Thursday, 28 March 2019

Vroom, Vroom!: An Investigation of the History of Women Behind the Wheel

A few months ago, at the age of 27, I finally attained my provisional driver’s licence. I could never have anticipated the newfound freedom, independence and confidence I found behind the wheel of my little red ‘P’ plate car. This experience prompted me to consider the history of women drivers.
As a teenager and young adult, I spent countless hours pouring over public transport schedules, just to spend even more time sitting on a crowded train or boiling bus, which would inevitably arrive 45 minutes earlier than my work shift time or appointment. When public transport was not viable, I depended on my parents, boyfriends or friends to drive me. And, even with all this effort, I still racked up a weekly uber bill that almost matched my rent!

Occasionally, I found myself in situations where I felt awkward or even afraid. But I could not leave immediately, as I needed to arrange a lift in order to do so. I felt like I had to laugh along at jokes about my lack of driver’s licence or justify myself with excuses. Over time, my anxiety increased exponentially, until the concept of driving became an overwhelming and terrifying shadow lurking over me. Eventually, I decided to believe in my capabilities as a confident young woman. I overcame my fear, in an ultimately feminist act, and took control of my life by signing up for driving lessons. 

Image Description: Photo of a bright red convertible car from behind. The camera is angled slightly upwards and to the right. The driver, who is not visible in the photo, is driving on a paved road towards the sunset. On either side of the road is a hedge of greenery. The license plate reads DR 68651. 

Historically, women were discouraged from driving by their fathers and husbands, as it was considered unladylike and inappropriate. A 1937 USA survey of young people living on farms in Missouri found 35% of girls learned to drive compared to 72% of boys. Early feminists, including suffragettes and trailblazers, embraced the automobile. They used them to congregate at meetings and travel to lobby members of parliament on their own terms. However, female car ownership was, and in many instances still is, restricted to wealthy and predominately white women.

In the 1960s and 70s, Joan Didion famously drove across the USA, interviewing prominent figures such as the Manson girls and The Doors. She describes her journey in her classic journalist essay series The White Album. Didon considered driving an opportunity for solitude and pensiveness culminating in a greater self-awareness and creativity. She explains, “The freeway experience ... is the only secular communion Los Angeles has … Actual participation requires total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture-of-the-freeway. The mind goes clean. The rhythm takes over.” Similarly, writer and actor Abbi Jacobson detailed in 2018 her independent cross-country drive in her biographical book I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities and Other Stuff. She considered it an attempt to find herself and rebuild her sense of autonomy post-heartbreak.

Image Description: Photo of Danica Patrick at the 2017 Camping World 500. The photo is taken from her left-hand side and shows her profiled face and upper body. She is wearing a NASCAR sponsored jacket, which is white and bright orange with dark grey sleeves. Her hair is straight, brown and reaches the top of her chest. She is wearing black, aviator sunglasses and silver, stud earrings. She is looking off camera and her facial expression is neutral. 

Women have also faced many barriers and prejudices regarding professional race car driving. Racing has consistently been a male-dominated sport, even though it stands to reason the gender of the drivers would not dictate their skill levels. In 1958, Maria Teresa de Filippis competed as a Formula One racer, only to be told by the race director, “the only helmet that a woman should use is at the hairdresser.” This week’s Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne hosted a Women Driving Leadership panel featuring leading women in motorsport. However, there were no female drivers competing in the races.

National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) racer Danica Patrick is a world champion and, according to Forbes, the third highest paid female athlete in 2018. Yet, she still receives constant criticism that her presence in the field is a “publicity stunt.” Usually, women’s place at racing events has been limited to sexualised roles such as promotional models or pinup girls. Perhaps, due to similar stereotypes, women mechanics still account for only 10% of the workforce in the UK, even if this number consequently rose within the past years.

Image Description: A cartoon promoting the Women2Drive campaign, c. 2011. It is a yellow SLOW road sign with a black border. Instead of the word SLOW, though, there is a cartoon image showing the front of a black car with #WOMEN2DRIVE written across it in stenciled, yellow lettering. A person wearing a full headscarf is behind the wheel. Their face is visible as a yellow oval with two black dots for eyes. They are holding their left hand out the window and flashing the peace sign. 

