WWhen I mentioned to a friend that I was going to interview Clementine Ford, she said she was curious to read Ford’s new book, How We Love: “I would like to hear about love from someone who has known so much hate.”
I tell Ford this as we connect across Zoom late one Friday afternoon as Ford sat on his couch in the plant-filled Melbourne home she shares with her young son. Her face lights up with the author’s appreciation of a nice twist and the longtime self-promoter’s awareness of something she can use. “It’s a great line! I can borrow that. I love it.”
No wonder Ford – author, podcaster, self-titled “sassy social media bigmouth”, “Hardline Feminist” according to the Daily Mail and “HYSTERICAL FEMALE” according to her T-shirt today – is set on ways to describe herself . She has spent nearly a decade involved in much public controversy, most of them attempts to silence her unhindered brand of popular feminism – and some, she admits, of her own portrayal.
As feminist academic Anita Brady recently wrote: “In Australian media culture, it’s hard to imagine a figure more visible as a vector of popular misogyny than Clementine Ford.” Ford seems to have a special ability to provoke, flush out sexism where it could otherwise go unsaid – but also divide progressives with its attention-grabbing approach and occasional flaws.
Out-and-proud “anti-feminists,” meanwhile, Ford whips into madness. In 2017, after cementing his position in the public sphere with his first book, Fight Like a Girl, Milo Yiannopoulos expressed his disgust for Ford to live audiences across Australia and millions more online.
All of it, laudatory or derogatory, is equivalent to making Ford arguably the most famous feminist in Australia, whose fame, Brady argues, “is indistinguishable from the work of her feminism” – and often in response to misogynistic attacks.
Julia Baird described the bestseller Fight Like A Girl as “was shaped in battle”; after spending almost all of his 30s what one might call “feminist” in public, the same could be said of Ford itself.
“People always assume I’m coming from a place of anger and hatred,” says Ford, now 40. How We Love represents Ford’s attempt to change that narrative – or at least magnify it.
“As much as I am now quite impenetrable to people’s opinions about me, I also feel the same human instinct and need to be understood, which is what so much of the book is about: being loved, being known, being seen, “she says.” For much of my career, I have felt very misunderstood – and conscious in many cases. “
Now Ford is making a gentle request for understanding: “I’m not asking you to take it easy with me. I’m just asking you not to reduce myself to a stereotype. “
The memoir is in the style of British author Dolly Alderton’s hugely successful Everything I Know About Love, which focuses on the most meaningful relationships in Ford’s life, beginning with her family.
Born in Queensland, Ford grew up between Oman, rural England, Brisbane and Adelaide – and “uncool in each of these places”, she writes. She describes herself as “a theater child at heart”, chronically performative, as only the youngest of three can be.
Ford’s father, an Australian, met his Guyanese mother while working in an English pub. How We Love begins with her mother’s shocking death from cancer at the age of 58, after refusing further treatment, and ends with Ford herself becoming a mother.
Compared to the “manifesto” Fight Like a Girl (which has been chosen for TV) and the 2018 sequel Boys Will Be Boys (a removal of patriarchy and the toxic masculinity), How We Love is strikingly devoid of politics and reveals a surprisingly softer, more self-doubting side of Ford.
That was the point, she says – of founding her activism in “a place of love for men”, wanting them and the world to be better. (I see this in the boundless patience she shows her son in his frequent posts through our interview; and in her respectful exchange with her father when he ran for One Nation in 2017.)
Far from deviating from his political work, Ford sees How We Love as “a natural companion”. But she also had a personal motivation for writing it.
After her challenging pregnancy and birth, furore over the “man-hating” Boys Will Be Boys, and the breakdown of her relationship with her son’s father, Ford says she was heading for a mental health crisis if she continued on her very public, combative path. way. “It’s pretty bruising to be in a room all the time where you feel like you’re constantly on the lookout for attacks.”
Where Ford once pampered the fight (“I really got off on it a little bit … the provocative youthful energy”), motherhood changed her. “It exposed a soft lower abdomen that I was not necessarily aware was there … and part of becoming a softer person is being willing to be more vulnerable to humans.”
By pitching the idea for How We Love in mid-2019, Ford told her publisher that she wanted her next book to be a book that does not require research, and that it would be “really nice to write”. It was also a bit strategic.
