A few weeks ago we had the idea to start a series of posts that introduce you to some of the better known women who read Mamamia – your fellow guests at the dinner table.
Last week we met Leigh Sales – journalist and presenter of the iconic current affairs program ABC’s 7:30.
This week we’re changing our tune (literally) and sitting you next to Clare Bowditch. You may know Clare as the beautiful red head with the sultry voice who sings You Make Me Happy with Eddie Perfect on Channel 10’s Offspring. She’s a singer, she’s a story teller, she’s an ARIA Award winner and she’s one of the women we’re so pleased to have around the place.
MM: They say that “You cannot be what you cannot see.” Who do you admire? Who did you look to when growing up?
CB: I had my mother and my sisters and my grandmothers and my aunties – there was a lot of love, a lot to admire. I looked around a little further and struggled to see women like myself in the media, particularly in the music scene. It was not that they didn’t exist, it was that I could not see them, could not really hear their stories. I felt this lack keenly, and it made me rather determined to be an active seeker of role-models.
As a society we often vilify female agitations like Germaine Greer and Catherine Deveny. I do the opposite – I appreciated the contribution that they make, I appreciate the discomfort they put me through when I disagree with them, when they go “too far”, and I am grateful for the relief I feel when they say out loud something that no-one else has been willing to say. Why? Because great societies desperately need great agitators – they bring through new waves of ideas, they represent the spiky bits, they swing the pendulums that would otherwise remain stagnant, and they do it not because they want “popularity” but because they have enormous hearts, enormous concern, enormous care for people and ideas that others dismiss.
Other women I admire – Laurie Anderson, Ruby Hunter, Tavi Gevison, Joni Mitchell, Fabian Dattner, Helen Keller, Rachel Power, Mother Teresa, Anais Nin, Frida khalo, Naomi Wolf, Hildegard Von Bingem, Deborah Conway, Ani di Franco, Quentin Bryce, Noni Hazelhurst, Leigh Sales, Elisabeth Kubler Ross, Anna Schwartz, Marianne Williamson, Anita Roddick, Marieke Hardy, Jane Campion, Joanna Murray-Smith. Innovators, entrepreneurs, women are powerful in their womanhood. I admire Mia and Lucy Feagins and Pip Lincoln and Kat Maclead… I’m only just getting started!
CB: This may sound overly obvious but here’s the truth: I want my daughter to aspire to be, very simply, her own self. Don’t get me wrong – I am very active about putting positive female role-models in her path and I have cultivated many of my adult friendships knowing that these are the women I want my daughter to grow up knowing. But for her to accept and own her full glory, and to use that strength to contribute to the world in her own acutely unique way, and to find deep happiness and satisfaction in that process – these are my hopes.
MM: How would you define your kind of feminism? How does that come through in your music?
CB: For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the question of how to make the best use of my life. As overwhelmed as I regularly get, I’m still always acutely aware that I am fortunate beyond measure: I have health, I have shelter, access to healthcare and education for my children, a means of making an income, I have the luxury of reading an instruction pamphlet, of taking a shower, of catching a bus that will take me to my mother’s house, of feeding my family until they’re so full they could run a marathon. If you took away any one of these things, I would struggle. So when I consider that many millions of women have NONE of these things, I am reminded of my obligation to continue to call myself a feminist and to act in support of women, knowing that when we do this, we support the whole of humanity, because women who have the means to take care of themselves will go on to care for their families, their villages, their world.
My work in Australia both in music and through Big Hearted Business centers around supporting women to be powerful leaders in their own lives (and therefore in their world). My job is to hold the space for people to think kindly of themselves, and use their lives well. I do this with music, through telling stories, by singing about courage, loss, experimentation, vulnerability, passion, politics, our bodies, celebration and suffering.
In a more formal way I do it through BHB by teaching practical strategic business skills and states-of-mind that remind creative entrepreneurs (and organisations) of their power to use their hands, their ideas, their brains, bodies and hearts to create the lives and cultures they so dearly desire. And we put our money where our mouths are because 20% of all BHB profits will go towards programs that support women (KIVA or IWDF) and creatives (the JB Seed for example).
