What happens when 400 women gather on International Women’s Day to hear from Australia’s most-loved personalities? A whole lot of laughs, a few tears and some magic.
Last Friday, our editor Nicky Briger sat down with fashion designer Camilla Franks, actresses Miranda Tapsell and Asher Keddie, politician Julia Banks and Code Like A Girl’s Ally Watson to talk all things female empowerment, equality and feminism.
At the end of the panel discussion at VAMFF, Tapsell revealed she’s never spoken as openly as she did on stage. “It felt like it was a really safe space,” she said about the room full of supportive women - and male allies.
Here are the life lessons the stars shared…
AUSTRALIAN POLITICS “DEFINITELY” HAS A MAN PROBLEM
When Julia Banks quit the Liberal Party in August last year, she slammed the “cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation” of women in politics. Speaking to our editor Nicky Briger, she compared the Coalition party to a “Mad Men meets House of Cards” bed of toxic masculinity.
“It was a culture of really bad behavior, it wasn’t narrowed down to one episode of bullying,” she said when asked about the incidents that led to her walking away from the Liberal Party. “There is definitely a man problem [in politics].”
Reflecting on her infamous leaving speech, Banks said, “The reaction was incredible after my statement. Anyone who’s been bullied will know that when a woman calls out bad behavior she’s often [called] a liar or making it up, or [being] highly emotional. [After the speech]. I felt a collective hug from women all around the country.”
Banks says the solution to Australia’s gender bias in parliament is equal representation. “Quotas in politics will create an equal playing field, [and, in turn] having equal representation will change the culture of politics,” she explained.
MIRANDA TAPSELL HAS BALLS
At 149.9 centimetres, Miranda Tapsell is tiny. Because of her petite stature, Tapsell says she’s often underestimated. “People think I’m this tiny little cute thing, but I’ve actually got big balls,” admitted the Darwin-born actress, to roaring laughter from the crowd.
Those balls have helped Tapsell to get ahead in her career and navigate stardom. Having written, directed and starred in the upcoming Top End Wedding, the 31-year-old channeled her spirit animal for the film. “I know when to get up and fight, and when I need to step back. Sort of like a crocodile,” said Tapsell, who is an obvious choice to lead the Crocodile Dundee reboot. Step aside Paul Hogan.
EVEN WORLD-FAMOUS STARS FEEL INSECURE
Asher Keddie is whip smart, uber talented and undeniably gorgeous. When our IWD panel ended, hoards of women lined up to get a selfie with her (marie claire included). But it might surprise you to know that the actress has battled self-doubt throughout her life and career. The crowd nodded in understanding when Keddie spoke about overcoming insecurity in her twenties. “I was a very confident, outspoken child, then I took a few falls in my twenties,” she revealed. “I wasted so much time worrying about what people thought of me.”
Keddie credited her Offspring character Nina Proudman for teaching her to embrace her weaknesses, “Offspring was a very strong female lead project. To play Nina, I had to expose all of my vulnerabilities and not apologise for them.” All hail Nina Proudman.
WOMEN NEED TO FIND THEIR TRIBES
When Ally Watson founded Code Like A Girl in 2015, she really just wanted to meet other women in tech. Working as a back end developer in a male-dominated industry, she was desperate for female company (and solidarity). “It’s important for girls to find their tribe,” she said.
As well as having a tribe, young girls need role models to look up to. “If you have any little girls in your family, be a role model,” implored Watson, encouraging more women to get into STEM industries. “Tech is everywhere and it can’t keep being made by just one gender.”
THERE IS STRENGTH IN VULNERABILITY
When Camilla Franks took to the stage to speak about her breast cancer battle for the first time in public, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. After Nicky Briger asked where she found the strength to get through the diagnosis, Franks laughed, “I wasn’t strong. I was a wreck and vulnerable.” Wiping tears from her eyes, she quoted a saying that resonated with her, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to show up anyway.”
And Franks has continued to show up. Celebrating 15 years of her eponymous brand, the fashion designer made an emotional appearance at her runway show last year, after being diagnosed with breast cancer just four months after giving birth to her first child Luna Gypsy. Franks credited her daughter, her partner JP Jones and her work family for getting her through the most difficult year of her life. She gave a round of applause to her assistant, who has been an unwavering support over the last year, going to every single doctors appointment, treatment session and scan with Franks. There’s nothing more powerful than women supporting other women, which is the sentiment at the very core of Franks’ brand. “We want to empower women to be fearless,” she said. “Having a daughter has made me want to fight harder for the next generation.”