‘If a witch is a woman on the margins then we’re all witches – because in a patriarchy all women are marginalised in one way or another.’
Witches, nuns, beauty vloggers, farmers, ballet dancers and weightlifters – all feature in Sam George-Allen’s celebratory debut Witches: What Women Do Together. For our March First Book Club, Ellen Cregan sat down with Sam George-Allen to discuss the book and the ways women work with and for each other.
This event was recorded live at Bargoonga Nganjin, North Fitzroy Library on 27 March, in partnership with Yarra Libraries. This recording will also be released on the Yarra Libraries Podcast.
Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.
Read Ellen Cregan’s review of Witches in our March Books Roundup.
Read Sam George-Allen’s reflection on returning to social media after completing the book.
Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!
Transcript coming soon
Meaghan Dew: Hello and welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew and today I’ll be bringing you a recording of our March First Book Club event. Sam George-Allen’s debut title Witches: What Women Do Together is out now with Penguin Random House. The book looks at groups of women working together – beauty vloggers and nuns, farmers and weightlifters. It’s a fascinating, celebratory read. At Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy Library, First Book Club coordinator Ellen Cregan asks Sam a few questions about the book. This recording has been edited for clarity, but we’ve left the swears in, so just keep that in mind.
Ellen Cregan: So my name is Ellen, and I’m the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club coordinator. Kill Your Darlings is an online magazine, and we publish criticism, cultural commentary, some fiction, heaps and heaps of stuff. We also offer things like writing workshops, some prizes, manuscript assessments and other writerly programs – and we also run a podcast that features interviews and discussions of bookish things, which we are actually recording tonight. And what the First Book Club is, is it features a debut book every month, either fiction or nonfiction, and sort of brings together things like reviews, excerpts, interviews on the website and in podcasts, and events just like the one we’re having tonight. So this evening we’re going to be discussing our First Book Club pick for March, which is Witches – which is Witches: What Women Do Together by Sam George-Allen, who’s sitting next to me. Welcome Sam, thanks for coming.
Sam George-Allen: Thank you so much for having me Ellen.
EC: Um, so Sam and I are going to talk for 30-ish minutes, and then there will be time for everyone to ask questions – so I will give you all a heads up when the time comes for the questions. So you can sort of prep them and have them in your mind – there’s always an awkward silence when you say you’re going to ask questions, so I don’t want that – be ready. And now we’re going to begin with a reading from the book from Sam, for those people who haven’t yet had a chance to read it.
SGA: Okay, so I’m reading from… From the introduction of the book which hopefully give you an introduction to the book.
Being let into the boys’ club is such a monumentally disappointing prize. Reminiscing with a friend recently, we were appalled to realise how much of our teen years were spent sitting silently in male friends’ houses, watching them play video games. They didn’t even offer us the controller. This was what we were rewarded with for being the ‘cool girl’? What a crock of shit.
Witches, though, have never sought entry into that club. Go back to the Middle Ages, go further to Ancient Greece and Rome, further, to the magical traditions of Africa and the Americas, and you will find women doing work – healing work, birthing work, spirit work – in their own damn club. Witches have been many things throughout human history (and by no means have they always been women), but now, after centuries of Judeo-Christian culture and colonialism, the term ‘witch’ has come to describe a woman on the margins. During the European witch craze of the Middle Ages, a witch was any woman who challenged or alarmed the church or the community, whether by knowing how to heal people with herbs rather than leeches and prayer, or by being poor, old, disfigured or otherwise different.
If a witch is a woman on the margins, then we’re all witches, because in a patriarchy all women are marginalised in one way or another. The word is still deployed as a threat, reminding us that we’re all a step or two away from the stake and the flames. It was only in 2016 that Peter Dutton, then Immigration minister for the Coalition government, called journalist Samantha Maiden a ‘mad fucking witch’, and just a few years earlier that Tony Abbott was staging press conferences about Julia Gillard in front of signs that read ‘Ditch the Witch’. The term might seem at home lumped alongside other choice words reserved for putting women in their place – but there’s something different about witch. Maybe it’s undisguisable element of power about it. Maybe that’s why now, many women, young and old, are choosing to claim the title for themselves.
