VIEW: Why we need to write women into history

A guest post from Alison Booth discussing her new novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, and the importance of writing women into history.

To understand history, we rely upon the reports of others. And when we read those words we might ask ourselves whose stories are missing. Typically, it will be the stories of those who were losers, of those who had no power at the time: the disenfranchised, the dispossessed, the defeated. This is where writers of historical fiction can present different perspectives to those that are found in standard straight historical texts, because they can tell stories that include the marginal voices that history left aside.

The beauty of historical fiction is that it doesn’t only report what happened in the past, it also makes the reader feel what happened, and in so doing it creates empathy for preceding generations. It helps readers understand what was experienced by people living through different times and in different places. It also helps readers understand who we are now, and how we got here, so we can appreciate what progress humankind has made. For example, we can see – and perhaps better comprehend – the extent to which female and racial equality have evolved, and we can see this in a much more personal and moving way than in a straight history text.

Feminism and female emancipation feature strongly in my latest novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, and so it never occurred to me not to make the principal two characters female. When I first conceived the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters, I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong young women, the daughters of a moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I thought of altering the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

Of course, there were other reasons why I wanted the two principal characters to be female. In particular, I wanted to capture the north of Australia through fresh eyes, and the female perspective would certainly have been that up north in the 1890s. Women of those times faced prejudice at every step, and I felt that my two female protagonists would be well-equipped to empathise with a lot of the displaced Indigenous inhabitants. Because I wrote the novel from the separate viewpoints of the two sisters, I was also able to present a nuanced view of what was happening, for these young women saw the world in different ways in spite of their common upbringing.

People often ask what is the difference between fiction and historical fiction. All types of fiction are products of the imagination, but historical fiction is set in a carefully-researched context that will survive the scrutiny of historians. It’s worth pointing out here that the historian’s approach to what is history probably differs from that of the Historical Novel Society, which defines historical fiction as being written at least 50 years after the events described in it, unless written by someone not alive at the time of those events. Thus, a novel written in the last two decades of the Cold War wouldn’t, by this strict definition, be viewed as historical fiction by novelists, unless it was written by someone under the age of 30, but it would be viewed as historical by historians. And I have to say that I find this slightly odd!

What can historical fiction say about gender equality and race relations in modern times? Historical fiction brings characters to life in a way that captures not only the essence of an historical period but also the deeper truths of human existence. From this we can better understand how the past contributes to the present. And we can also better comprehend how to right the wrongs of the past. There’s a sense in which The Philosopher’s Daughters might be thought of the 1890s meeting of the #MeToo and the #BlackLivesMatter movements. These movements in their present manifestation show that we do indeed have a way to go yet in improving gender equality and race relations.

About the expert

A novelist with a keen interest in history, Alison Booth is an ANU-based Emeritus Professor of Economics. She is a regular contributor to academic journals and has previously published four novels, Stillwater Creek, The Indigo Sky, A Distant Land, and A Perfect Marriage. In 2017 she received the ESA Distinguished Fellow Award, and she is also an elected Fellow of the Econometric Society and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.

Image description: Alison stands in a white blouse, black blazer and black pants in front of a bright tree with yellow leaves and surrounded by greass. She is smiling with one hand in her front pocket.


VIEW: Ethnicity should be portrayed in its entirety, not just for commercial benefits

Aarti Bajaj is the creative director of groundbreaking production company, Wild Dreamer Productions. Bajaj recently rejected the words “white” and “brown” on the set of her major stage production, believing the terms to inhibit inclusiveness and diversity. She said her aim is to offer actors, dancers, singers and composers a platform to showcase their talent, without being hindered by their ethnicity.

In this interview, Bajaj shares experiences from her career in production, and her views on the representation of ethnicity on screen.

  • What initially instigated your interest in production?

Every creative is a storyteller. Productions are a great platform where raw, uncut versions of various human efforts, emotions and expressions are brought together in a form of a story which then transcends in the atmosphere among the audience that is palpable. And to bring all this to life is the reason that instigated my interest and passion to create productions.

  • How has that interest evolved over time?

Time has taught me more about what NOT to do than what TO DO. The main intention and purpose for Arts in my life was to find the sustainability of arts and with time I have evolved to understand that just passion, dreams, desire and intentions to walk on the path of Arts and Creativity isn’t sufficient. If a sustainability factor needs to be incorporated in Arts, then the marriage of commerce and arts is essential.

