far more men than women writers, particularly in humour. I never used to be a fan of quotas but I’m starting to wonder if publishers should consider them, just as political parties and large organisations should.
What piece of writing advice would you give to your younger self?
To not to wait until everything is perfect! I’m still hesitant to do anything I don’t think I’ll do absolutely perfectly. This is just too common among the women I know. I’d tell myself to just go for it. The more you write, the better you’ll get.