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Leslie Cannold: The Problem with Feminists

Listen to Leslie Cannold: The Problem with Feminists

In her Lunchbox/Soapbox presentation, author and ethicist Leslie Cannold tackles feminism, and in particular, what ideals should inform how female representation unfolds in the popular imagination.

Cannold opens by further explaining the premise of her presentation, declaring that “the problem with feminists is that there aren’t enough of them”. Ultimately, she sees us aspiring to build a world in which the need for feminists “withers away”.

Prompted by her reflections on the Barbara Jefferis Award, she asks: what obligations does a feminist novelist have? Can fictional characters be role models, and if so, should writers endeavour to portray exemplary females?

Considering her own textual upbringing, in which she describes herself as being equally fascinated by disempowered or “villainous” characters, Cannold extends the argument that feminist writers should simply acknowledge a fair balance of the genders. The key, she says, is that female characters don’t need to be especially good, virtuous or inspirational to be entitled to “half of the space in stories our culture tells about itself, to itself.”

To illustrate her point, she offers a non-fiction example: her account of what Julia Gillard’s appointment to Prime Ministerial office might represent for feminists and for our society: “To my mind, women shouldn’t need to prove they’re better than men to deserve their fair share of life’s opportunities. That they’re human, and it’s only fair, should be enough. On this account, Julia Gillard doesn’t have to be a good Prime Minister for those who supported her to be PM to be vindicated. Having a female PM meant both nothing and everything.”

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