The interest to create, produce and reach to the wider global audience has only intensified with time but with a better understanding of commerce and much more concise agendas and expectations.

  • What are your views on how ethnicity is currently portrayed on screens?

The portrayal of ethnicity on screens is more like a flavour, a preconceived idea about certain humans with certain ethnic backgrounds will only be shown in specific colours and roles. There are deeply rooted prejudices and stereotypes in human thinking patterns, which then also transcend in creatives, their portrayal of creativity and then the way their audience consumes it.

  • Can highlighting someone’s ethnicity in a role be a good thing? Why or why not?

According to me ethnicity is part of one’s life story. It should be portrayed, but should be portrayed in its entirety, not just picking the flavours and showcasing them for commercial benefits. Screen plays an integral part in designing and training society’s thinking pattern. Therefore, it can play a key role in breaking prejudices and stereotypes that we humans have about various different races, cultures and ethnicities.

  • What is your advice to other creatives, artists and performers in the industry currently feeling held back because of their ethnicity?

One key advice that I would like to give to other creatives, artists and performers in the industry who are currently feeling held back because of their ethnicity is there are numerous amounts of stories in this world, many yet to be told. Today the world has become one big little global village. It’s time to embrace your ethnicity and identity with pride and respect while honouring the others and their cultural backgrounds with respect and humility. Technology, science and modernisation have built the bridges all across the globe, nothing is too far, nothing impossible anymore, now it’s our turn to embrace humans from all walks of life. And if noone does that for you, then brace yourself, put your best armour on and sing your own song, fight your own battle. We live in the age of infinite possibilities, if none come your way, make one for your own.

About the expert

With a bachelor’s degree in Indian classical dance Bharatnatyam and experience of over 25 years in creating, performing and managing the journey of creative works and creativity as a whole: I believe the most important role of an artist is to tell stories. We are storytellers – storytellers that have the ability and power to transcend the emotions of humans and all other living creatures beyond boundaries, breaking geographical and ethnic cultural barriers using our expressions, physical and technical craft. The main ethos and motto for me as an artist remains to be a global citizen that sees art as an entity that speaks the global language and brings all culturally diverse backgrounds, humans and ideas on one platform of humanity.

Image description: Close-up headshot of Aarti. She has shoulder-length, dark hair, is looking at the camera is wears a floral camisole. Photographer: Helen Selmeczy

PEOPLE: Lunden De’Leon’s transition from broke to blessed

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Lunden De’Leon has seen first-hand the great lengths the film industry has had to go through to keep moving. This includes keeping a six-foot safety distance, wearing masks on set, actors bringing their own costumes and outfits, and using alternate camera angles to enable greater distances between actors. Filming of her latest job has completely halted.

In this interview, Lunden shares how she started a career in acting, and how this has evolved over the years.

  • What is your earliest memory of enjoying acting?

As a teenager, I worked a part time job at Burger King in South Carolina. I went to school during the day and worked at night to save up enough money for a one way bus ticket to Hollywood. Finally, I got the ticket and headed out west.

At first, things went well. But, before long, I ran out of money.

I found myself sleeping on a friend’s couch in her studio apartment. She was a struggling actress and asked me to come with her to a movie audition. I had nothing to lose so I went.

I auditioned for the role of a nurse and got the part. I soon signed with her agent and went on to book a number of other acting roles. Going from broke to blessed overnight is most memorable.

  • What inspired you to embark on a career on screen?

I stumbled into acting. Growing up, my dad was in a gospel band. I thought music would be my calling. However, after my first acting gig, I knew acting was my purpose.

  • What does it mean to you to be a woman of colour on screen?

It means a lot to me. I have other black women standing on my shoulders. As much as I hate to admit it, there’s not enough roles for black women in Hollywood. Be that as it may, instead of waiting for that next “meaty” role, I also write, produce and direct my own projects. That way I can give myself and other women of color an opportunity in this industry.

  • Are there other women of colour who you aspire to be like?

Actress Cicely Tyson is God! She’s been acting for decades and plays very strong women. She’s my idol.

  • How have you had to make changes in your career during the coronavirus pandemic?

I was in the middle of filming a movie entitled “Payne” right before the outbreak. We had to cancel filming and we’re now waiting to restart production. In the meantime, I’m taking acting classes online and working out at my home gym to stay sharp and fit.

  • What is your message to other actors struggling at the moment?

Stay positive. We’ll get through. While waiting for the industry to get “back to norm” look for acting classes online or watch broadway plays via YouTube. It’ll keep your creative juices flowing.

