I’m currently on holiday, an extended easter break, meandering through country Victoria and South Australia. Being originally from a country area in Victoria myself, this is a bit like getting back to my roots, although we’ve gone in a completely different direction from the place I grew up in.
It’s made me think about my up-bringing, and the paradoxical lack-of and abundance-of powerful female role models in country areas. Sure, there is often a lack of flexibility of gender roles in country towns, and often women are left carrying large burdens of full-time work and the bulk of the house work and parenting. I don’t want to romanticise this, and it’s a huge reason why I’m relieved to be living in a city where it’s not unusual for gender roles to be questioned and transcended (although this is still painful in cities as well). But it’s unhelpful and incorrect to generalise Australian country towns as old-fashioned places where feminism doesn’t exist.
Some of the strongest women role models I’ve known have been from country Australia, defying all of the entrenched crap that comes along with a more conservative community that you often find in country areas. Whilst they weren’t ever business leaders, or successful CEO’s, they were amazingly talented at their job, and had often got to the level they were at in defiance/in spite of the boys club that comes with most professions in these areas. I don’t mean that these professions don’t have boys clubs in the cities, or that everyone in country areas is a social conservative, but the general picture is often this way.
At the end of year 12 I remember considering the number of women in business in the town I had grown up in. I know I couldn’t think of a single woman who was in business in the town without a male business partner, and that those in any kind of business were few and far between. This is how I was encouraged to think about female role models at the time. I know now that I was often surrounded by women I respected and found inspiring, for many different reasons, because they were strong and brilliant, and were doing things they loved. Looking around these country towns I’m staying in and travelling though, I am reminded of those women, and wonder how many I am meeting and observing just like them along the way.