For some time, Ford has been aware of a ceiling on her potential progression as a mainstream feminist voice – “because I never gave one out to the men who run the show,” she says.
In 2019, Ford left her longtime column for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age, claiming she had previously been disciplined for tweeting that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was a “fucking disgrace”. TV producers have told her she has been beaten back for various projects for being “too aggressive”, she says.
Ford paints a picture of having been backed into an increasingly narrow corner: expected to “always write something sour,” but not so angry that it actually threatens the status quo.
But even people who agree with Ford’s policy may disagree with her tactics: always straightforward, often oppositional, at times artless – and even arguably counterproductive.
In May 2020, Ford shared the disgusting abuse sent to her by a teenage boy along with his name and picture with her tens of thousands of Instagram followers (she removed the post in response to prayers from the boy’s mother). That same month, she tweeted that coronavirus “did not kill men fast enough”: a misjudged microphone drop concluding comments about the increased domestic burden on women through the pandemic.
Ironically, misandry is par for the course on Twitter – what Ford now considers “completely toxic” and “not a healthy place for me to be” – but predictably inflammatory beyond that. After tweeting Saturday afternoon, Ford doubled Saturday night, apologizing Sunday morning and now tweeting infrequently.
It was “an end in itself,” she says. “I’m frustrated at having written it, in part because now anyone who wants to disagree with something is just sending that tweet back to me.” Among the real distress, she says, were some – especially News Corp columnists – who were simply “happy” about the chance of paralyzing her.
She only felt compelled to apologize after a black woman in the United States told her that there were black and brown men overrepresented among the Covid-19 death rate: “I was still operating in a theoretical space where men were in a position of power. . “
It was not the first time that Ford has been criticized for perpetuating feminism as a concern for the middle class, cis white women. She is volunteering now that she has historically “perpetuated racist rhetoric, as a white person living with white privilege”.
She compares this to the ways in which men benefit from structural sexism simply by being men. “I do not want them to say ‘Well, I’m not the enemy, I’m not misogynistic.’ You may not be actively doing these things, but you are benefiting from a system that gives you privileges. “
In recent times, Ford has made an obvious effort to share its platforms with those who can not afford them so easily. “One of the problems is that we’ve always blurred voices,” she says of feminism.
“It has not only denied other people the right and privilege to be heard, but it also puts enormous pressure on the one voice, which for whatever reason is chosen.”
How We Love, Ford agrees, is at least in part a strategic attempt to become “more well-rounded” and diversify its offering. “There must have been a part of me that thought: how long can you be the provocative feminist voice? And if that’s the only thing you do – at what point does it actually start to be the achievement that everyone says it is?
“I will never be tasty. But professionally and pragmatically I try to improve my options.”
If Ford had felt uncertain about her future direction, the pandemic forced her to act. She started a podcast called the Big Sister Hotline, a weekly “gas bag” on Instagram Live and impacted for a sex toy company (use “CLEMFORD” for a 20% discount). Ford also receives donations through its Patreon page, supporting her “feminist critique, comedy and unassailable truths” – most recently demonstrating against anti-waxers.
The focal point makes Brady, the academic’s argument, explicit: that Ford’s “fame is both the product and the place of her feminist work,” and presents the visibility of feminism as a goal, not a means, on platforms that are “certainly affirmative.”
If she was once considered a radical feminist voice – albeit by virtue of being “fulmouthed” (to quote from her Twitter bio) in well-behaved spaces – Ford may now look more like a girl boss: a woman who gets feminism to work for her, through the neoliberal logic of self-empowerment.
It’s a tax Ford is admirably involved with. “Of course there are massive problems with the way feminism has jumped into bed with capitalism, and I am certainly guilty of being a part of it,” she says. “I think [that critique] is important. But again, it seems to be directed away from the richest, most privileged people in the world: largely white men. “
When people fighting for social justice feel unable to influence those in power, Ford suggests, “it may feel more effective to throw its tomatoes at the people they are going to hit.” Some of those who were lobbied against her have been “very reasonably thrown and landed as they should,” she says. But now Ford wants out of the firing line.
It’s not that she’s reinventing herself, or running away, Ford says. “I just want the opportunities to tell stories that make people feel things – not just anger.”
How We Love by Clementine Ford will be released on November 2 through Allen & Unwin ($ 29.99)
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