About the expert

Recently nominated “Best Leading Actress” for her role as a high powered attorney in the film “Pure Justice,” actress Lunden De’Leon is no newcomer to television and film.

“There’s nothing more exciting than developing a strong character and taking her from script to screen,” says De’Leon. “I’ve had the opportunity to portray some very powerful women throughout my career and for that I am grateful.”

Having starred in over fifty movies and television shows, De’Leon has worked alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Her list of credits includes the blockbuster comedy “We’re the Millers,” Bravo Television’s “True Fiction”,  “Sweet Home Carolina,” “Somebody’s Child” and just recently, the Netflix drama “Blackbear” as well as the thriller “Broken Halos.”

Image description: Headshot of a women with dark skin, eyes and hair. Her hair is long and curly, and falls to the side in front of her shoulder. She wears red lipstick and a black leather jacket. She looks strong and determined.

ADVICE: Don’t change or limit yourself for anyone – Bo Tallentyre

The Autumn/Winter20 fashion season saw just 46 plus-size models cast in New York, London, Milan, and Paris – a lower number than in recent years. But are old habits overtaking what makes good business sense?

Research shows the plus-size market is fast growing and increasingly competitive, with some plus-size marketing campaigns generating four times as many sales than campaigns with slimmer models. The rising popularity of plus-size models on social media is also highlighting demand among consumers for faces, images, bodies, and stories they can genuinely relate to.

Bo Tallentyre is a plus-size model on a mission to normalise different bodies. In this interview, she openly shares the ups and downs of her career, her advice to other aspiring models, and her message to the media about the importance of embracing every body and every person.

  • How have your personal experiences impacted your approach and interest in being a plus-size model?

I will be honest, it’s hard to be a plus size model given all of the bullying and past trauma in relation to being plus size. It’s hard to be in the public eye and have people criticise you on your weight and how I’m unhealthy (even though I’m not).

My past experiences really did hinder my interest in being a plus size model and being in the industry, purely because it’s a nasty place to be sometimes. People think they can judge every single aspect of your life, just because you put yourself out there.

I wouldn’t quit being a plus size model though. The message I’m spreading and the movement I’m a part of is so much bigger than my personal experiences. It’s about combatting ALL plus size and marginalised people’s personal experiences and challenging the status quo.

  • What do you most and least enjoy about being a model?

The thing I least love about being a model is definitely the fact that people comment on things that they have no idea about. Like my weight and my health. It’s incredibly hard to change people’s perspectives on health and plus size people when they just don’t want to listen to a single thing you have to say… it’s definitely not fun to be constantly ridiculed and harassed because of my size.

But my favourite thing, oh my goodness, it’s definitely the community. There are so many wonderful and brilliant minds in the plus size/body acceptance/diverse model industry. I have met some truly empowering and authentic people. The love we all share for each other, even if we hardly know each other, it’s beautiful and so raw. We are all fighting for the same thing and we do it together, we hype each other up and it’s so inspiring to be a part of. It truly makes me happy.

  • For other aspiring models reading this interview, what are the biggest watch-outs they should be aware of before joining the industry?

My advice is to watch out for nasty people. There will be a lot. People will fight against you and try to tear you down, but it’s so important to remember that they’re uneducated or purely just taking their own trauma out on you. Being a plus size model, or any model, also comes with being objectified sexually. It’s gross. Don’t take these comments to heart; block and delete.

Other than that, watch out for people who try to change you. Don’t change or limit yourself for anyone. Be yourself, your true, authentic self. It’s the best version of you, and the version that will always succeed.

  • What actions have you taken in the past to counter bullying or bullies’ behaviour that have worked to have a constructive and positive impact? How can others replicate this?

I believe the most impactful thing I have done to combat bullying so far has been to educate and speak the truth, always. I’m not shy about talking about my life or my experiences and I’m definitely not afraid to tell people how it is.

Educating people rather than attacking people, or trying to make them feel bad, always has a greater impact than telling them off for bullying. If you take the time to really dig deep and allow other people to understand, the chances of their perspective changing is larger than it is if you were to attack them for attacking you.

Kindness and understanding always prevails. Some people are just stuck in that mindset that everything has to be a certain way, and a little bit of education and kindness can go a long way into changing someone’s mindset. Whether they take your words and think about them, is up to the individual, but it feels so good to know you have at least tried to change the negative ideals of society.

  • Why is diversity of size in the modelling industry important to you?

