FWF2020: Being Feminist, Staying Bold Transcript

This is the transcript of the FWF2020 event, Being Feminist, Staying Bold. Visit the podcast page to listen to the event.

Nikki Anderson  00:05

Hi, my name is Nikki Anderson and I’m the director of the Feminist Writers Festival. Welcome to this podcast of our FWF2020 session Being Feminist Staying Bold, made possible by Creative Victoria. Here, novelist and Twitter enthusiast Anna Spargo-Ryan, activist and author Laura La Rosa, and artist-curator Wendy Mocke, discuss self and community care and creating sustainable forms of activism. We acknowledge that this recording took place across Australia on First Nations lands, lands whose sovereignty has never been ceded.

Emma Dallamora  00:44

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Feminist Writers Festival and to this session ‘Being Feminist, Staying Bold’. My name is Emma Dallamora, and I’m an FWF board member and delighted to be here today. So, in today’s session, the conversation may discuss content which might cause distress. If it does raise any issues for you we ask that you seek help. This could be through something like one 1800 Respect or Lifeline which is 131114. Okay, so now I can hand over to our amazing panellists, and I’ll just give them a quick introduction. So, today we’re joined by Anna Spargo-Ryan, who is a Melbourne based author of two novels, The Gulf and The Paper House, and winner of the 2016 Horne prize. Her new book, a nonfiction work on mental illness, is forthcoming from Picador. Laura La Rosa is a proud Darug woman, published writer, emerging critic and graphic designer. She’s been involved in a number of grassroots activist initiatives, including the original Sydney Women’s March, the Sausage Party protest, and numerous ongoing projects that seek to deconstruct issues spanning white feminism. And Wendy Mocke is a Papua New Guinean interdisciplinary storyteller. She’s a NIDA acting graduate and has been an emerging writer at Sydney Theatre Company. One of Wendy’s quests as a writer and artist is to make alive what is quiet and asleep in Melanesian stories and unpack the myriad layers of black Pacific Islander identity. Thank you, everyone, and Wendy, Laura and Anna for being here today. And I’ll hand over to Wendy to introduce yourselves and take it away and I will just slowly fade into the background. Thanks, Wendy.

Wendy Mocke  02:34

Thank you, Emma. So yes, as Emma mentioned so wonderfully, I am Wendy Mocke, your trusty host for this afternoon’s session, and I am zooming to you from the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations. As you’re aware, we are joined by two incredible guests: Anna Spargo-Ryan and Laura La Rosa. Just before we kick start the questions, Anna and Laura, if you could, please let everyone know what country you are zooming in from today. So Laura, if you would like to go first.

Laura La Rosa  03:05

I’m actually floating around Gadigal country at the moment. I’m in transit making my way back home to Darug country. And with that, I would like to briefly pay tribute to elders and pay my respects not just to the elders who look after the country I’m currently a guest on, but anyone who’s joining us and also my own elders who allow me to, kind of, do what I do.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  03:30

Hi, I’m broadcasting from the unceded lands of the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nation.

Wendy Mocke  03:36

Incredible. Thank you. Thank you, ladies. We are so happy to have everyone join us this afternoon. The year 2020 has been a really intense time in our world, globally, nationally, personally. So it is important to hold space for conversations regarding self care. I want to offer up a quote from the great Audre Lorde who said a very important thing, which is ‘caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’. So the first question, Anna and Laura you both write with such honesty and courage, you are daring in the way you openly share in order to shed light and you’re daring in the way you interrogate oppressive systems. I would like to know, where does self care sit within your writing practices? So, Anna, if you could take this question first and then Laura, just jump in whenever you’re ready.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  04:37

Um, for me, self care forms part of a bigger approach to making sure that I stay well while I’m writing. So writing about mental health often requires a deep interrogation into thoughts that can be pretty hairy and sometimes very traumatising, and occasionally dangerous. For me, self care is one part of a very deliberate approach to making sure that I am as well as possible. So, that is doing my own care for myself, but also working with a therapist, and making sure that I am transparent with the people around me who care about me. And, you know, I guess leaning on people who wish to support me in a way that I hope is constructive, like I’ve been in therapy for 20 years, so I have quite a structured approach to making sure that I am as healthy as possible. But in terms of actual self care, I think the hardest thing that I have learned about self care is that, often, it’s the things that I don’t want to do. So, what I want to do after I’ve written something hard is lie on the couch and eat several bags of chips, but actually, what is helpful for me is to push through some of the things that are hard to do but will help to reset my brain or to reinforce that I’m safe, and that was a very difficult lesson to learn. So for me, self care was quite different from maybe what I imagined it would, or what, you know, like reading Vogue had told me that it would. It wasn’t just keeping a journal, watch a rom com and put slippers on and but actually quite deliberate work to reinforce the neural pathways and the things that I knew that I needed, even though they were hard to do.

Laura La Rosa  06:50

Yeah, um, that was great Anna. I think what Anna was saying about things like doing the things that are quite difficult to do, even when you want to take the easy way out, or you’re quite exhausted, I can relate to that. It’s always a bit of a juggle. I also like therapy. I’m not sort of myself, I’m not someone who’s in theoretical therapy, but I do go when I feel like I need to. And it’s quite funny because I didn’t sort of see a psychologist until maybe in my late 20s, and the more I sort of talked about what practices and things I do to look after myself in my head, the more I realised I was already using a lot of clinical strategies. So, I find that quite interesting. In terms of self care as a writer, it’s, you know, I’m also a graphic designer, and I find writing is far more exhausting. It’s far more challenging than say, doing something more kinaesthetic, and visual. What do I do? I’m still figuring that out. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on self care until COVID hit and kind of put our world into chaos. So in terms of offering something tangible, I tend to kind of take things a little bit day by day, and I also try and tread quite lightly just in terms of what I achieved in a day, because I’ve got a bit of a history of, you know, going to just hyper focus and then kind of burning, and I’m trying not to do that.