In addition, women’s rights to drive were recently in the spotlight. Saudi Arabia only just lifted a ban on women drivers in June 2018, after almost three decades of tireless campaigning by women’s rights activists. Manal Al-Shariff started the Women2Drive online movement and was arrested for driving in protest in 2011. She described the importance of women’s driving as essential for personal safety, as well as full participation in employment and society.

Currently, there are growing concerns about activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, who, despite the ban lift, is currently still imprisoned for attempting to drive from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabi. Amnesty International alleges she has experienced torture and sexual abuse while imprisoned. Academics are pushing for Al-Hathloul to become a Nobel Prize nominee as “a young person who wants nothing more than to see half of her country have the same legal rights as the other half.”

Image Description: A marketing poster for the film Cars 3 by Disney Pixar. It shows Lightning McQueen, as viewed from below left, driving through shallow water. He is followed by a yellow and dark blue car. The water is disturbed where the wheels touch it, as though the cars are moving very quickly. Above them, you can see only a bright blue sky. In the bottom right corner is the Cars 3 logo. Disney Pixar” is written above it and the release date, June 16 is written below. 

As a preschool teacher, I have certainly noticed an increase in young girls demonstrating an interest in cars. The other day, a blonde, blue-eyed, 4-year-old girl expressed with excitement “a Bugatti is fast and a Maserati, that’s fast too.” Many children, regardless of gender, are fascinated by professional race car driving courtesy of the popularity of Pixar’s Cars trilogy. We can only hope times are changing and the next generation can embrace driving with equal opportunity for all.

By: Bethany Cooke 


Thursday, 21 March 2019

STEMinist – Without Me

In 2009, I developed a tendency towards migraines. Since then, I have lived in four different countries with entirely different laws on medicine. Some drugs that are banned in one country aren’t in another and vice versa. For over ten years, I’ve searched for an effective replacement for my original migraine medication. During this time, a whisper of a question turned into a deafening demand: why is it so difficult to treat an ailment as common, yet incapacitating, as a migraine?

The fact is, migraines affect one in five women. This statistic is disproportionate to the number of men who suffer from migraines (one in fifteen). Migraine research is rarely sex-specific, even though hormone levels affect migraine tendencies and can differ based on sex. The stigma around migraines - ridicule, doubt and disbelief by friends, family and colleagues – might be different if 20% of the male population suffered from these debilitating attacks. Yet migraines remain one of the most underfunded areas of research in the world, despite being one of the most disabling ailments. But this article isn’t about migraines.

Why do we need women in STEM fields?

Women need to be represented and taken into consideration when developing scientific or technological innovations. As is, women are rarely included in target markets or as test subjects. Take, for example, engineering design. For decades, seatbelts have been designed for stereotypical male bodies, thus putting women at significantly higher risk of injury in car accidents.

Additionally, power tool designs also favour men, making them less comfortable for women to use. Women tend to feel colder in office environments because office temperature ergonomics have been established around the average 70 kg male body. And train railings are built at a height more comfortable to the average male than female. Most of the time, women are simply not included in scientific and technological developments.

Image Description: A photo of a crowded train showing the arms and upper bodies of six people of different skin tones holding onto the upper handrail. You can see the person on the far left’s face, but the rest of them are hidden by their arms. This person is looking up towards the top left of the photo frame with a neutral expression. People are in various styles of dress, from business to casual. The person on the far right is significantly shorter than the others and only has two fingers placed on the rail (as opposed to the other people, whose hands are wrapped firmly around the rail).

The story isn’t too different in medicine. Many women metabolize drugs differently than men. The changes in some women's bodies from puberty to menopause significantly impact their physical and mental health. They also put these women at risk for depression and other mental health issues. Yet, female test subjects are still minorities in most medical research.

I also recently discovered women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. Still, current research glazes over the biological differences that impact the disease. And it is no secret women’s pain has been, and continues to be, dismissed as hysteria. When my surgeon cut into my jaw bones to drill my wisdom teeth and the anaesthesia didn’t work, he “reassured” my wailing, howling younger self that all I was really feeling was a numb vibration. Unsurprisingly, I now have acute odontophobia.

Some governments seem to have taken note of such sexism in the STEM fields. In the US, for example, varying policies over state and federal levels promote the inclusion of women and minorities for non-gender-specific studies. Researchers are required to provide a “clear rationale” for excluding women in a study. Further, clinical trials must be designed to include a valid analysis of whether women or racial and ethnic groups respond differently than other subjects in the tests.

