Interview: One Woman Project ACT Director, Ruth Horsfall

Tell me a bit about your organisation. What are the goals of One Woman Project?

The One Woman Project (OWP) is a youth-led not-for-profit organisation that was founded in Brisbane by Madeline Price in 2013. Ultimately, we want to educate as many people as possible about the enduring gender inequality that exists both globally and here in Australia. We’re all about dispelling the idea that equality has been “achieved” and shining a light on the areas where inequality is still overwhelmingly present.

What do you think is the most important thing for young women in Australia today to know?

For young women in Australia, I think that understanding the nuances of gender issues and to a greater extent, feminism is vital in furthering their knowledge and ability to affect change. By making their gender advocacy and beliefs intersectional, and ensuring they encompass issues related to race, sexuality, class, and disability (among others) they get the greatest chance of understanding how gender inequality hurts people. This allows us to raise awareness about issues that are most in need of exposure.

Additionally, from my own lived experiences, it’s important for young women to know that they are important, they are powerful and they matter – this is despite the fact they will face silencing everyday of their lives. It can be exhausting to discuss gender inequality but the more we talk about it, the easier it becomes.

What is your perspective on male allies to the feminist cause? Does it hearten you that men sign up for your seminar series?

It is actually within our scope this semester to ensure that we market ourselves outside of gender-focussed groups, such as women’s and queer groups within universities. Although we love having people come along who are experienced and passionate, to a degree it means we are preaching to the choir and we really need to be equally (if not more) reaching out to people who might not know much about gender inequality at all. This often inevitably includes men, and we always think it’s fantastic that they want to come along and further their learning about the issues faced by women, and other minorities who experience discrimination.

Unfortunately regarding male allies and feminism, I tend to be wary of men who claim to be feminists as such a proclamation is nearly always accompanied by a tendency to speak over, or for, women. Men often ignore the fact that their lived experiences exclude them from being able to understand first hand the results of gender inequality and they don’t like being told this in no uncertain terms. The best way for men to support feminism is to call out other men for perpetuating sexism and misogyny, and to educate themselves as much as possible. Sitting in on an OWP seminar, and asking questions, can be a fantastic way to do this.

Onto the theme of this edition – obviously, sex and consent are issues that affect women strongly within our society, often in ways that are awful. We live in a world where there are still problems concerning a culture of sexual assault. What do you think the way forward is?

The YWCA Canberra is one of the only organisations (to my knowledge) that is advocating for better education as our most powerful means for addressing sexual and domestic violence. I wholeheartedly support this idea and believe that intervention later in life to help men address a tendency for sexual violence is largely futile, and ignores our culturally entrenched ideas about masculinity, gender roles and what it means to ‘be a man’ in Australia. As long as we glorify men for being strong, sexually aggressive, powerful and domineering, we will find it increasingly difficult to change our current dynamic, which allows a culture of sexual violence to flourish.

We must end the culture of victim blaming and focusing on the action’s of victims. Nearly 2 women die a week in Australia, and even though a majority of them died at the hands of men we still can’t talk about men as being violence perpetrators without dissent. It is much easier to derail a conversation by saying “not all men are rapists!” than it is to face the fact that when a woman is assaulted, or raped 9 times out of 10 her attacker is a man she knows, whether that be a friend, partner or family member.

What are your thoughts on positive consent as a new norm in sexual interactions?

I love the idea of positive consent and can’t really believe it’s taken us this long to frame consent in this way. In my opinion, consent should mean the presence of a yes, not the absence of a no. I want to reinforce the idea that consent is ongoing, and can be withdrawn at any time as well as addressing how male entitlement to women’s bodies feeds into the sexual violence epidemic. I think we should be starting to talk to children about consent as early as primary school – consent is not just about sex, it’s about how you make people feel through things like personal space, use of their belongings, as well as the things you say to and about them.

In the feminist movement, the question of sex-positive versus sex-negative feminism is one that is hotly contested. Given your experience with One Woman Project, do you think there are particular insights into this debate that are important to young people today?

Particularly since identifying as a feminist, I always aligned myself closely with the idea of sex positivity. To me, it really addressed a lot of my own insecurities about sex and sexuality growing up, and allowed me to learn more about what made sex a rewarding and positive experience. It gave me the strength to talk about sex with people, which opened up my world and made sex much safer and enjoyable for me. However, I am increasingly interested in the idea of being sex-critical, which as you might already know sits somewhere between positive and negative. It exists in a space that encompasses a lot of facets of sex positivity while also providing more space for discussion on issues which have been silenced or ignored in the past, such as asexuality.

To me, being sex critical is important for young people as it gives them space to be educated on sex and sexuality, and allow them to feel like they can experiment safely and enjoyably. On the other hand, it also tells them that it is okay to not enjoy sex, or to not be very interested in it at all. It allows for fluidity and acknowledges our desire for sex will change throughout our lives, and perhaps our sexuality will too.

Any last words or comments?

Just that I would encourage anyone who is even a little interested in learning more about the OWP, or anything I’ve said in this interview to come along to our first seminar on Tuesday 11 August at 6.30pm at the Club 12/25 Youth Centre on Cooyong Street in Civic.

We pride ourselves on creating a safe space for participants, meaning we welcome young people from all walks of life who are interested in having powerful and interesting conversation about gender inequality.