Wendy Mocke  08:36

Speaking of 2020, and how much I guess the year has been, you know, kind of a massive and complex one for people to navigate. How has that, I guess, affected writing for you, and your normal kind of way and processes that you would do? Because it can be quite isolating. Now that, you know, we had a large portion of this year being in isolation and trying to be creative during that time. How has that affected you as a writer? Anna if you want to step in answer that one and I’m gonna go to Laura.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  09:16

Sure. Um, I had a lot of friends who said that once lockdown started that this was an ideal writing situation. These are the ideal conditions for writing: that you are on your own, you can’t go out, your computer’s right there, you have heaps of time, you’ve lost your job. So, what else are you going to do except write? And I just found that completely baffling. I’ve found all the creative energy it’s been drained from my life. Like, I have this lurking overarching question of what’s the point of writing when you’re trying to keep your family alive? Or you know, when so many people are sick and dying coming off the back of the catastrophic fires, it just seemed hard to prioritise creative output. Why would you do it? What’s the point of it? How do I feel good about it? How do I maintain a sense of contributing something important and useful? When it seems so like, lacking in function? Surely there’s something I could do that is actually helpful, that isn’t just reflecting on my own feelings. I wrote a couple of pieces during lockdown about lockdown, and it was hard to feel, while I was writing them, as though that was a necessary thing to do, that this could in any way be useful for anybody. But I found that a lot of people did relate to them and find something in them that helped them to feel a bit less isolated. And, I mean, that was probably the only time that I saw an actual tangible benefit of what I was doing. I have found writing during lockdown to be extremely difficult and not ideal conditions at all. I just felt like I would get up and worry about the state of everything. I mean, especially with the election in the US, I would just the worry and worry and worry, and then have to park those feelings in order to try to get some words down and I feel a strong dissonance between what is important in the world right now versus what I’m doing, which seems so insular and introspective.

Wendy Mocke  11:39

Has that affected your way of also practising self care during the times in quarantine, or during lockdown?

Anna Spargo-Ryan  11:50

Um, yes, yeah, I mean, the thing for me, I don’t like going outside anyway, I work from home normally. So, the actual circumstances aren’t that different for me. But the need to make sure that I am still pushing myself to try to step outside of my comfort zone when my comfort zone is all I’m allowed to be in and I found that part of it to be very challenging, I’d go: ‘well, I like only going five kilometres from my house, because any further than that starts to make me feel a bit uncomfortable. Oh, but I’m not allowed to isn’t that convenient? I’ll really lean into this idea that I can’t go anywhere else’. It has been very important to me to try to keep finding ways to reinforce this idea that I don’t have to be inside this space to be safe. Especially because the news was telling us every single day like you have to stay inside to be safe. And my brain just went haywire. Like, I’ve spent all this time working with psychologists to believe that I didn’t have to stay in a space like that to be safe. And now the premier is telling me that actually, it’s illegal to not stay inside that space to be safe. I don’t have any tools for this. So, a lot of my self care during lockdown has been just little amounts of pushing myself a bit further, trying to find new ways to understand how to manage the boundaries and stuff which has been hard. Like, objectively outside of it, kind of interesting. But um, but yeah, difficult.

Wendy Mocke  13:29

Yeah. What about for you Laura, how was your self care during lockdown? Has that been effective? 

Laura La Rosa  13:37

Look, originally with lock down, it didn’t impact me too much because my life didn’t change too much. Because similar to Anna, I actually worked from home. Um, I just stopped going to campus with uni so, it wasn’t really that different. I think for me, it was in terms of writing, there was all this horrible stuff happening and so many people dying that I found it really difficult to see where my voice was kind of relevant when the whole world was kind of going into chaos. And so I didn’t really write for a little bit and then I put out a couple of big pieces. I think that probably took much longer than they normally would for very, very similar reasons to Anna and for me personally, I think I found this year quite hard because it’s the longest I’ve been without seeing a family member. So I haven’t actually seen a single family member since December. I’m part Italian and I’ve always been a big eater. And. you know, I got to a point in lockdown where I realised I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was which was when I was writing and it was in the afternoon and I realised I hadn’t eaten yet. And look, even with non writer and non creators, I think everyone across the board can kind of relate to this like it’s just been, it’s been tough. And for me, it wasn’t COVID that made this year hard. It was, you know, some personal grief and other things. So I think it was gonna be a difficult year anyway. But I think it is that just kind of universal energy of worrying about how everyone’s doing, seeing people lose loved ones and things like that. That’s been the biggest challenge for me. And I think everyone really felt that to different degrees.

Wendy Mocke  15:29

Yeah, we are seeing more and more that self care is being reframed as a form of community care. I would like to know, Laura, what does that mean to you?