Diversity in the modelling industry is one of the most important things to me, and to a lot of other people. I can remember being younger, maybe just before my teen years and looking at magazines; all of the models would be thin, white and absolutely beautiful. They were filled with girls and boys who all looked the exact same. None of them looked like me… they didn’t look like my friend who was in a wheelchair and they didn’t look like my darker skinned friends.

Why? Because society has a label for perfect and it’s thin, white and able bodied. I hate it.

Seeing different bodies and different people in the media and in the modelling industry allows people to see themselves represented. I definitely didn’t identify with any of the people I saw in magazines, and a lot of the time, I still don’t. I can guarantee that I’m not the only one that feels that way, too.

It would have changed my mindset and my confidence at a much earlier age if I saw someone who was plus size in a magazine or in the media in general. It would have allowed me to be a happier child, happy with myself and happy with the way I looked instead of hating myself and beating myself up because I didn’t look like the girls everyone looked up to.

The media needs to start embracing and normalising different bodies. Things like chub, crooked smiles, curly and wild hair… dark skin, every skin in between, people with disabilities, everything that is different to the norm. Every size. Every body. Every person should be represented. It will change so many people’s lives.

About the expert

Bo Tallentyre is a fierce and empowering plus size model and activist, based in Melbourne, Australia. Bo uses her past experiences and life knowledge to help educate and change the way the world thinks about diverse and different people. She is so passionate about challenging the status quo and breaking the stigma surrounding larger people that she flipped her life around and jumped head first into being a plus size model on Instagram, working with brands to normalise and celebrate all bodies and all people. You can always find her speaking her own truth and standing out by being her unapologetic self.

Image description: Headshot from the chest up of a women with long, curly brown hair, with a few strands falling in front of her left shoulder. Her left hand is tucking her hair behind her left ear. She wears a v-neck white t-shirt, small yellow dangling earrings and a nose ring. She has blue eyes.

PEOPLE: Dan the scientist, baker and glitter lover

Dan is a nutritionist and medical scientist by day, and a baker by night. Recently, he had the opportunity to share his passion on a grand scale as he participated and became a finalist in the 2019 Australian Bake Off.

Along with the joys of cooking and wanting to share this with the world, Dan is a new business owner whose business was severely impacted by COVID-19, and a LGBTQI+ community member who believes strongly in the need for change in how the TV and media industries represent LGBTQI+ experiences and stories.

In this interview, self-professed “glitter lover” Dan shares his views on representation in media, his experiences during COVID-19, and how he’s nurturing his passion for baking.

  • What opportunities do you think the TV and media industries are overlooking or completely missing when it comes to educating the community about important issues, such as LGBTQI+ rights?

We didn’t talk much about the LGBTQI+ because the main focus of the show was baking. I think the media industry is still far too scared to show an honest view of our communities in mainstream TV especially. And when there is a rare glimpse of something honest and maybe surprising to the mainstream, it’s unfortunately met with some negativity from a small few.

  • When you say an ‘honest view of our communities’, what does this mean to you?

When you even have a lesbian kiss (which is only touching the surface of our community) on Home and Away causing uproar in certain pockets of society, there are definitely problems. Mainstream media seldom features an in-depth look at the real problems that our communities face in terms of challenges in relationships, the workplace, and the fact that the fight for equality didn’t stop when the “yes” vote went through.

  • How can TV stations reflect this accurately?

Stop making the gay characters the side piece to main story lines. Start showing a more in-depth view at the real and detailed lifestyles we lead.

  • What drove you to audition for The Great Australian Bake Off last year?

I love challenges and I wanted to experience something new and exciting to do with baking.

  • What were the best and worst parts of that experience?

The whole experience was the best part of my life. I met so many beautiful people (friends for life), I worked with amazing producers, I baked so many things that I’ve never thought I was able to do. I think the worst part was on the last day was when we had to say goodbye and leave the shed where we were filming.

  • How has your passion for baking evolved since being on the show?

Since the show I have been busy baking for my Instagram and I launched my baking business called Dan’s Bake Lab.

  • Have there been any challenges with starting your own baking business?

It was a challenge starting a new business especially because you have to gain a great volume of clientele and there is a lot of competition out there. I think you have to create something unique and amazing flavours to stand out, but still that isn’t enough. You really have to learn how to use social media to your advantage and leverage positive word of mouth.

  • Have you had to make any changes to Dan’s Bake Lab since COVID-19?

