An open letter to Tumut High’s female graduates

The Tumut High formal graduation dinner took place yesterday, and I’m reflecting on what I wish I could tell myself those all of six years ago when I graduated from my own high school.

Here are some statistics that everyone should know but not many do. In Australia, one in five women will be sexually assaulted. One in four will experience violence in a relationship. Australian women make up 45 per cent of the workforce but less than 10 per cent of key management positions, and the pay gap between the average man and the average woman currently sits at 18.2 per cent. Studies show that the majority of people see character traits such as ambition, single-mindedness, and success as positives as men and negatives in women. Eighty per cent of our current ruling party are men.  

The world is not a safe or easy place for women. The only way to change that is to fight. There are millions of people all over the planet who are fighting to make the world a fair place for everyone. Fight with them. Fight by being exactly the sort of woman you want to be, regardless of what small-minded people may think of you. Say what you want, do what you want, work where you want, wear what you want, have sex on your terms as often or as little as you want, read and watch and listen to what you want. The possibilities for what it means to be a woman are endless and you should occupy that space in exactly the way that you choose. Be proud to do so.  

Not that it’s simple. Regardless of what you do, it’s a certainty that you will be insulted, condescended to, and belittled in a way that your male peers won’t be. There are people – people you love, people you are friends with – who will treat the very real barriers you face as a joke. They aren’t. There are people who will treat your passions and self-possession as a novelty to be torn down for their own amusement, or to make themselves feel higher by trying to lower you. Don’t let them. There are people who will refuse to accept the fact that the world is currently easier for some people than for others, and will deny that change is urgent and necessary. They are wrong.   

There are people who are threatened by a woman who is in control of her own body, her own choices, and her own life. Threaten them.  

It’s worth it.

Yesterday, a known sexual predator was elected into the most powerful position in the world. The first thing I did after I got home was pick up a call from my younger sister, who isn’t much older than you are now. My heart breaks that she lives in this world, one that is scary and hateful and suspicious of certain types of women. I’m scared for her. I’m angry for her. But most of all I am hopeful, because I know that she is smart and strong and compassionate and hardworking, and that women like her are the key to changing the world.

Be one of them.

Do whatever you want, but do it with the confidence and courage of knowing that you matter, that you have infinite value, that your voice should be heard, and that you have incredible reserves of power within you.

When you face setbacks, and you will face many of them, you will have two choices: give up or fight. Don’t give up. Cry, throw things, complain with the people you love, but keep your head high and know that your dignity comes from within, and fight. You have so much power. Fight.


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