Laura La Rosa  15:42

Yeah, so I guess for me, I can’t help and contribute to my community if I don’t look after myself, and vice versa. And in terms of community care, I mean, if we want to talk about, I guess, in Aboriginal communities, whether they’re kind of fragmented, or they’re a little bit more traditional, and on country, I mean, we’re I kind of experts at community care. You know, we’ve been doing that long before, you know, long before Australia was invaded and, and in there, that extends to looking after country and that type of thing. So I guess, as sort of non-cis men, if you like, we’re always like, we spend so much time just looking after each other, checking in with each other. So, you can’t really keep on top of that, unless you’re okay, and you’re doing okay. And I think in terms of, I’ll go back a little bit, in terms of, and I’ve written about this in a piece, you can put a piece out there, right, and say it’s a little bit agitation based, it’s going to be part of a much bigger thing. And so the piece is out there, you’ve written 900 words or 600 words, and it’s made a little bit of an impact. And people are talking about that for a couple of days. But there might be three months of agitation or eight or even 12 months of agitation, that’s, that’s kind of happened behind the scenes. And, you know, for example, with all the stuff with #metoo that was all very much coming from the pockets of survivor communities. So on this one hand, and I think, Anna touched on it earlier when she talked about being traumatised, on one hand, we’re doing our work, and you know, that’s what we do. But on the other hand, we’re looking after each other checking in with each other. And I guess I’ve been lucky in that when I’ve kind of felt like I’ve been really struggling, the people that support me have been strong. And then vice versa, I’ve been able to kind of help support them when I’ve been feeling strong. And maybe they’ve been struggling. And I’m not sure if that answers your question, but that’s kind of it.

Wendy Mocke  18:07

Yeah, what about for you Anna? What does community, in terms of community care, what does that mean for you?

Anna Spargo-Ryan  18:21

I agree with everything Laura said about being strong, to be able to be strong for others and vice versa, that you hope that collectively you have enough strength to get through that as a collective. I think COVID has given us a very literal example of how that works. If you look at what’s been happening in Melbourne, and that the act of wearing a mask, for example, is a self care of sorts, it’s a self protection sort of activity, but it only works if everybody does it together. And I think in that sense, it sort of shows us that the power of collective care that when you take care of yourself, and you do the right thing to protect yourself, in the spirit of community, that it can be a very powerful thing. I think also that there are elements of self care that contribute to a better understanding within community of what is required to care for one another, that if you, you know, even in the sense that we’ve seen, for example, increased mental health funding during COVID from federal and state governments. What that has shown, is an understanding that in order to do effective self care, to be well and to be able to give yourself what you need, even at a very basic level, that you need the support of the wider community as well. And I think there have been interesting examples of helping other people to help each other all throughout this whole fiasco, this whole process. I mostly, on Twitter where I live, have seen just such wonderful empathetic community, building from a few people in particular but people who are really using the strength that they have to lift other people up in the hope that, and you can see it happening, those people will therefore later be able to lift other people up as well in this kind of groundswell of just, I guess, I mean, we’ve only seen it. I’ve only been in Melbourne this whole time, obviously, but this wonderful snowball effect of love and care that I think does start with yourself, that you can’t do that unless you are starting in an inward way I guess. 

Wendy Mocke  20:56

And also, with 2020 as well, I think it’s kind of really forced people to hit the pause, and really take stock of, not only themselves but, the broader community and having to think past our own, essentially, like what’s happening in our lives and having to think, as a collective. 2020 has been one of those years where I think we’ve all had to kind of hit the pause button and reevaluate what’s important, and what is community and how do we kind of support each other through what is essentially a trying time for everyone.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  21:35

And also, sorry, to interrupt… the amount that is required to help somebody, I think we’ve realised, is so much smaller than maybe we imagined, these kinds of tiny acts of kindness within community have been very powerful and compelling to watch, you don’t have to do something gigantic, to make a difference to somebody in a time like this.

Laura La Rosa  21:59

I agree with Anna too, there is a lot of really nice stuff happening online, which obviously, was kind of a lot of our only avenues for a while. And I’m fairly, I keep saying I’m fairly new to Twitter, but it was a horrible place when I first went on there because there are some horrible pockets of Twitter. And then I did a bit of a curation of who I followed and suddenly realised that there are actually some really beautiful communities on there. And I’ve seen that and, you know, tuned into some and Anna’s work as well which is, you know, often quite honest and vulnerable. And, you know, even for myself, people like me, who don’t always engage with that content we see, it does help, it kind of makes you realise that we’re all going through stuff. And it’s complex, but it sounds very cliche, but we’re not necessarily alone in that. So that’s been really nice.

Wendy Mocke  23:00

And so what would you say? Like, how are we able to sustain that level of care for each other, for example, on a social media platform, like Twitter, or even, I guess, as a day to day sort of practice as a writer, artist? Because movements have long arms, and self care and collective care are vital to movements. How are we able to sustain the importance and practice of self care as a collective and embed that into artistic processes, so that it becomes a part of our framework?

Laura La Rosa  23:34

I honestly don’t know how to answer that, in terms of how do we sustain it, I mean, none of us really know what we’re doing. We’re just building relationships and looking after our loved ones and kind of tuning into the people who we see are either doing great work or you know, just battling through and, I think in terms of sustaining, there can be a lot of dogma and toxicity even in left sort of, you know, left orientated circles, I think we just need to go easy on each other, not saying we can’t critique each other, but I just think that was something that I’ve taken away from this year, is to just be that little bit kinder. Not always, I’m not saying we have to be friendly and not speak our minds. But you know, I’m thinking more in terms of people that I see that are quite a bit younger than me, and a going through really similar things that maybe I did, and it can be quite confronting seeing your younger self reflected back to you. But I’m using that as an example where I could sort of get quite frustrated by you know, hyper identity, politics and all that kind of stuff, but I’ve really just kind of taken a step back and gone: ‘You know what, just lead with kindness first, realise that everyone’s on a different journey, some people are really just trying to figure out who they are other people kicking massive goals, and other people are just getting by day to day’. And yeah, I think if we just have a little bit more love and respect for each other, without, you know, without sort of limiting ourselves to also put our voices out there and, and query things as well, just kind of finding that happy balance. So that’s how I think we sustain it, keep doing what we’re doing, but just do it better.

