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March 8, 2016

Independent women (Hi Mum)

by Jess Guth

For the School of Law Blog I wrote a little post for International Women’s day which touches on my work on gender and the judiciary. I also wanted to write something more personal about the women who have inspired me to be who I am. And then it dawned on me  – this is a really hard thing to do! Of course there are people who I admire hugely. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg – I mean, she’s just got a scarily sharp legal mind and amazing insight and a way with words. For example as far back as 1971 she wrote (in the brief she wrote for the plaintiff in the US landmark case of Reed v Reed):

‘Laws which disable women from full participation in the political, business and economic arenas are often characterized as “protective” and beneficial.The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, on closer inspections, been revealed as a cage. ‘

Anyway, I could list the inspirational women in law but that list wouldn’t be very imaginative and it also would not be true to say that those women inspired me to be who I am today – mostly I doubt I was aware of them as I was finding my path through school and university. So who are those women I want to celebrate? I think I have always been surrounded by really strong and independent women. Gender equality wasn’t really a thing for me growing up. I remember sitting in a tutorial at university talking about careers and my personal tutor (the wonderful Professor Fiona Cownie) making a coment about the lack of female professors. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me. It felt like being hit by a freight train: This shit is real. Women actually are disadvantaged. That didn’t happen in my world. In my world my gran lived on a hill in the middle of nowhere on her own and just dealt with shit, my Oma took charge of everything,  my Mum was a working single mum who encouraged and valued my independence almost to a fault. My best friend’s mum encouraged us to be whacky, individual, always in your face and fiercely independent. I had friends from traditional family units but if I am honest I thought they were decidedly odd. I thought the mums staying at home was just weird – why on earth would they want to do that. I thought the ‘have lunch, sit down and do your homework’ structured approach and the micro management of my friends’ lives was odd. I thought I had the best mum in the world – obviously – because she wanted me to be me.

I liked my world. In my world gender didn’t matter, sexuality didn’t matter, in fact nothing stupid like that mattered. I went to a German grammar school where suddenly where you were from and who your parents are mattered. I remember thinking that this was strange. I also remember that I once got incredibly angry because a teacher made a comment about how as a kid from a single parent family and living on the other side of town my chances of being successful were singificantly reduced. That didn’t make sense in my world where just being you mattered but I didn’t quite have the language to express that. I think that has stuck with me. People shouldn’t have to change for the world they live in – people should change the world.

So here’s to the fiercely independent women of the world. In fact here’s to the fiercely independent people of the world, who never stop asking questions, who are there to see their friends, families and complete strangers succeed and who are always striving to  topple pedestals and tear down cages.

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