But governments cannot always secure the representation we need. I argue the lack of inclusion in STEM fields is the main reason we need women representation. While it is the responsibility of researchers and designers to be inclusive, the truth is, proper inclusion isn’t happening. We need women to be involved in every step of every process in science and technology, from ideation to research and development to peer review to larger-scale decisions.

Image Description: A comic panel by Rose Kuan. The left-hand side of the panel shows a medical researcher sitting behind a table against a light pink to light blue gradient. They are looking into a microscope. They have long, blonde hair tied up in a red ponytail holder and appear to be wearing bright pink lipstick. They are also wearing a white lab coat and a navy-blue undershirt. In the front of the panel, on the same table as the microscope, is a paper with illegible writing and three test tubes filled with yellow, green and orange liquid respectively. Above the microscope, the artist has written the words “When can I find an acidic solution that penetrates this wall of misogyny? …” On the far-right side of the panel is a brick wall with the words “men in STEM” written in black on a white word bubble.

It’s not just about diversity and acceptance of women in what have typically been regarded as male-dominated fields. It’s also about equality in safety, ergonomics, access to proper healthcare, and accessible technology. This kind of equality would ensure our lives matter as much as men’s. Making sure we are well-represented in the groups making such decisions is one step towards such equality.

And while we work towards equality, let us remember women have increasingly larger buying power. Industries would significantly benefit from tapping into this market with women-inclusive research (or anything more than making half their products pink, flowery and more expensive). A few industries and companies have shown initiative in this department. Athletic wear and sports equipment companies spend a great deal of time and effort creating designs specifically for women.

Companies such as Green Heron have teamed up with various research groups to make general agricultural tools more ergonomically feasible for women. Prosthetic products have seen a significant increase in women-centric design. The more women we have at the table, the more voices can ensure others we matter. With a more proactive approach towards inclusive research and a growing number of women in STEM, it is hopefully only a matter of time until women’s lives are considered equally valuable to those of men.

By: Shreyasi Mukerji


Mastroianni AC, Faden R, Federman D (1994). Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Ethical and Legal Issues Relating to the Inclusion of Women in Clinical Studies. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1994. Available at: [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].

Parks, J. (2019). Study Finds Cars Designed to Protect Men, Not Women. AutoKnow - SafeAuto Blog. Available at: [Accessed 12 Mar. 2019].

Ely, K. (2015). The World is Designed for Men. Medium. Available at: [Accessed 12 Mar. 2019].

Kuan, R. (2017). Cartoon: Sexism in STEM. [image] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].

Dori, E. (2016). Designed with Men in Mind. [online] UX Collective. Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2019].

Editor’s Note: Sexism in the STEM fields does not only affect women. Trans men and nonbinary people also suffer from a lack of representation in STEM. Unfortunately, in a lot of scientific research, “outlier” identities (including trans people and nonbinary people) are either discarded or lumped into the categories of “male” or “female, depending on one’s assigned gender at birth. This article focuses on women in the STEM fields, but more research and inclusion of various gender identities needs to be addressed moving forward.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here: 

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Misogyny is Coming from Inside the House

I recently came across an interesting Facebook group which, contrary to most Facebook groups, really got me thinking. “The Misogyny is Coming from Inside the House” shows examples of women who exhibit misogyny, both towards themselves and other women. But, more than that, it’s a place where women who realise they harbour internalised misogyny can come to grips with that realisation, talk out their feelings and grow and learn.

Browsing this Facebook group’s posts made for incredible reading. Countless women recounted the moments they understood why they held the views about women they did and the efforts they were making to change their ways. It also made me realise internalised misogyny is a “trend” that never went away. Dont believe me? Lets look at some commonly expressed sentiments among women and engage with their underlying meanings.

Image Description: A dark photo of a person sitting sideways on a window sill looking down, out the window. Their back is resting against the right side of the window frame. Their right knee is bent, while their left is stretched straight out. They have shoulder length straight, dark hair and are wearing a light colored sweater, blue jeans with ripped knees and dark sneakers. Outside the window is a white house with a red roof and a tree without leaves on the left. 

1. “Im not like other girls.”

This phrase is especially common among younger women and girls. Its underlying misogyny is often misunderstood. On the surface, it might sound like a simple assertion of your individuality. Which would be fine, if it didn’t come at the expense of other women.