Wendy Mocke  25:35

Got to lead with kindness. And how would you, Anna, how should we sustain, I guess, this collective?

Anna Spargo-Ryan  25:45

Yeah, I think what Laura’s saying is exactly right. And I think that kindness begets kindness, it’s energising, it energises community to be kind. And there’s, I think there’s a sort of a tipping point where the kind of the energy it takes to take a moment to consider how to be empathetic to somebody else, which does take energy and can detract from your own self care in a way, to begin with, I think there is a tipping point at which that comes back to you. And then it feeds itself, that if you are part of a community that is willing to try to understand to try to be empathetic, to listen, to expect or hope for the best in people that gradually that becomes the way that that community functions, that it’s a safe, and energising, and generous and gentle place to be, which then becomes a place where you can create and you can become vulnerable in a way that you need to in order to create whatever it is that you’re trying to do. That there will be someone there to catch you If you need to and that you will be that person for somebody else to. And I agree with Laura, that Twitter, depending on how you use Twitter, can be a wonderful or horrible place. And I have found it, and I’ve done almost 300,000 tweets in my Twitter career. And in that time I have found that in trying to put that energy out that that is generally the energy that comes back in. It can be an extremely warm, generous sharing place. And yeah, I think that a lot of it is what you decide you want your spaces to be like, what kind of energy do you want to put out? And how is that going to impact the people around you when you know, they need care? Or are they in a place where they can do it back to you? 

Laura La Rosa  28:12

I knew you, from your Twitter presence, and that’s how I knew you. And when your name came up, I just kind of had warm and fuzzy feelings, I literally said to Nikki, ‘she’s one of the good ones’. Like I didn’t know what brand you were going for, but I do want to say on the flip-side that, just because someone has the loudest voice or the biggest platform doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good in terms of their messaging, or their agenda. Um, and I just want to give people permission to opt out. Like, there’s, you know, in certain spaces or communities, there are some big names that kind of, I guess, occupy spaces within the media. And I want to encourage people to challenge who they’re following and what they’re reading, because, you know, having a big profile, or having a big name, or a big family, or whatever it is, doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good person and can’t be kind. And what I’ve noticed is that there are some big profiles and big names online who are actually quite awful. And I just want people to know that you don’t have to support them, and you don’t have to follow them. And there are actually other people out there doing fantastic work that you can tune in to that, you know, make some of these kinds of feats look quite insignificant when you consider what people are actually doing behind the scenes. And yeah, so that’s just something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Wendy Mocke  29:58

So speaking and interacting with people online? How do you both sustain your beliefs, and also guide your convictions, but remain open to fostering ways of respectfully engaging different sort of perspective and opinions? Anna if you want to take a thought.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  30:23

Yeah, um, I think for me, it is about having an intention to help someone to understand something that is going to make their life and someone else’s life better. So I can see there’s a question in the chat that relates to standing your ground. And I guess for me, it is about making sure that my convictions are well founded, that I am well informed that I am a critical consumer, that I don’t take everything at face value that I try to understand better. And part of that is that thing I was talking about before about trying to do things with empathy that I don’t take my own unfounded, ungrounded opinion to the masses, but actually try to come at it from a way that is, look, I have investigated various different ways of thinking about this. And this is the conclusion that I’ve come to, and I would like to be open to a discussion about it. Also, here’s the evidence I have that this is a way of thinking about it, that it’s worthwhile. It takes a lot of time. I mean, if you think about Twitter, getting into an argument on Twitter can be just an absolute time sink. But what I have found is that if you are willing to, and if you are able to demonstrate that your position on something is solid and that you are not being an asshole, but actually just being someone who is trying to be helpful and useful and to spread information and to clarify and promote positive change, that that is much better received in a community like that. And I think that’s an important thing to do anyway. So yeah, that’s how I come at it, I guess, which is to think and act critically.

Laura La Rosa  32:26

And what you were saying, Anna, about being fully informed, and really just being open minded about stuff, and well researched, and really believing in what you’re putting out there. Absolutely. So in terms of guarding, I guess it’s a process. In terms of being a writer and having a little bit of a public profile that sort of, you know, fermenting away. I went from being like a grassroots, writer, activist with maybe five followers to suddenly, you know, I was getting published, and it happened quite quickly. And I was sort of not known for my writing work. So I think it was quite a shock to me when I started to sort of be known as a writer and had that reciprocal kind of feedback. And I obviously am a critique or an emerging critique, so I write about difficult things that make a lot of people uncomfortable, namely, white women, and white feminists. So I think, when you’ve come up against some of the biggest voices in feminism and media, and you’ve seen the worst side of that, and how that can go, you sort of get to, I sort of got to a point where I was like, well, I’ve got nothing to lose now, like, I’ve pissed off all these famous people. They all know who I am. So I may as well just kind of run with it now. So that’s kind of where I’m at in terms of protecting and guarding, you know, my beliefs and where I’m coming from. And I think too, having the support of my community and my elders and my cousins and my aunties, and, you know, people who sort of cheer you on and say, love what you’re doing bub, keep going. That’s massive. It’s really it’s, you know, it helps kind of drown out that pushback.

