KM Kruimink is the 2020 winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award for her novel, A Treacherous Country.
What does feminism mean to you?
For me, there are two elements to this that I think about a lot and try to incorporate into my own life. The first is about real choice, and real opportunity. It can be so difficult to disengage from the narrative of what’s expected, normal, or appropriate, and operate from a place that is really, truly individual – acknowledging these outside influences, but not letting them shape your choices. And if the choice you end up with aligns with what’s expected, or normal, or appropriate, then sure, fine. And if not, also fine. I don’t even know if it’s possible to do that, completely, but it’s something I’ve been trying to do for years.
The second is not making your value dependent on how much others value you. It’s about recognising your intrinsic value as a person, and keeping it separate from how attractive other people think you are, or how clever, or how helpful, or how successful, or whatever it is. Having a daughter has helped me get closer to this second one myself.
As I write this, I realise that these are both very quiet, interior ideas. I do love seeing other women speak up for themselves. I loved seeing Ariana Grande getting annoyed over being asked whether she would choose to live without her makeup or her phone. I want us to celebrate each other in success and console each other in hardship.
Was there a particular moment you can pinpoint that was crucial to the development of your perspective on feminism?
Not really. My perspective on this has always been developing along with me, and will, I hope, keep evolving. (Like most of us, probably!) When I think of all the different Kates I’ve been, and how each evolved from the previous one, it’s hard to choose one moment. Life is so fluid that I really try to keep an open mind and accept that what I hold true now might not be a constant.
There’s a lot in my life that I’m still angry and/or sad about, but I also recognise the value even in those things – that they do hold the opportunity for growth. I really, sincerely try to reflect on even the worst experiences and find the value or the message in them.
So, I suppose my answer is that either there were countless moments that were crucial, or just one 33-year-old one that continues on.
How do you think the freedom to act, as a concept, needs to be further considered in contemporary Australia?
I think that’s something a lot of people are actively asking now, in one way or another, as we navigate this pandemic.
I’ve been startled at how easily I’ve accepted the loss of specific freedoms and the increase in surveillance. Like many, possibly most, I understand what’s at stake, so I’ve participated as cheerfully as I can. It seems that – with exceptions, of course – we have all fallen into step. It does seem to emphasise the great trade we make in order to live together. It’s surely not possible to really have freedom and complete personal agency if we agree to live harmoniously with others. Of course I believe in agency over your own body, but this crisis really has brought home to me that I am actually willing to participate in the active curtailing of my own and everyone’s freedom for the greater good. I find it pretty astonishing, actually, not least because I have no qualms about obeying orders (with the exception of the contact tracing app – major qualms there. Mega-hyper qualms).
This conversation will continue in interesting ways as we find our way out of this crisis. Given how quickly and drastically our society has been changed, can it simply be changed back? Is this even a democracy anymore? Etc., etc. I feel like these would be good dinner party questions if we were allowed to have dinner parties anymore.
How do you think revisiting our own memories and truths plays a part in informing our capacity for understanding the complex (pre- and post- colonial) history of Australia?
This is such a wonderful and complicated question, and I don’t know if I can get to the heart of it in a paragraph (or at all). I think this is possibly the kind of thing that can never be resolved.
I’ve had these funny moments with family members where someone will tell some commonly understood story from childhood, or reference some fact as fact, and it will be completely incongruent with how I remember things. And (conversely? or along the same lines?) I’ll be able to put together some long-forgotten scenario just by talking it over with someone who was also there. It makes me realise how fallible and suggestible our memories are. I think, for that reason, it’s so important to really question the things – facts, ideas, preconceptions – we take for granted.
It also emphasises how much has been lost. There’s that idea that in the death of the individual, there is the death of the world. The whole world, the whole universe, is filtered through our own perceptions.
I suppose what I’m saying is that in the conversation about Australia’s history, it’s important to actively enquire. That feels like a floppy sort of conclusion to come to from your interesting question, but it also seems about right to me.
Which women, queer, or non-binary writers should everyone be reading right now?
Contemporary: Hilary Mantel and Bernadine Evaristo. Classic: Elizabeth Harrower and Patrick White. And follow @i_weigh on insta if you’re into that sort of thing.
Photo credit: Matthew Herbstritt