The subtext here claims youre not like “most women” because “most women” are like those tedious old stereotypes: shallow, catty, materialistic, etc. YOU are distinctly apart from those girls. You’re a cool girl, the kind men would LIKE to have around. Just “one of the guys.”

But when you express this sentiment, what you’re really doing is buying into a patriarchal, myopic view of women. You should probably get out and make some badass lady friends to dispel that myth in your mind, stat.

2. “Shes a slut/prude.”

Do you judge women who have different sexual proclivities than you? Women who dress differently than you? Do you look down on sex workers? Then you, my friend, have some major internalised misogyny to wrestle with.

Think about the last time you heard a man called out for wearing revealing clothing, or for having sex in any quantity - pretty rare, right? Thats because patriarchal society places different expectations on women and men for their sexual behaviours. And in the judgement stakes, women rarely, if ever, come out the winners.

So, whenever you feel compelled to judge another woman for their sexual behaviour, pause and consider how you’d feel if the genders were reversed. Then remind yourself what another woman chooses to do with her body and what happens between consenting adults is none of your business. Just move on with your life. Easy!

3. “Real women are ...”
Unless your next words are “not robots,” you might want to stop right there. This phrase arose from the “real women have curves” movement, a well-meaning attempt at body positivity. The movement probably could have pulled it off, if it hadnt resorted to the age-old tactic of pitting women against other women.

This one comes in a variety of guises: internet memes (“In a world of Kardashians be an Audrey”), pop lyrics (“She wears short skirts, I wear tee-shirts, shes a cheerleader and Im in the bleachers”), movies, etc. It gets particularly icky when men get involved. Anyone remember the “only dogs like bones” body shame tag? 

Additionally, the assertion there is a real” kind of woman implies those who don’t adhere to this standard are imposters. As you might imagine, this mindset can have wildly transphobic implications. 

The bottom line is this: a woman is a woman if they identify as such. That’s it. End of Story. And if your idea of self-confidence comes from putting other women down, it’s built on a foundation of internalised misogyny and transphobia. It’s time to tear down that rocky, unstable foundation and start rebuilding a more inclusive one now. 

4. “Im so fat!”

Growing up in a society that praises women’s looks above just about everything else takes a toll on the way you view your body. It often manifests in a fear of weight gain or of being perceived as unattractive (which is often unfairly boiled down to “fat”). There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a healthy body weight. We should all strive to be healthy as we can. But if you’ve ever eaten a big meal and wailed about how “fat” you are in the mirror, or hated your body because of it, you might be dealing with the inner sexism boogeyman.

5. “Gross! She’s too ...”

Think of the ways in which this sentiment can manifest: “She’s too fat/thin, made up/plain, pale/tanned, feminine/masculine” etc. But what it really boils down to is the myriad of criteria we’ve invented to judge women. If you have a strong, visceral reaction to another woman’s choices, especially when they have no impact on you, you have to ask yourself where that feeling is coming from. More often than not it’s, you guessed it, internalised misogyny!

If you’ve ever found yourself having any of these thoughts, don’t panic. A major part of being a feminist is changing harmful behaviours when you learn better. It’s a vital and never-ending process of self discovery that allows you to become a better activist, ally, and person in general. It can be incredibly difficult to disentangle learned beliefs and behaviours that stem from growing up and living every day in a patriarchal society. But it’s also valuable work.

Recognise that you’ve taken a big step by identifying the behaviour and wanting to change. Then take a deep breath and promise you’ll challenge this behaviour both within yourself and others. And remember: the journey of unlearning internalised misogyny starts with self-love and empowerment. So, be kind to yourself and get ready to be the biggest, baddest and freest feminist you can be.

You got this!

By: Siri Williams

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here: 

Photo Source:

Thursday, 7 March 2019

What Does a Feminist Look Like?

“You don’t LOOK like a feminist”. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this particular adage. Mostly it comes from men, but you might be surprised how often it comes from other women. The most recent occurrence got me thinking - in this day and age, what exactly does a feminist look like?

Feminism and conventional femininity have long had a tenuous relationship and for good reason. During the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, women largely rejected “traditional” femininity. Such a reaction was understandable given the restrictive morals governing women’s behaviour in the decades prior. These morals continued the age-old trend of placing high value on rigid standards of personal appearance. What a woman looked like was more important than who she was and what she was capable of.  