Wendy Mocke  34:24

Mm-hmm. Yeah, because you both have received or experience negative remarks and backlash on Twitter or social media or whether it be like a contentious debate with a high profile person or aggressive and violent attacks from anonymous trolls. So, um, I guess in seeing all that can kind of lead to easily falling off the deep end. And so how do you protect it when you see stuff like that? How do you best protect your energy and not allow the noise to deplete you? And how do you read? I guess Laura just said, like in terms of re-energising, you know, coming back to the community, but in those moments, how do you kind of protect your energy?

Laura La Rosa  35:10

I actually, you actually just reminded me of something because the first time that I was bullied really quite badly on, say, social media, from people, not from my community, from people from communities that you wouldn’t expect it from. You know, it really took quite open about the fact that it really did impact my mental health, it got quite personal, all my social media accounts were doxxed. And I was essentially harassed and stalked by some women and non binary people. So it’s not the sort of run of the mill male troll that comes after me at the moment. And I actually had coffee with an elder, he said to me, in those moments, when you’re feeling like you’re having a meltdown, or you’re just feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all this kind of external noise, imagine your silent mentor, imagine their voice, what would they say? And I found that to be a really kind of good strategy because they probably say, Get a grip. But you’re alright. And I sort of come back to that and going back around to therapy, as well, like, I’m really big on nurturing my inner child as well. So, yeah, that’s my way.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  36:38

I think mine’s a combination of different things, I have a similar thing to Laura, which is that my therapist told me to imagine another version of myself standing next to me, caring for me, which sounds a bit weird, but like to actually visualise a less chaotic time. And that me from then holding my hand kind of taking helping me through, which actually, is a really helpful thing for me to imagine it when she said it, I said ‘that’s ridiculous’. But it actually, it’s very powerful to imagine that you are able to help yourself in quite a literal way. We can get through this together. And it’s just you, but you know, there are all these iterations of you that can help you on your way. The other thing that has helped me is, similar to what I was saying before, building enough knowledge to help me be resilient. To know that the place that I’m coming from is, in my mind, not very contentious. And so often I get criticism from usually a different set of people from who Laura’s talking about, male trolls, who use the language that I use to describe myself to insult me so like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re like, so borderline personality disorder’, like yes, exactly. That’s what I write about I, I have a borderline personality disorder. And I will often turn that language around, but I’ve used it to help me better understand myself to use it as a criticism of me. And it, to begin with, I found that just so devastating that I was trying to be open that I was trying to offer something to other people who might benefit from having this sort of language a bit de-stigmatised or whatever. That made me susceptible to this sort of attacks. As I have continued writing about it and seen the way that other people respond to it that has become less significant to me that it does help other people that. I had a friend go and see a psychologist and the psychologist pulled out an article about anxiety for my friends, and gave it to him said you should read this, this is like the best account of anxiety I’ve ever read. And it was mine and they didn’t know that we had any association with each other. I was creating a tool that was actually going to help people and that has become more important to me than worrying about what faceless anonymous trolls think about who I am as a person, you know, I got a string of attacks about how I shouldn’t be allowed to be a parent. I’ve got two teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to be a parent because of my mental illness. And that cut so deeply, to begin with, that I thought ‘maybe they were right, maybe I wasn’t capable of being a good parent if I was so anxious and so depressed’ but it helped me too. I also reflect on what I was doing that was good as a parent that the tools that I had created with my therapist particularly, but also, through my own work that was going to mean that I was an understanding and caring, sort of very, very hands on very talk-about-it parent, but that that was just a different kind of parent and that, you know, no one was good anyway. But, um, so I guess I do just ignore the ones that are really terrible. I don’t block them, because I think that’s a satisfaction they don’t deserve. So I just mute them and forget about them. But that wasn’t as easy to do until I had thought about why I was doing what I was doing and thought about the value that I hoped I was adding. Then I would weigh it up and question if is this a good and useful thing for me to do, even if these people do look around waiting for an opportunity to kind of shit all over me?

Laura La Rosa  41:00

Thinking of self care, my dog has definitely got me through this year, she’s actually in quarantine and that’s been a very therapeutic. But just to add to what I was saying, it’s very bizarre when you have some sort of public presence, when people do build these weed narratives about your life. And I always look at people like Anna and handful of others online and think that you’re quite brave, because I’m very funny. Like, I don’t put a lot of my private life out there, I might put them into pieces into an actual article. But I have the ability to sit there and craft that, you know, and sit with it for a while. Whereas on Twitter, I don’t like people to know where I live. I don’t talk about my partner. You know, if I have children, Twitter will be the last people to know, but that’s me, because I’m very sort of, I guess, private, if you like, but I guess what I’m trying to say is hats off to those who do put more of their stuff out there in the name of generosity and, and are able to do that. I think it’s it’s quite brave. And I don’t know how if you know how to respond to something like that people saying that you shouldn’t be a mother because you, you know, you manage your mental health. It’s just absolute absolutely absurd.

Wendy Mocke  42:28

You know, because you both write and engage honestly with people and are willing to tell your truth about your feelings and perceptions, and it reveals so much about yourself, and how you feel about the world. And then you have to go out and represent it. And to be kind of in that public space and then navigate that realm can be overwhelming and intimidating. Um, so I guess I’ve got a question here from Marina. Thank you, Marina. I think this is probably a good segue. How do we as a community address lateral violence within our and other intersectional communities? Who would like to go first?