I went back to witchcraft spurred by that all-consuming envy that saw me pulling cards from my Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and the unnerving, overwhelming feeling that I was being acted upon by forces beyond my control. I could not get a hold of myself. It felt like magic, so I looked to magical traditions, seeking, half-jokingly, a way of making sense of it all. What I found was a tradition of women helping women. I had my revelation here. If all women are witches because they’re on the margins, then groups of women – collaborators, covens – are the witchiest of all. Women in groups make the margins their home, draw their strength from being able to see clearly from the edge, and together they are deeply and earth-movingly subversive – yes, even the Country Women’s Association, even the Girl Scouts, even the Concerned Women for America.
Because, let’s be real: how frightening is the thought of women in concert with one another? How intimidating, for those who need the patriarchy for success, to imagine a league of women for whom male approval is the last thing on their minds? How easy is it to understand the Athenians’ mortal horror in the face of reports that the Amazons, the warrior women of Classical History, might be mobilising to move on Greece? The assumption that women always inhabit objecthood, unable to exercise the subjectivity necessary to even want to work together, is turned on its head; this is the legacy of consciousness-raising, that second-wave movement of feminism among the isolated women of the First World, the movement Rebecca Solnit says broke ‘through the shame that had kept them silent and alone’; here is where Audre Lorde found ‘the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living’.
And here the witch emerges: unnerving enough on her own, but when she’s part of a coven, converting ‘good women’ – those who serve their families, those spread out and visible – to disciples, increasing the numbers of an unholy alliance of female agency, she becomes outright terrifying.
Of course there is a conspiracy to keep women apart from one another. As much as my issues with competitiveness are products of my own unique neuroses, many of the women I spoke to for this book, when I told them what I was writing about, had a gleam of recognition in their eyes. When I talked to Sue Middleton, former Rural Woman the Year and phenomenally successful farmer, she brought up the fact that a lot of women her age who occupied positions of power in their industries were reluctant to let other women join them at the top. It’s a recognised phenomenon, when the women who fought hard against the current of sexism and marginalisation to get to their position then kick the door shut behind them. Jessa Crispin talks about it in her book Why I Am Not A Feminist, pointing out that the door-slamming often happens along lines of privilege: white women, in particular, have opened doors for other white women but refused to do the same for non-white women, or for trans or non-binary people.
I spoke to Melbourne artist DJ Sezzo about why we felt a sense of competition only with other women and not with men. She came at it from an economic perspective: the idea persists in lots of industries, both creative and otherwise, that most roles are for men, and that the roles available to women are scarce at best, so we feel a sense of false economy and its accompanying anxiety. Believing that there are only one or two positions available to us means that we compete with members of our own gender much more than we compete with others outside that group, and it means that we absorb the ideas that women (other women) are incompetent, unworthy of admiration or aspiration, objects of suspicion.
I think she’s right. Slamming the door shut behind you, competing for artificially scarce opportunities – they’re both symptoms of a system that’s rigged to keep us distracted from the real problem: the fact that there is a door to slam in the first place; the outrageous lie that there are only ever a few spaces available for women at the top of their game. This was the root of the all-consuming envy I felt, and it’s what I needed to tear out. Fortunately the women I’ve spoken to in the course of writing this book are the best possible proof that there is infinite room for wise, brilliant, talented women in every industry. Ballet dancers, weightlifters, farmers, nuns – they are all doing the work, in their own ways and their own spaces, of tearing down the paper scenery and opening up the real world.