Just a month before COVID-19 I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne and I was planning to start my business here in Victoria. As soon as I started working here to gain a new clientele, the lockdown started and I had to pause what I was doing. Since the isolation I have been working on new flavours and recipes and once everything is over, I can start selling my sweet treats to the Melbournians.

  • What are your thoughts on the recent spike in interest in baking since the coronavirus pandemic?

I love the fact that people are baking a lot at home and they are making so many delicious goodies. Baking is so relaxing and I feel like in this stressful time we all need some baking therapy!

About the expert

Dan is a medical scientist by day and baker by night. He is the creator of Dan’s Bake Lab. Dan is a self-taught, Melbourne-based baker with a passion for creating edible works of art which are truly one of a kind. Originally from Italy, Dan grew up baking with his mamma and nonna who taught him the traditional ways of making delicious dolci Italiani (Italian sweets). These days, he enjoys blending the old with the new and throwing in something that hasn’t been imagined yet, all to create something truly show-stopping.

VIEW: Makeup does not have a gender

Lisa Mitrov has been a makeup artist for a decade and is frustrated with seeing the same challenges over and over again – limited options for people of colour, stereotyped products based on gender, and stigmas influencing who should and shouldn’t use makeup. In 2020, Lisa believes makeup should be gender neutral, and it’s time the industry caught up with where society wants it to be.

  • As a makeup artist, how difficult or easy is it to keep a makeup kit suitable for models/clients of all skin colours and types?

When it comes to skin types, the market is flooding with an endless supply of beauty products to address any of your skin concerns. From dry to oily, sensitive or acne-prone it’s safe to say there is an extensive range of products available for you.

Now, I wish I could say the same about skin shades but the reality is there is still a HUGE lack of diversity and representation for People Of Colour.

Not too long ago, I walked into my local makeup store looking to top up my makeup kit with some face powders suitable for my clients and models of colour. As I searched the store, examining each product from high end brand to brand, I had no issues finding countless shades of white and more white but could not seem to find the shade I was after. I decided to ask the floor staff to point out where I could find a powder deeper in shade. As she paused for a moment, I could see the colour draining from her face. She franticly started searching the store and stated that some shades may be “hiding away in storage”. After some time waiting for her, she pulled out a bronzer and said “this might work”.

Since that very moment, I haven’t stepped foot back in that place . I refuse to support a company that claims to be “inclusive” but in fact, still demonstrates discrimination. Makeup should equally be as accessible in store, regardless of your skin colour!

  • What are the stigmas around makeup that you’d like to see change? Why?

Makeup should not exclude ANYONE. This includes the domination of gender in the beauty industry. As a working professional, I have done makeup not only on women’s faces but on men’s as well. Every TV show you watch, or online store you shop at, you are looking at a male with makeup on.

I would love to see a demand in change for the way cosmetics are packaged/ labelled and promoted so that it’s gender neutral. Studies show that men are becoming increasingly interested in shaping their appearances whether it’s concealing blemishes or evening out skin tone. I want to break down that stigma that men can’t wear makeup.

Makeup does NOT have a gender.

  • What are you doing in your day-to-day work to change the stigmas around makeup?

I love to educate my clients/models about their skin and what specific products are best suited for them. It’s also very important for me to constantly research the ever-growing industry so I can discover and support the brands out there that are already trying to step up and REDEFINE the beauty game.

  • What can others do to drive change around gender and/or racial stereotypes related to makeup?

Start by educating yourself and do a little research online, broaden your search on your socials and ask yourself, do I follow a diverse range of accounts? This includes race, religion, age, gender and the LGBTQIA+ community. What you follow is what you SEE.

Once you start broadening your content you will start to notice a change which may encourage you to use your voice to break down these stereotypes we see not only in makeup. Once you make a start, you may find yourself a strong community of other individuals going through the same experiences and this is where we can come together and create CHANGE.

  • In a perfect world, how would you like to see the makeup industry evolve? What does it look like?

Online, I have definitely seen some great brands use their voice to step up and push for change but I would love to see this translate IN STORE.

Anyone from any background, should be able to walk into a makeup store and feel confident that whatever they are looking for they will get the same service, respect, products and advice as EVERYONE else. No more discrimination, no more lack of shade range, and no more gender boundaries.

About the expert

Lisa Mitrov is a proud queer woman who is gender fluid working in Hair and Makeup for 10 years now. She has worked for the TV Week Logies, on Film Sets, for Weddings, and on Photoshoots for brands such as Cotton On, Edge, St Goliath, Supre, and Factorie.