Content Warning: This article contains reference to sexual assault and violence.
Magnetic, enlightening, often funny and rawly emotional, Bumble’s Modern Womanhood panel on Wednesday morning was an opportunity to explore the many facets of feminism, and how it interacts with our insights into our bodies, relationships and work.
MC’d by Linda Marigliano, host of the Tough Love and The Dream Club podcasts, the panel featured 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, April Hélène-Horton, body acceptance and fat positivity activist, Indigenous content creator and re-educater Alicia Johnson, and Lucille McCart, Bumble’s APAC Communications Director.
Kicking off the session was a nuanced discussion of internalised misogyny and how it is directed at young people from birth. McCart defined internalised misogyny as the effect of “all of the social conditioning you have experienced.”
It is a “conditioned response we have to things because of all the external factors that influence who we are.”
For Johnson, much of that internalised misogyny “lays with the childhood experiences” and the values entrenched by the school system. She posited that one of the core ways of confronting internalised misogyny is teaching children to be proud of who they are. This pride must also consciously include things like body size and hair texture.
Tame then reflected on the way that misogyny played out in stereotypes of bossiness and loudness when women use their voices.
Attaching those stereotypes to women has a “dangerously dsicouraging and patronising effect”.
Citing the now infamous comment PM Scott Morrison made after her Australian Of The Year speech – “I bet it felt good to get that out” – Tame said it took a while for her to figure out why the comment seemed like such an “odd and icky thing to say”.
The moment of realisation came when a friend pointed out the crucial factor: “He would not have said that to a man”.
This core idea is not just expressed by men. Tame said that the Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stokes told her, “you’re passionate, but you’re not informed.”
“This is conditioning that we all have been exposed to,” Tame explained.
“Most people are consciously are trying to come from a well-intentioned place, but it’s that unconscious behaviour that we’re having to deal with.”
The women also reflected on what constitued a ‘green flag’ in their personal relationships.
Marigliano pointed to an “equal power balance in terms of big and little decision making”, while Hélène-Horton suggested when someone says ‘do what ever you want’ – and genuinely mean it. Similarly, Johnson spoke about the importance of positive communication.
For McCann, a green flag that she views as the ‘common thread’ of Bumble success stories is an “absence of [negative, anxious] feelings within yourself.”
Tame reflected that for a long time her “only criteria for entering a relationship was ‘not a pedophile’.”
Tame was awarded Australian of the Year for her campaigning on behalf of victims of sexual assault, particularly in institutional settings. As a 15 year old, she was groomed and raped by one of her teachers.
She has had an instrumental role in changing Tasmanian sexual assault laws to allow survivors to speak about their experiences.
Tame discussed how “meeting Max [her partner] has broadened my spectrum of what it means to be in a healthy relationship.”
“The thing that has really struck me is vicarious joy,” she explained – the act of finding happiness in another’s success and happiness.
Conversation then shifted to consent and, of course, to the infamous milkshake video. Tame described Australia’s confusion around consent as a “structural issue” which stems from the fact that as a nation, we have nine different judicial areas with nine different sets of laws, each defining consent, sexual intercourse, sexual assault, the age of a child and the age of consent in their own way.
“If we don’t have one consistent definition…how can we possibly hope to have a solid concept of [these ideas] and the properly teach them in schools?”
Marigliano reflected that according a recent report, three quarters of Gen Z and Millenial Bumble users who identify as women felt unsafe in public at least some of the time.
From a Bumble perspective, McCart explained that safety is “our number one priority as a business.”
In terms of their tech and product features that prioritise safety, such as their anti-catfishing and verification tech, “we lead the industry.”
On the topic of dating apps, Hélène-Horton spoke about the way that misogyny has influenced the perceptions we have of our appearances.
“One of the keys things when you’re dating…is wanting to present your best self.”
Often, we perceive that ‘best-self’ as the version of ourself that will be most physically attractive to others. But Hélène-Horton encouraged making changes like including full length or no make-up pictures on those profiles.
“Your true self has nothing to do with what you look like.”
She encouraged an embrace of that idea that “I don’t have to put that version of myself that feels curated…because my real self is worthy.”
Hélène-Horton also made the important point that “you can’t self-love yourself out of being a marginalised person.”
Speaking on the importance of externalising self-love, she touched on the idea of prioritising the things in our selves that are unchangeable, like intelligence and kindness, and extending that grace to other people.
It is a process, she explained, of de-centering the body in both the relationships we have with our self and with others.
McCart then explained the relevance of those to Bumble, who have a body-shaming policy as an extension of their existing terms and conditions. They “offically [class] body shaming as something we don’t accept on the app and gives us the grounds to block people.”
“We felt there was a lot of misunderstanding from people about language around bodies that isn’t okay,” she said.
“Shaming isn’t always an overtly negative behaviour, but it’s making an unsolicited comment.”
Johnson then spoke on the pressure on women’s bodies, using the example that while it’s cool to have a ‘dad bod’, there is no similar celebration of ‘mum bods’.
She described herself as being “almost mind-boggled” by the celebration of dad bods because “it’s unfortunate that women aren’t given the opportunity to celebrate that.”
“Mums are constantly scrutinising ourselves and encouraged to [participate in] scrutinising others.”
And, she continued, while there are numerous surgeries for ‘mum bods’, there are “no surgeries for dad bods!”.
Johnson also explained the constant sexualisation succinctly: “you’re hypersexualised for having a childlike body…and [hypersexualised] for having a large, voluptuous” body.
Tame then drew attention to the fact that there is a “very, very narrow window of acceptance [for bodies] in our society.” McCann pointed out, though, that “the women who fit in that tiny acceptance gap still aren’t happy with their bodies.”
Conversation turned to the perception of women in the worlplace, with Hélène-Horton characterising the expectation of women in the work place as having to be either “boss-bitches or a service person.”
She also reflected that “the standards of professionalism are based in white supremacy”, and that hiring policies and our very concept of what is ‘professional’ are fundamentally rooted in a white, male gaze.
Johnson added insight into how, as First Nations woman, she saw racism intersect with feminism. She addressed the fact that “feminism, or even these concepts that pertain to women, really exclude the role of race.”
First Nations women have “been on the most brutalised end of misogyny [and] colonisation,” and pointed to the still persistent issues of hypersexualisation, devaluing and abuse of Indigenous women.
Ultimately, it was a conversation equally as powerful as it was insightful, carried by a group of women with unique individual circumstances reflecting on the communal experiences of womanhood.
It also surely left many viewers with the mind to update their dating profiles with un-curated pictures because, as put so wonderfully by Hélène-Horton, “our bodies are simply carrying around what’s really inside us”.