Laura La Rosa  43:19

I’ll jump in, I don’t engage with that anymore. And I find that people who are perpetrating the most violence, don’t want to engage with you. They don’t want… you can’t reason with them. And I tried that, I tried. And going back to what you said, Wendy, about truth. That’s how I live with myself. That’s how I’m still here, after living what feels like a few lifetimes, having, you know, quiet, that sort of trauma background, but is self honesty, and being honest, to my own detriment. And I learned through therapy and other means, to be honest. And I think if you’re truly honest with yourself, your intentions and you’re checking in with that kind of ego, and that, you know, consciousness, it’s easy to just kind of go you know, what, like, he can kind of stick it. But in terms of lateral violence, you know, there is a lot of it in different communities. And for me, just don’t engage, don’t try and reason because as soon as that’s, that’s what works for me, Anna might have a different spin on that. But if it’s someone who’s genuinely curious and wants to engage in dialogue, even if they’re challenging you, by all means, that’s not violence. If it’s people making assumptions about you and doxing your accounts and spreading rumours or you know, questioning your identity and doing it in just really like chaotic, uninformed ways, like those people, they just want to silence you, they want you to disappear. They don’t want to be, they don’t want to engage with you. And I kind of know, which, like, Am I allowed to swear? Wendy? 

Wendy Mocke  45:17


Laura La Rosa  45:20

I know who to fuck with and who not to. And, you know, I can sort of respect people’s work from afar, and not want to show up in their spaces. And I think I’m very much an observer. So I usually have quite a good grasp on different communities Well, before they even know who I am. And so that’s kind of the approach that I take. 

Anna Spargo-Ryan  45:47

I guess that for me, the risk is relatively low and I feel that as a middle class white woman, that I have some capacity to try to stand up to and, you know, call out or call in shitty behaviour. I think what you’re saying is right, though, that the reason that people engage in lateral violence like this is not because they have any interest in a productive or constructive conversation. But actually, it’s, you know, attacking is very closed, it’s a one way, closed sort of attack that doesn’t incite further conversation. It’s not, that’s not what it’s meant for. But I do hope that every now and then someone learns something, I guess. But um, yeah, I try to understand, again, I guess why it happens, where it’s coming from, why this person feels this sort of internalised or is projecting negativity. But there’s only so much that you can take it on. And the outcome of it, you know, is that energy will have a finite amount of energy is that better spent? And I mean, we’ve seen that more clearly with this US election than maybe anything, like is that energy better spent on something that is actually going to change minds and help to drive a more positive outcome than trying to engage with the people who are never going to get there? So I guess it’s just making sure that the people it’s directed at are safe, and brought into a circle of safety by community? And then to just yeah, let those people who are attacking them self combust eventually, 

Laura La Rosa  48:01

I often find, sorry I’ll just jump in, I find that for every toxic person is so many, so many more kind of loving people. I mentioned before, when I was sort of first, very publicly bullied online. You know, there was a small pocket of toxic people that were perpetuating that. But what it actually did was, I had some elder, say, let’s just say, for example, I had older blackfellas, and editors reach out and say ‘hey, I can see what’s going on’,  and connect. And some of those people have become I’ve worked with and I’ve become really close with. So even though, you know, for every bully for every one toxic, violent person, there’s 10. But I truly believe there are another 10 people that will outshine them, just with their honesty and integrity. It took me hindsight to realise that, but a lot of the people I kind of work with now and whose work I tuned into, through say Twitter, I realise I’ve actually met because they did, they did a really kind thing and reached out and said, ‘Hey, I can see this is happening’ ‘they did the same thing to me or they did the same thing to my niece’ and so you sort of realise, actually, this is not even about me, this is part of a bigger problem. And I’m just I’ve just been slotted into this week’s agenda. So yeah, I think that helped

Wendy Mocke  49:37

How do we avoid attacking one another them even in spaces that are supposed to be safe, progressive, or critical? Especially when navigating different cultures backgrounds, generations awareness levels.

Laura La Rosa  49:50

Stop attacking people. It’s that simple. Yeah, we’re all grown ups. I think there are ways you know, it’s the same when you live in a share house, like, I just came out of a share house in Melbourne where, you know, we’re all in our 30s It doesn’t matter how old you are actually, I realise I talk about age a lot, but there’s this sort of, don’t attack people talk to people have just be openly honest. And, sort of back to that last question, if they’re being violent or whatever, don’t engage, just opt out and block. That’s what I would say.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  50:31

I guess there’s always a risk that the position that you take is not necessarily the right position, that you need to also be open to considering another perspective. And so I agree, don’t attack each other, don’t just don’t never do it. But also to be willing to listen. And, again, I guess, to foster an environment where it’s okay to have a disagreement, and that that isn’t necessarily construed as attacking. But that, you know, that a lot of this, I think a lot of this work is done before some of these interactions happen, that it’s necessary to continue to always be cultivating this kind of environment so that when disagreements, or attacks, or different perspectives come up that it is already established within an environment that there are ways in which to engage with it, and ways to not do it. And like, I’m in it for the long game on all of this stuff. It’s just, you know, to really put in this work ahead of time, in order to be able to better understand it, to be able to respond to it more constructively to know when to leave it. And all of those things that is kind of a long-term strategy for engaging with people in general, I think, yeah,

