There’s been a lot of commentary in recent weeks about the way some young women, who have risen to prominence for their advocacy on a range of different issues, are angry.
It became a fiercer debate when 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame refused to smile for a photograph in the presence of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and continued as Tame and fellow advocate Brittany Higgins gave their rousing addresses at the National Press Club.
Later appearing on 60 Minutes, the Prime Minister’s wife, Jenny Morrison, said it was “disappointing” that Tame had chosen not to smile.
“I still think there’s manners and respect,” she said. “I want my daughters to grow up to be fierce, strong, independent, amazing people. I think they can still do that and show kindness to other people and be polite and have manners.”
But sometimes being polite is just not enough, and in order to shake up the institutions of power, a lot more than manners and politeness is necessary. And that’s what Tame, and so many other young women in Australia and around the world, are doing.
While women’s anger is certainly nothing new, in 2022 it’s exciting to see it being harnessed in new ways. It’s clear that young women across the world are angry. They have every right to be. And mostly, they are harnessing their experiences to create real, demonstrable change, and create better outcomes for others. Those fearing it, may need to ask themselves why.
Here are a few examples we’ve been following.
Since rising to national prominence last year, Grace Tame, a survivor and advocate for child sexual abuse survivors, has sent shockwaves through the political and media class in Australia.
Tame has encouraged many Australians to have new conversations about issues relating to child sexual abuse, and she’d been a fierce advocate for other survivors. She’s also established the Grace Tame Foundation, to campaign for and fund initiatives working to prevent and respond to sexual abuse.
Just last week, she brilliantly condemned some media outlets of brutalising survivor-advocates in a bid to profit from sensationalism.
“And what do you think happens when they see the mainstream media deliberately brutalise survivor-advocates like me for actions I took when I was 19 and still trying to process something I didn’t understand? I’ll tell you. Their fear is magnified,” she wrote. “Publicly shaming survivors for their past is as low as you can possibly go.”
Brittany Higgins’ address at the National Press Club will go down as one of the most memorable and important national speeches in recent years.
In it, Higgins said she never wanted to be a spokesperson or a standard-bearer, but ultimately recognises that when she speaks out and shares her own story, she’s probably making it easier for someone else to share their own.
She said it’s what keeps her speaking out. She’s determined to drive change. And it’s something she’s been doing for well over a year now.
Higgins has been unafraid to pull the government, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, into line, consistently calling for niceties and words to be matched with real actions.
“I didn’t want his sympathy as a father,” Higgins said during that address, referring to Morrison. “I wanted him to use his power as Prime Minister.”
She called out the government’s draft National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, saying it was too vague and lofty. And spoke about the need to improve outcomes for all women in Australia, especially those with lesser access to resources.
She’s a fierce advocate for the implementation of the recommendations made by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her parliamentary workplace review. And these changes are already happening.
Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman Teela Reid, a senior land rights lawyer, is leading the legal profession into the future. Over the weekend, it was announced that Reid has been appointed as the first Indigenous practitioner-in-residence at the University of Sydney’s law school.
According to a profile published by the Sydney Morning Herald, Reid wants to use the position to show law students there are different ways to practise law that include advocacy.
“We as First Nations people have never ceded our sovereignty to these lands and waters, and there is such a role for particularly emerging lawyers to think about lawyering differently whether they’re Indigenous or not,” Reid told the SMH.
Anjali Sharma is the young school student who took the Australian government to court over climate change. Specifically, she took the federal environment minister to court in a class action suit, along with a small group of other students, over a proposed mining project in northern NSW.
In a world first, the federal court ruled that the government had a duty of care towards young people in relation to climate change impacts. Sharma’s ability to mobilise, take action and get results is impressive, and cements her place as leader in the youth fight for climate action.
Over in the US, who could forget Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has spent her time in politics fearlessly advocating for the rights of others, and for America to apply a new lens to the way it views politics.
In 2020, in a stunning speech delivered on the floor of Congress, Ocasio-Cortez called out Representative Ted Yoho for verbally abusing her in a public setting,
“This issue is not about one incident,” she said. “It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women and an entire structure of power that supports that.”
“I do not need Representative Yoho to apologise to me. Clearly, he does not want to. Clearly when given the opportunity, he will not. And I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language towards women,” she said.
Another young woman who has used her place on the international stage to call out leaders when their actions don’t level up, is climate activist Greta Thunberg. She’s perhaps the world’s most known youth climate activist, and in speech after speech, she has consistently let us know she’s angry. She’s angry about climate action and she’s going to keep demanding governments do better to address the crisis.
In September 2021, with no pretence of politeness, she told government leaders she’s had enough of their “blah,blah,blah” on climate.
“Leaders have had 30 years of ‘blah blah blah’ and where has that led us? Over 50 per cent of all our CO2 emissions have occurred since 1990, and a third since 2005,” she said.
“Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah,” she said her speech at the summit on Tuesday.
“This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.”’
Memorably, she had no time for former President Donald Trump, and repeatedly called out his antics on social media, especially during the 2020 election, when she found the perfect moment to tell him to “chill”