Katerina Bryant is a FWF2020 panelist speaking on The Politics of Health.
Her first book is Hysteria: A Memoir of Illness, Strength and Women’s Stories Throughout History.
Is there a moment you recall that shaped your own idea of feminism?
I remember the idea of feminism being shaped as a slow build throughout my teenage years. I can pinpoint a moment which was a particular turn for me — a shift from me questioning ‘why don’t I feel I fit within this concept of girl/woman?’ to thinking something was deeply wrong on a systemic scale. It was around the time I was fifteen. I’ve written about it before: on a beach, a cis male friend picked me up to throw me into the freezing ocean. I remember the shift from thinking this was a joke to the panic of realising this friend was not going to put me down after I asked. It was only after I clawed and pulled hair that I was dropped. I’m not sure why this moment stuck out but that was when I reconsidered how cis men, particularly ‘friends’, saw me. It allowed me to piece together the times I’d been harassed and view them not as one-off experiences like I had first thought but as ongoing acts of violence that were enabled by a patriarchal culture.
What do you mean when you talk about The Politics of Health?
In a way, health is such a nebulous term. Living with chronic illness, I’m no longer sure what ‘health’ means for me. But I do know that my body and mind (although I see them as one and the same) are politicised.
When I think about the politics of health, I cannot help but imagine a state of being bone tired. The feeling of not being listened to, the stigma of living with a mental illness that is little understood or the duality of the physical and financial cost of specialist appointments. But where there is misunderstanding and pain, there is also the feeling of community. The politics of health brings to mind reading Australian disabled writers (collections like Growing Up Disabled in Australia and Shaping the Fractured Self collate work by so many brilliant writers) and feeling understood and at home within their words.
What in your opinion constitutes an ideal experience of medical care?
On an individual level, I think empathy, respect and time are the key aspects I would like to see more widely implemented. It’s so important that people are listened to when receiving care and unfortunately, in my experience, often a patient’s ability to narrate their experience within their own body is not trusted.
On a wider scale, I’d love to see a more holistic way of viewing health so that people whose experience exists at the edges of — or even the overlap in between — two fields (for me and my illness, this is psychiatry and neurology) are able to seek help in an effective manner. And, of course, the cost of health needs to be reconsidered so that becoming unwell or living with chronic illness is not prohibitively expensive, which it still is for so many of us.
As we see more and more written accounts from women who experience invisible illness, what do you think building solidarity looks like?
Listening and supporting the voices of women who live with illness/disabled women is important to me and my own understanding of feminism. I think it is key to acknowledge the intersections of disability with race, gender identity, sexuality and class and how this impacts how one is treated within the medical system. And within the context of disability, some experiences like intellectual disability and severe mental illness are stigmatised more than others in the broader community. So, for me, solidarity includes being aware of privilege, being open to listening to how you can do better (while not relying on the labour of others to educate) and supporting those in and outside of your community.
Can you share some reading/listening recommendations around The Politics of Health?
Online: In ‘Dream (10 hours) but it’s raining outside’, Jennifer Nguyen talks about her fears, dreams and extraordinary times.
Domestic Abuse and Writing Through the Unspeakable by Declan Fry discusses family and intimate partner violence and abuse.
Award Rate an essay by Laura Elizabeth Woollett on writing, work and literary awards.