Wendy Mocke  52:00

I’m just gonna switch gears for a little bit. Um, so more and more in the current social and political climate, the lines between advocacy and traditional modes of activism are blurring. So my question for you both, is, what does activism look like? In the current social and political climate? And would you consider yourself an activist and advocate or both,

Laura La Rosa  52:30

Um, look, to be a woman, to be an Aboriginal woman today you’re forced to do advocacy because that’s part of being in community. I would say I’m a dabbling activist, I can sometimes go 6 or 12 months on a particular campaign or project and then have six months where I just sort of look after myself and my people. So yes, I engage in activism but I’m many things it’s like, you know, it’s, I do activism, but I wouldn’t say it’s my entire identity. In terms of the lines being blurred, I feel like I think that’s a line out of my article. That’s actually an actual quote out of my article about the lines between advocacy community work with lobbying blurred, or maybe my Q&A, but I think we need to really acknowledge people that the work of people behind the scenes, and we need to allow people to contribute in a way that safe and realise that, you know, if you’re someone who can’t be on the picket line, say, for accessibility reasons, or whatever, and your way of advocacy is, you know, helping people in your street or whatever it is, I guess, one of the big messages that I wanted to put out today is that there’s no right or wrong in terms of how you contribute. And we, I would like to take a moment to kind of acknowledge the people that are more quiet contributors, because there are far more than we might realise, that are doing some incredible work behind the scenes, and they don’t get the kudos, and they don’t get the, you know, the magazine spreads and all that kind of stuff. And as well as people that are no longer with us as well, that, you know, did a lot of incredible work, whether it was community-based or something kind of broader that we now benefit from, and that may have been forgotten. And that’s something that you know, I really keep in mind with my work. He’s going back as well, not just looking at contemporary stuff, but looking at the last few decades. So yeah, it’s what I guess that’s what I wanted to put across.

Wendy Mocke  55:00

Yeah, so why I asked that question was because, you know, the ways in which people, I guess perform activism has kind of shifted, we’ve seen a shift in the way, people, whether it’s through, you know, physically, whether it’s through their art. And so I’m just kind of curious as to how we identify ourselves, whether we actually identify ourselves as activists, or what form of activism, would you say that you kind of fall under, or kind of exercise?

Laura La Rosa  55:34

I don’t think we need to define ourselves, I think we’re going to find as the kind of political and environmental situation goes even more chaotic, we’re going to be forced into this kind of work, particularly people in varying degrees of marginalisation have been doing that kind of work forever. I don’t, I’m just not big on labels like I don’t need to go out and go, I’m this or I’m that. And I don’t need to perform my activism either. I’ve been accused of not being a real activist by some of these violent people. And I laugh it off because I just think if you feel the need to showcase your activism unless it’s part of the campaign unless it’s central to the campaign. You don’t need to kind of wave it and go, ‘Hey, look what I’m doing’ I just don’t buy into that. And I don’t really buy into titles and labels, I find it really difficult writing my own bios. So I don’t know if that helps.

Wendy Mocke  56:40

Anna, what are your thoughts on advocacy activism? Where do you find yourself?

Anna Spargo-Ryan  56:47

I think the thing about mental health is that you need, if you don’t advocate for yourself, you die like you don’t get a choice, you need to be able to learn to self advocate, and you need if you have the energy to become an advocate for mental health in general, that you need to be able to learn the language to describe mental health concerns that you need to be able to create a mental health narrative that is going to help a doctor to understand what kind of help you need, you need to be able to be dissatisfied with the system, otherwise, you die. And so I am an advocate by necessity. I think when I started writing about mental health, it was because I was so unwell that it was the only thing that I knew to write about. It wasn’t because I thought, I’m going to make a difference by writing about my own mental health experience. It was like, I can’t think about anything other than how depressed I am. And I need to write. So that was what I wrote. And people, it resonated with people. And they said, ‘Oh, my God, I feel like this as well’. And, and I went, ‘I thought I was all by myself’. And in that sense, it then became a political statement that I’m not okay with the state of mental health care, I’m not okay with the fact that people are getting left behind. But it didn’t start out like that. And I don’t think of myself as doing a specific kind of activism, I am just am trying to normalise experiences and give people a way of communicating with somebody else. The best thing I can do as a writer is to give someone a tool they can use to get the best care that they can. I don’t know what it is, but it’s Yeah, it’s a matter of life or death.

Wendy Mocke  58:54

Yeah, I find that really satisfying to hear from you both. Because, you know, oftentimes people will say, oh, you’re an activist, or what you do is activism. And I kind of, I kind of feel I get a bit Oh, no. So, it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks that. I’d like to ask you both, are there any activist, writers or change makers who inspire you? And, and why? 

Laura La Rosa  59:23

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I feel a little bit put on the spot that I mean, I’m endlessly inspired by different writers. Obviously, immerse myself in the work of a lot of blackfellas. A lot of contextualising my work and kind of validating it has come from, you know, reading up on Alieen Moreton Robinson, people like that. I’m a big fan of like, Tony Birch and writers like that, who can, you know, go out there and really, a road sort of change makers but also right, with so much honesty and character and vulnerability as well. And I guess, you know, I’ve my kind of adventure into feminism was bell hooks and people like that so and musicians as well artists, I mean, in we there’s just so much there’s so much inspiration out there. So absolutely, yes. And it’s actually quite overwhelming at times.