I had hoped that this book would help with that work. For the first time in my life I’ve intentionally put myself in positions where I can learn from other women – only other women. I’ve spent so much time listening to people’s stories, letting their knowledge and experiences change me; I wanted to make something that would change other people, too. But the change I had hoped to make is already here. When I look around, I no longer see those narratives of feminine competition. I’ve spent enough time talking with the people featured in this book to know for sure that the natural state of women together is not rivalry. This book is a memoir of learning, and unlearning, as well as a celebration of women in collaboration with one another. Everywhere, women are doing things together – wonderful things, magical things – in spite of all the bullshit we’re told about women being catty, backstabbing, untrustworthy bitches. I’m not trying to suggest that all women are kind to each other, or supportive of one another, or any one thing at all. We all know that our lives and stories are as diverse as we are; I know I can’t be representative of all experiences. But what I am trying to show is an alternative – many alternatives – to the stories we are usually told. This book is a letter to my former self, and anyone who’s ever felt like her. Look at all these women, I want to say. Look what happens when we come together. Magic, some people say, is change driven by intent. Of course we are witches.
Thank you so much.
EC: You should all definitely read the book, but that kind of gives such a brilliant summary of what the whole book is, like it’s just… It’s a very good introduction I think. The perfect section to read. I also love the way that you open with that anecdote of pulling tarot cards, because one of the greatest things I did as a teenager was use tarot cards to scare boys, who didn’t understand it, didn’t want to understand it, but wanted to feel scared – and that was a kind of, not a real power, but in a way it was. So there are so many interesting ideas you go into in the book, which we kind of get from that little introduction there, and they’re extremely wide-ranging. How did you decide which kinds of women you wanted to write about in the book?
SGA: Sure, yeah, that’s a good question, because I kind of don’t remember. But most of them, most of the groups of women I chose to research and talk to, I had some kind of a personal connection to. It’s why, for example, there’s a chapter on farmers, because my mum is a farmer, a late-in-life farmer, yeah. So I I had been in bands, which is why I wrote on girl bands, I had been a teenage girl, which is why I wrote about teen girls. And then there were the groups that I was very interested in, just because I didn’t know anything about them. And I had preconceptions that I think I wanted to address, which is like nuns, dancers – I’ve never been a dancer, it has always seemed like this completely esoteric inscrutable art form – yeah, so I guess it was personal connection, in either like a standard-issue form, like I had a personal relationship with them already, or it was connection in that I was, had an intense curiosity but I wanted to, to um, slake.
EC: Something I kind of took from the book, which is maybe just me, was that all of these groups of women and girls are kind of, I guess, misunderstood or very underrated. So dancers for example, dance is one of – and you go into this in the book – it’s one of the oldest art forms, it literally is, that’s sort of the oldest that we have evidence for, and dance is seen as this kind of really insubstantial thing that isn’t high art unless it’s being choreographed by a man.
SGA: Yeah, yeah, I mean dance is such an obvious example of diminishing an art form because it’s coded feminine, right? Dance is definitely coded feminine, we think of dance, we think of pink tutus and ballet slippers and, and oh, all the millions of ballerina-themed children’s shows that are just for girls – and that means that we take it less seriously, like you said – unless, exactly, unless it’s choreographed by a man, which is the case for almost all ballet. But I found it so interesting to get into the world of dance, because that kind of encultured ignorance means that women can kind of do what they want with the art form, without scrutiny, and I thought that was a really fascinating aspect of it. Which is sort of repeated throughout the book in those groups of women.
EC: Oh definitely, and I think dancers as well, it’s like you were saying, it’s the pink, the soft, the fluffy materials, but actually dancers are like the strongest people, they’re incredibly muscular, their feet are messed up…
SGA: Yeah, yeah, people say boxers and ballet dancers are the fittest athletes.
EC: Yeah, completely, yeah – and that’s not the kind of surface image that comes to mind when you think ballet.
SGA: No, no, but it’s what I loved about learning about ballet, especially as someone who is just, you know, not a casual ballet lover, that’s weird – but I love, I’ve been to the ballet a few times, always think it’s incredible, you know, because you’re seeing people do this amazing, these amazing things with their bodies. But learning about it and learning exactly what that entails, it’s like it’s this opportunity for the women who choose that as a career to be incredibly physically disciplined, and to spend their whole lives devoted to a physical art form, and… And not be censured for it, which is often the case with female athletes for example.
