her words – interview with series creator Domini Marshall

Domini Marshall is the creator of her words, a new video interview series exploring many of the real issues facing Australian women today. her words releases monthly and each episode features interviews with four women around a different theme.

The first episode of the series is focused around self-love. Released on International Women’s Day (March 8) of this year, it features interviews with such recognisable names as Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Van Badham, and Frances Cannon.

What were you hoping to communicate with this series?

her words exists to give a platform to diverse women and their diverse stories. We hope that by doing so, it will offer an alternative narrative to the one we see in the media and will allow women to see parts of themselves reflected that they may not have seen reflected before. It’s our hope that women feel validated in their own experiences and feel that their emotions and stories are worthy and real. We hope that by hearing the stories of others, they might feel they have the courage to stand up, share their story and speak out against the inequality they face.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea for the series came about?

The idea for the series came about through my own witnessing and experiencing of the power of storytelling. Through listening to the stories of other women and sharing my own, I felt the power in that. I felt there was a need to be having conversations about the things women experience and do so in a way that represents and celebrates the diversity of women and their stories.

Why is it important for women to be able to share their stories, in your opinion?

When you’re able to share your story and feel really seen and heard in that process, it allows for a sense of validation in your experiences and that can lead to empowerment. When we share our stories, it opens ourselves up for connection and when you connect with someone through their story, what can come from it is a feeling of legitimacy and belonging in a world that tells marginalised groups that they are somehow and in some way always ‘lesser than’. It can help you feel that your story, experiences, thoughts and emotions are worthy of respect and belonging (which they are) and it can create a sense of community where you back each other and stand up for what you believe in.

How did you go about choosing subjects to interview?

We approached it in a number of ways. Something that’s important to us in ensuring that we’re giving a platform to diverse women’s voices, and also to women’s voices who don’t necessarily already have a platform or are in the media. So we approached some women directly that we felt would have an interesting perspective to share, and we sent out an open callout for women through hubs and organisations, as well as media, to ensure that we weren’t missing out on important perspectives and voices and to give other women a chance to come forward and also to be nominated.

her words was created by an entirely female team. Why was it important to you that the team be entirely female?

The film industry is often a male dominated one, especially in certain areas and we felt it was important to give these opportunities to women. There’s a Gender Bias Without Borders report (run by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media) and it found that in Australia, out of 386 characters surveyed on screen, only 29.8% were female characters. Behind the camera, there were 3.9 males to every 1 female with female directors making up only 7%. In another Gender Matters report by Screen Australia, they found a strong relationship between women behind the camera and women on screen. Films made by women directors featured a female character 74% of the time, as opposed to only 24% for films with male directors. So we feel it’s important to be supporting women in film, and to support filmmaking and storytelling that features diverse and complex women.

her words will be released monthly and each month will be focused around a different theme. Some of these themes are self-love, everyday sexism and victim blaming. Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose these themes in particular?

her words is an ongoing series, and we release new interviews on a new theme each month. To start with, those themes have included self-love, everyday sexism, feminism and sexual assault and victim blaming, among others. One of our goals with the project is to go beyond surface level conversation and the themes allow us to talk more deeply about certain topics. For us, they were themes we felt were important, but equally every theme is important and they really are limitless!

There is a quote on your Instagram page by Georgia O’Keefe, which goes: ‘I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do’. My immediate reaction to hearing a statement of this kind is to feel sceptical, because I think it creates this illusion of empowerment, that you can do anything now (because feminism happened), that nothing is holding you back, or that there will no longer be any obstacles if you just believe in yourself enough, which is not true. What do you think about O’Keefe’s quote and do you share my scepticism?

I think everyone is going to have a different take on any quote. For me, this quote is not necessarily about feminism or gender equality. It’s more about leaning into the fear that comes with growth. Embracing your vulnerability, not hiding away from it.

We certainly don’t have gender equality and feminism didn’t just ‘happen’, it is an ongoing movement with ongoing progress and goals that we haven’t reached yet. To me, this quote is about recognising the kind of fear that promotes growth. The kind of fear that, if we push through, if we leap in spite of, builds our courage, boosts our confidence and allows us to experience the world in new ways and see new perspectives.

The first theme in your series is ‘self-love’. There is a lot of talk nowadays within feminist circles of ‘self-acceptance’ and ‘self-love’, while words like ‘patriarchy’, ‘male domination’ or even ‘masculine domination’ are fading out of the picture. Feminism is now more about looking at the self and the idea of allowing young women to feel that they are subjects of capacity. Self-love is obviously very important and so is connecting through shared experiences, but do these things necessarily entail political involvement? In other words, what do you hope cultivating self-love and connection will lead to in terms of combating inequality in a practical sense?

In a patriarchal society, we’re often fed one prescription of what it means to be a woman – we have to look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way, be a certain way, to support the patriarchy. We’re told we’re not enough or we’re too much. But that prescription doesn’t allow for us to love ourselves as we are. It keeps women in control, always trying to reach this impossible standard that only benefits the structures of power within a patriarchy. And it can be all-consuming – the guilt, the shame, the obsessing – imagine what we could do with that time and energy? If we can love ourselves fully as imperfect human beings, those feelings don’t just suddenly disappear, but we are better equipped to push against gender stereotypes and to focus on pursuing other things – like our dreams, our passions, etc.

We’re also better able to love others and to maintain healthy relationships. I think self-love is the foundation for all love and also an integral part of empathy. I love what Frances Cannon says in her interview: ‘If you know how to treat yourself well and if you know how to think of yourself without loathing, then you can look at someone else and be like, they are a whole human as well, I should treat them with respect as well.’

I believe self-love and connection can also help to build courage, which can hopefully enable more women to speak up and stand up against the inequality they face. Self-love is not about feeding the ego, it’s about true self-acceptance. It’s not a static thing, however, it’s an ongoing journey. And it can be really hard! I don’t think we ever feel like we’re 100% there when it comes to self-love. It’s always changing and that’s ok too.

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