Anna Spargo-Ryan  1:00:22

Yeah, I think I am particularly admiring of people who are able to create beautiful activism. You know, it’s hard to communicate a message that either contradicts what someone already believes, or that is difficult to digest. And I think arts role is so powerful in giving people something that they will want to engage with because it’s so lovely, or it’s so moving, or it’s so powerful, or whatever it is. But that is different from just telling someone what to think that it is a way that they can come to it come to an idea in their own way through art. So a lot of the activists that I admire are writers, and other kinds of artists, as Laura was saying musicians and visual artists and playwrights and but I particularly love, Yasmin, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, this amazing American Palestinian poet called Hala Alyan, who I was lucky enough to do a writing workshop with. And she writes her advocacy and her activism into all of her writing in a way that you don’t even notice until you get to the end. And I think that is just such an incredible skill. And in disability, El Gibbs, Stella Young was such an incredible advocate. I won’t call her inspiring, because she would hate that, but some that she advocated in a way that was no-nonsense. That was not bullshit that you know, this kind of it doesn’t even I just said it’s nice to have art to engage with. It doesn’t need to be palatable, it needs to be understood. And I think that she did that in such a tremendous way and Taran Chawla who advocates of, you know, violence against women and just people who show tremendous passion and, and community in the work that they do.

Wendy Mocke  1:02:35

Awesome. Can I just quickly throw a question from the audience? Emily has asked, ‘I’d love to ask you both about feminism and its role in your own writing, arts and advocacy practices. I guess I’m especially interested in the tensions of white feminism, and its violence alongside other kinds of more beneficial communal feminism’s and the values and wisdom of matriarchal cultures with feminism is not the key concept. So the tensions of white feminism and its violence alongside other kinds of more beneficial and communal feminism, so the values of wisdom of matriarchal cultures.’

Laura La Rosa  1:03:13

There’s a specific kind of corporate white feminism that takes place that I’m obviously quite obsessed with to a degree, because I’ve got quite a corporate background before I went into the arts. So I’ve had proximity to that world, and I’ve lived in that world and seen how it operates. So it’s a passion to kind of interrogate that. I think the key thing, that I try and put across in my work, is this particular form of what feminism that I write about is the patriarchy. It is encompassed under the patriarchy. And we need to get that through our heads that some white women are very patriarchal, even if they brand themselves as progressive feminists. And that’s what I want to get across. And that’s how I’d speak to that tension.

Wendy Mocke  1:04:08

So just really quickly, Emily’s just messaged, clarifying her question: she’s asking about the role of feminism in Laura and Anna’s own work and art practice. So what’s the role of feminism in your own work in practice?

Laura La Rosa  1:04:24

I’ll just say really quickly that in my Q&A, I kind of defined what feminism to me is, and I don’t really buy into the language of gender equality, because I feel like it’s very outmoded. And it, it’s very binary. Um, and a lot of the white feminists that are fighting for gender equality, are these patriarchal figures that just want to sit at the table. They believe in trickle down tactics, they have zero concepts of class because they’re predominantly middle class or, you know strived to kind of mix in those worlds. Like, for me, feminism is so much broader, it’s one of many words and umbrella term that encompasses things like race, class, ability and interrogating these constructs around gender. So I have a very different view of feminism. And that’s how I embody that, I live and breathe that, not just in my writing, but in my everyday work, my relationships with my family, my brothers, my nephews, like, you know, so I hope that kind of answers that somewhat.

Wendy Mocke  1:05:48

Yeah, it does. It does. Anna where does feminism fit in your life? Your work and in arts practice?

Anna Spargo-Ryan  1:05:54

Hmm. Um, I agree that feminism has been able to evolve into something that’s quite individualistic, that, you know, how can I get ahead as a woman, and it leaves a lot of women behind. And it’s not the white women that are left behind. And I think for me, in my art practice, I was raised by a very impressive woman who broke a lot of glass ceilings, in a way that was inspiring to me as a younger person. But that didn’t give me many models through which to interrogate my own understanding of feminism. And so what my art I guess, has become is an opportunity to interrogate. And I think in all of I hope that in all of the writing that I do that I am always asking myself questions about why I think something, why I’m inclined to write something in a particular way, who might be hurt by the writing that I’m doing and to always be mindful of my position as, as a privileged person that you know, the harm that I can do as a person writing from a position of privilege if I don’t ask those questions, while I’m creating art, that has become at the forefront of how I like stepping aside when I need to, I guess, as well in my role, as I’m the nonfiction editor at Island magazine, to use opportunities like that to actively make space for voices that don’t get space made for them by some publications and to eat but like to actually do the work. And not to just, you know, to actually think and try and, and step aside and make space and lift people up and do all of that work. And not just to write pretty stories, which is what I like I’d love to just write pretty stories, but that is not acceptable.

Wendy Mocke  1:08:00

That’s all we have time for today. There is so much to take away from this afternoon’s conversations and I myself have learnt so much. Thank you to everyone watching. Please remember self care, and activism, are not mutually exclusive. I invite you all to join me in thanking our speakers Anna Spargo- Ryan and Laura La Rosa. And thank you for being a part of the Feminist Writers Festival for 2020.

Nikki Anderson  1:08:34

We hope you enjoyed the conversation. Thanks to the speakers and chair, our podcast partner Listen Up Podcasting, Creative Victoria, the Besen Family Foundation and Queen Vic Women’s Centre for vital funding support. For more FWF goodness, visit our website, feministwritersfestival.com and find us on socials.

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