EC: Oh definitely, recently with AFLW. Terrible! Terrible. So this book is definitely one that contains a lot of elements of cultural studies and cultural criticism, but your particular voice is really strong throughout, and often it’s quite conversational – I felt reading this book that I was being spoken to about feminism and ways of being, about someone who was like a friend, or like a somebody who’s next to you. Do you think that the book gains from that kind of voice that you’ve kept throughout?
SGA: Ah, I mean I hope so. I’m not an experienced enough writer to stop myself doing that. It’s just the way that I write. Hopefully in the future I will be able to access different styles, and maybe write with a more authoritative tone or something – but I mean also, you know, the whole time I was writing the book I was having conversations about the the subject matter with my close girlfriends, with my community of women around me. And I think that informed the way that I wrote it for sure. So hopefully that is a good thing, I hope people like it…
EC: I really liked it. Do you think it was also because the structure of the book is, as we were saying, it goes through all these different kinds of women, and these groups of women, but you go in and you interview people and you get quite close to them – did that have a hand in that kind of approach? That you were you were having conversations not just with the people in your life, but with the actual people who you wanted to put in the book?
SGA: Yeah, I mean, I guess I felt… I felt that I had a responsibility to accurately portray the people who I interviewed, and accurately you know, transcribe not just what they said but how they felt about their industry or their vocation or whatever we were talking about. And so I guess I wanted to, as accurately as possible, depict the kinds of conversations that we had, and the stuff that we got into.
EC: So there are a couple of sections in the book that you actually co-wrote, which is a really interesting thing, and I think a fantastic thing that you’ve done. So the chapter on trans women and the chapter on Indigenous women, you worked with a partner throughout those chapters – someone who had lived experience of that kind of womanhood. Why did you want to do this?
SGA: I didn’t feel like I could write those chapters on my own, yeah. It’s… They were the chapters that were identity based rather than vocation or occupation based, and I, yeah, just didn’t feel that I had anywhere near the authority required to… to write about that with any sense of integrity. And I was lucky enough to know someone who I wanted to co-author the chapter on trans women with, whose work I really admired and who I consider a friend and wanted to collaborate with, and then Auntie Dawn who’s a Brisbane Indigenous elder is… We have a friend-family connection, she’s the great aunt of some of my really good friends in Brisbane, and that just worked out really well, yeah.
EC: And they’re very, they’re very different people, and as such they’re very different chapters. So I was wondering what it was like to sort of put these chapters together, with two people who have very different lived experiences, and also when you read the book, you’ll see that they have very different ways of telling their stories as well.
SGA: Yeah, well you know, I mean Liz, Liz Duck-Chong is who I co-authored the chapter on trans women with, and she is a writer and we had not collaborated, but we have often shared our work and, you know, giving each other critique and feedback, so we already had that kind of a working relationship. So when I approached her and said ‘would you like to co-author this chapter,’ it was very collaborative right from the start. I said ‘what do you think we should write it about, I’m kind of thinking about this, what do you reckon,’ and then we did the classic shared Google Doc system…
EC: Oh, nice!
SGA:.. Where we kind of wrote paragraphs and, and then, we would edit each other’s work as well. It was such a rewarding process, just as a writer, to work with someone whose work you really admire and get that really valuable feedback. So that was a fairly straight down the line co-authoring collaboration. Auntie Dawn is a born storyteller, and that’s what she does.
EC: She’s amazing, after I finished that chapter I went onto YouTube and I looked up, she does these singing things, it’s like a yarn time.
SGA: Yeah, yeah.
EC: And she’s got an acoustic guitar, and she’s just, she’s so magnetic.
SGA: Yeah, she’s an incredible performer, she’s a musician and a storyteller and an activist, and she does a lot of Welcome to Country-style events, and is deeply involved in Indigenous culture in Brisbane. But she’s not a writer, she’s an oral storyteller. So the way we did that was, again I approached her and said ‘would you like to co-author this chapter – I feel like probably the best way to do it would be if we just hung out a bunch and I pressed record on my phone, and then we went from there’ – and that’s what we did, we just hung out and I would ask her a couple of questions, and then she would tell me story after story, and I got to record them, and then I transcribed them and sent them to her, and said ‘how do you feel about this, I’ve edited some bits together to, you know, make it make sense on the page,’ and she was like, ‘yep, that’s great.’ That chapter is mostly Auntie Dawn, really.