Feminism, quite rightly, reacted strongly to these standards, resulting in the much-pared-down fashion styles of the sixties and seventies. With the rise of third-wave feminism in the image-conscious 1990s, these lines became blurred. The question as to what exactly a modern feminist should look like became a more pressing issue.

Image Description: A photo of a person's legs from the mid-thighs down. They are standing in front of a rusted-metal background and the floor is cobbled stone. The person's right leg is crossed over their left. They are wearing straight-leg blue jeans which are cuffed at the ankles and pink and white converse-like shoes. 

Could you be a feminist and wear makeup? High heels? The color pink? The demarcations became unclear. And they remain a contentious issue that continues to plague feminist discourse to this day. These questions are completely understandable. After all, many of the standards of “traditional” femininity were born from systemic patriarchy and catered to the male gaze more than women’s comfort. But, whereas some women find empowerment in reclaiming standards they once had no control over, others completely reject these standards.

In a perfect world, both options would be treated with equal respect and appreciation by feminists and the public at large. Unfortunately, we still live in a patriarchy, however hard we’re working to dismantle it! That means the way a woman presents herself continues to play a large part in how she is treated. In other words, the decision to appear outwardly feminine (or not) has ramifications. If you’re a woman with a professional job, especially if it's directly customer or client facing, you are often expected to put more effort into your appearance than a male counterpart. For example, women are expected to wear makeup, style their hair a specific way, or wear high heels.

Couple Walking on Street

Image Description: A photo of two people walking across what appears to be a parking lot towards the camera. Their faces are cut off around the middle and the photo stops at their knees. On the left is a person with a light brown beard and mustache, wearing a white button-up shirt, red tie, navy suit jacket, black belt and dark grey trousers. They are holding a black briefcase in their right hand and their left hand is in their pocket. On the right is a person wearing a fitted, dark grey suit jacket and matching pencil skirt with a white under-shirt. They are also wearing red lipstick and a decorative, gold necklace. Both of their hands are at their sides. 

For many women, adopting these standards is merely a way to secure even footing with their male counterparts. But such unspoken rules regarding one’s appearance also puts women who choose to reject them in a difficult position. As a result, many of these women consider performative femininity a problem to overcome rather than a respectful lifestyle choice. 

Like I said, complex, right? But I think we need to break this issue down to its bare necessities to truly understand it. Specifically, we must ask what feminism is at its heart. Feminism is believing both sexes should have equal rights and treatment. That’s it. There’s no code of conduct, no disqualifying factors and certainly no uniform required. Everything else is just semantics - and what they often come down to are differing points of view.

Let’s take makeup, for example. For some, makeup represents an outdated social norm they no longer feel obligated to adhere to. And that’s perfectly fine. But for others, makeup represents creativity. It adds colour and whimsy to their day-in-day-out routine. Again, totally okay. The same applies to clothing. For some, following fashion trends is allowing a toxic industry to dictate how you should or shouldn’t look to be desirable or feel beautiful. For others, fashion is about expressing themselves and bringing colour and creativity into what otherwise is the very utilitarian concept of covering your essential bits in public.

Makeup Brush on Black Container

Image Description: A photo of a round table filled with make-up in front of a white backdrop. In the top right corner of the frame is a black pot filled with an array of make-up brushes in clear focus. There are two compact blushes and two large eyeshadow palettes in front of the pot. They are less focused. In the bottom left corner is a jar of liquid foundation and loose powder which are not in focus at all. 

You can dissect nearly every choice women make about their personal appearance in this way. But what it really comes down to is the ability to choose. If you are a feminist and you believe men and women should be equal, then you believe no one has a right to determine what anyone should do with their body. That includes whether they choose to shave or not, use makeup, style their hair, wear pearls or piercings. Anyone can be a feminist because feminism is what you do and what you believe, not what you look like. 

So, next time you see someone whose physical interpretation of being a feminist is different than yours, just remember: their choices do not reflect on or diminish your own. The entire goal of feminism is to bring women together to accomplish a common goal. The more we allow trivial differences to divide us, the further we are from achieving our goal. Lift up other women instead of finding reasons to tear them down. In this way, we can help each other climb to the top - whether it’s in glittery stilettos or a pair of combat boots.

By: Siri Williams

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here: 

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