SGA: And it’s interspersed with kind of contextualising bits that describe parts of her life that either she didn’t describe, or that I felt the reader might need to understand certain parts of her story. That was an incredibly rewarding experience as well, and I talk about it a bit in that chapter – you know, I lived in Brisbane for 10 years, I lived in West End, which is where Auntie Dawn is connected to, for five years – and she provided this connection to a part of that community that I’d never really accessed. And yeah, I’ve made a friend in her, we still stay in touch, and she’s just – like you said, she’s magnetic, she’s this incredible, like, focal point in the whole community.
EC: She’s worth looking up on YouTube, everybody. So one of the things that this book does very effectively is to dismantle the idea that women have this inane desire to tear each other down. So what was it that made you really want to take down this trope?
SGA: Oh, I have always had issues with competitiveness, which is just an inbuilt thing for me, it’s just an issue that I need to take with my therapist! But I sort of started thinking about it more critically in the last couple of years, when I had these very strong reactions to other women in my field being successful, and I would feel this weird kind of clenching fury and envy, and I was like, ‘that doesn’t feel right, that doesn’t feel natural,’ and I started to approach it from a theoretical perspective, particularly informed by The Beauty Myth, which is an old book now, it’s thirty years old, but it still is so important in terms of, like, pointing out the kind of cultural apparatuses that really keep women distracted from what’s really important. And you know, Naomi Wolf is talking about performing beauty, and like a mandatory beauty standard, and I really felt that that amped on to a mandatory intrasexual rivalry. If you are always competing with other women, then you, you cannot combine your resources to agitate for social change, or recognition, or a pay rise, or anything that you need group activity to do. Yeah, so as soon as I had that realisation I was like, ‘well, that’s bullshit,’ and I need do something – it was, it was all I could think about so I needed to write about it, yeah.
EC: I think we all know that it’s bullshit, but so nice to have it articulated in that specific way. Because, yeah, it’s it’s one of those things that you just, your whole life you’re like, this, like it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right at all. So what do you think are some practical things, and with the book in mind, that we should be doing to boost other women up? Particularly with the view to intersectionality.
SGA: So I’m a white woman, a white cis woman who’s from a middle-class family, pretty much privileged on every axis except gender. I think for women like me, the best thing we can do is, when it comes to certain subjects, shut up.
SGA: Shut up and amplify the voices of other people who are experts on those particular topics. So topics of race and queerness – I’m a straight woman as well, and yeah. There’s… I almost feel like I am not qualified to talk about it, but you know, post the terrorist attack in Christchurch you’ve seen a lot of people talking about kind of performatively lamenting the state of media in Australia, and it’s the perfect time to not talk about that, or to amplify the voices of the women of colour or the Muslim women who have been saying that kind of stuff for a really long time. Basically I think the best thing you can do in order to boost other women up is to spend time in self reflection, because it’s very easy to demonstrate support without actually doing that support. Do you know what I mean?
EC: Yeah, because you see that quite often, people taking opportunities that could have actually been given to someone else who’s more qualified, who has that lived experience, and who doesn’t have that privilege, and…
SGA: And I don’t necessarily think there’s malice in that…
EC: No, not at all.
SGA: I think it’s people going ‘cool, I’ve got an opportunity, I’m gonna take it,’ which, you know, we get taught, you need a hustle, you need to get your job, particularly if you’re in a creative industry, absolutely. But if you take the few minutes required to reflect on how your…ugh, I hate saying stuff like how your privilege, you know…
EC: But we should all be thinking about our privilege.
SGA: We should, it’s just become a hackneyed phrase.
EC: Yeah, totally.
SGA: But if you think about how your special set of, you know, boosters have impacted your access to that particular thing, and if you think about the people in your circle who could talk about this from a much more authoritative perspective, then I think that actually does the work of, of lifting up the people who ought to be lifted up. And you know, it’s just, and it makes for better content, better culture as well.
EC: Totally. It sort of de-homogenises it, which is another thing in the media, it’s quite… it’s so white. So I think my favourite chapter in this book, just to sort of turn it around, was definitely the one where you go into the work of women farmers – who I really hadn’t thought about before, and I loved it so much! The women you interview are so resilient and also innovative, and have really fought to do this work that they love – like have had to fight families, even.
EC: So what do you think it is about these women farmers that makes them like that, and also makes them able and willing to drive a lot of change in the agricultural industry?
SGA: A big part of it, I think, is that women in agriculture are already super marginalised. They’re already made to feel like outsiders, regularly. Not every agricultural industry, some are much more gender equal than others, but like I said I got interested in writing about farmers because my mum is a farmer, she farms vanilla, which is the bougiest crop. [Audience laughs]
EC: Someone’s got to do it!
SGA: Someone’s got to do it, she’s still a farmer, and she is in Far North Queensland where the main crops are cane and bananas, and they are both very, very male – to the point where, something I recount in the book, one of my mum’s friends, who is a queer woman and the only child of her parents, who are, you know, generations old cane farmers – this friend is so interested in cane farming, loves it, and her dad will not leave her the farm. Because she’s a woman, and because she’s a gay woman, she’s not going to marry a man. So it’s completely off the table. Like, that is shocking right? I see jaws dropping. It’s shocking, but it’s that that is the state of certain agricultural industries in Australia, now, in 2019. So that means that women are necessarily already operating outside of the mainstream, right? You’re already having to fight to be taken seriously. So many of them are going, well, why not, at the same time, look into, you know, regenerative agricultural practices? Other stuff that’s gonna make people go ‘what the hell is that?’ Because they’re already going ‘what the hell is that’ at you because you’re a girl, you know? You already have access to this, this othered realm, you have this freedom to do what you want because the level of scrutiny is not really going to change. I really think that has has something to do with it. There’s also the fact, and this is something that Rachael Treasure, a Tasmanian farmer brought up when i spoke to her, there’s also the fact that women on farms, on the land, are still disproportionately responsible for childcare, and raising their families. And so they have a really close view of how food affects their children. And so they are much more personally invested in where that food comes from, in how good that food is, and in the security of that food in the long run. So that means that there’s just more women who are more invested in agricultural practices that are genuinely going to be sustainable, because they want to be able to keep feeding their children into the future. It’s really easy to, you know, do gender essentialist stuff and say, ‘oh, it’s because women are natural, you know, earth mother, yada yada, nurturing,’ but the practicality is, if you see how your children change depending on the food that they’re eating and how that food is grown, then of course you’re going to make changes based on that, yeah.
EC: Yeah, it’s directly in front of you. And you hear that so often, of women on farms having that, the childcare, the admin responsibilities, and then also somehow farm work. Like, it doesn’t really add up.
SGA: It’s so wild. Women on farms do so much work.
EC: I loved that chapter, I thought it was wonderful, and I didn’t, I didn’t realise that I would – like I knew I was gonna be interested in it, but I didn’t know it would be the one that sort of stuck with me so much. What are some lessons that you learnt from writing this book that sort of surprised you? Because you do a lot of interesting things, you go to dance classes, you go, you do some weight lifting, I think?
SGA: Yeah, the weightlifting is really interesting. I didn’t expect to take away what I did from that. So in the chapter about sportswomen I talked to female weightlifters who do Olympic weightlifting, Olympic style weightlifting. And without any prompting, they spoke to me about how weightlifting had changed their relationship to their bodies. And I was waiting for them to be like, ‘mmm, I know I…’ to talk about, you know, being bulky – and they didn’t, they were like, ‘I don’t care what my body looks like anymore, I only care about what my body can do.’ and I was like, wow, wild! Imagine that! Basically. And all of these women had come to weightlifting from other sports. So Tessa, who was my main contact, she came from running and other track, track and field events, and other women had come from gymnastics or ballet – one of the girls had come from ballet, and they all said, you know, prior to doing this they were really focused on what they looked like, even though they were still athletes. But it was weightlifting and the numbers, and also the culture, they said it was so supportive, and everyone looked completely different, you know, very different body shapes, different heights, all kinds of stuff – and they said that it completely cured them of this obsession that many of us have with how their body looked, and instead made them focus on what it could do. And that’s just something that I have tried to keep in the back of my mind as much as possible – even though I am very far from an athlete. But it’s nice to be reminded of! You know, you you can carry around so much loathing for your body, but it’s the thing that carries you around, you know? And keeps you alive, and gets you from point A to point B. And I love my car, so I should love my body too.
EC: I think that’s a thing that’s changing a lot in ‘women’s fitness’, is that there’s not so much like ‘get that beach body!’ it’s, it seems to be a lot more about strength now, and there’s still really damaging imagery and ideas that can come from that, but it seems to be this sort of tilt, that it’s now a bit more about, yeah, what your body can do, and how that can improve your life, rather than what you look like.
SGA: Yeah, yeah, I mean you do, you do see the rhetoric changing, but yeah, like you said, you do also see stuff like ‘fit is the new skinny’…
SGA: Which makes me furious, because what they mean is skinny with muscles is the new skinny.
EC: Exactly, like if your your brain doesn’t sort of develop that idea in the way that they probably think it is…
SGA: Exactly, yeah. But I do think that there is a lot of merit in the fact that we are, you know, with the kind of boom in fitness as a hobby that’s happened in the last 10 years, I think yeah, you are seeing a lot more value placed on the capabilities of your body rather than what it looks like, yeah, for sure.
EC: I’m sorry, I’m gonna ask one more – we’re not going to accept any awkward silences – so my last question for you is sort of a utopian one. What do you think a future of women working together could look like?
SGA: Oh, wow, okay.
EC: Kind of a big one.
SGA: It would involve free childcare. It would probably involve, yeah, I mean think about it – if every woman in the world joined a women’s union, like a global Women’s Union, we would immediately have free childcare. We would have flexible hours for everyone, right – I know this is, like, horrendously capitalism based, but I can only think about stuff in the workplace at the moment. Probably… The distribution of money would be different, I would like, I’d love to see, you know, the sort of stuff that we still consider to be women’s work – so caring for children, domestic duties, transporting people from place to place – women always the taxis, right? All that kind of stuff remunerated, or at least valued, outwardly valued in culture.
EC: And not just assumed, as well.
SGA: Not just assumed, yeah. And I mean, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood and child rearing recently, and if you had a global women’s collaboration movement, you’d see people sharing parenting duties outside of their immediate nuclear families a lot as well. And I think that would be so valuable to so many working mothers, just being able to – and not feel guilty about, you know, sharing sharing their duties of looking after kids with one another.
EC: I’m lucky enough to work in an office of all women in my day job, and a couple of weeks ago we had a deadline, and somebody had to have their child dropped off for a crossover pickup, and she just had her toddler at the desk, she was typing, working, the kid was there, nobody cared. People were like, ‘can I hold her, can I take her away from you, like, do you need help?’ and that – it wasn’t a big deal.
SGA: It doesn’t have to be a big deal!
EC: It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
SGA: It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
EC: Oh, just imagine.
SGA: Yeah, that’s kind of a modest utopia, that’s what I’m shooting for.
EC: You know, it’s better to, maybe we need to aim low to start with. Possibly.
SGA: I’ll allow it, yeah.
EC: So thank you so much everyone for coming, what a wonderful talk. Thanks to the library for having us tonight, and copies of Sam’s book are available just here – and she is very happy to sign them, I did check with her. So thank you so much Sam.
SGA: Thank you so much for having me, yeah, thank you.
Meaghan Dew: That was the March First Book Club edition of the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. Thanks to Sam, Ellen, Penguin Random House and to Yarra Libraries for hosting us. Yarra Libraries regularly hosts author talks and discussions, and you can find some of these recorded on their podcast. Please do pick up a copy of Witches from your local bookshop or library, and don’t forget to read more commentary, essays, memoir, short fiction, et cetera on the Kill Your Darlings website. You’ll find some more of Sam George-Allen’s writing there as well. See you next time!