MM: Do we have strong enough female role models in music? Who do you think are bad influences?
CB: Yes, we do have strong and gentle and gorgeous and powerful enough female role models. Sometimes, we need to hunt a little further to find them, because they’re not usually the ones you see showing off their awesome tits on the cover of magazines (bless!).
What we sometimes find in any industry in which women are involved (i.e. all industries) is an over emphasis on self-worth based on externals. We also hear stories of bitchiness, comparison, and criticism to get ahead.
I have to say, my experience has been the opposite: the music industry has inside of it some of the most wonderful women the world has ever known. We’re not all the same, we sometimes disagree, but we do keep an eye out for each other.
As women I still believe that our worst influences are often ourselves: the small stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the way we believe them. Our minds are the place where we get to choose how our life goes. I cannot, for example, change any one else’s mind. I cannot take down someone else’s puerile blog post. I can, however, examine my own reaction to that, my own addiction to reading the crappy post again and again, and I can choose what I’d rather be doing, and do it.
MM: You are considered a role model by many. How does that make you feel?
CB: Fantastic. Go ahead. I maintain my right to falter. If you’re cool with that, so am I.
What was the most disappointing moment or biggest setback in your career? How did you recover?
CB: The most disappointing moment in my career was a really painful break-up with one of my music-managers a few years ago. At the time, I was utterly crushed. But then a funny thing happened (as it always will, if you allow it): I started walking down a far more positive path, and I stated living my life differently… better even. I become far more courageous in my opinions, and in the choices I made. I decided, for example, that I wanted to tour less and be in the garden with my children more. Curiously, this led to greater success in my career, which is not uncommon, and it’s one of the things we discuss in BHB. I was no longer passive about where my career led me. I began to let go of my dependence on other people’s opinions of me. I wasted less energy trying to please, to make others proud of me. I began to ask myself “What would make ME proud of me? What can I contribute that no-one else can? What’s stopping me from doing that?”. That’s when I wrote The Winter I Chose Happiness, and that’s when I began planning to launch BHB.
MM: What’s the biggest difference between men and women, besides the, ah, obvious?
CB: *Generalisation alert people! There’s no way to answer this without sweeping generalisations, so let’s just talk about way women lead. Women leaders tend to be far more affiliative: we bring people together, we take people with us. Look at Mamamia – look how many women Mia is taking with her as she leads. This doesn’t happen in your average male-dominated workplace.
MM: Australia has a female PM, a female Governor General, 3 female High Court justices – do we need feminism any more?
CB: This simplest answer here is to point out that feminism is not just about Australia, and that it’s not just about women getting jobs, and it’s not even just about women.
It’s also about building a society that contributes to the lives of humans who not only don’t have jobs, they don’t have food, shelter, medicine or education. It’s also building societies that recognize our vulnerability as one of the birth places of our strength (see Brene Brown for more reading here).
MM: What’s your greatest talent/achievement that you will never be able to put on your resume?
CB: My time of segregating life and business and family and creativity, where I would downplay my commitment in one in order to cultivate “credibility” in another, are long dead. My life is my resume – it’s all out there.
MM: What’s the biggest challenge facing Australian women?
CB: Ourselves. Yes, that’s right: ourselves. We truly live in the lucky country in a border-less world of virtual possibility. Almost everything we put our minds to, we dedicate ourselves to, we can achieve. Our biggest challenge is the small stories we write in our heads about what lives we are going to live. Write a bigger story for yourself.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received? What’s the worst?
CB: Be kind to yourself. Love yourself the way you want someone else to love you. Simple.
The worst advice I personally ever received, and I speak only for myself, was to wait until I felt “ready” before I took the leap into motherhood. If I waited until I was “ready”, I don’t think I would ever have been ready, and so it is with all grand adventures. We become ready in the doing, not in the contemplating.
MM: Do you think women should be allowed to serve on the front line?
CB: I’m only qualified to make a general comment – any blanket rules about what women are and are not allowed to do require close examination.
MM: If Australia became a Republic tomorrow, who would you choose as our head of state?
CB: Whoever it is, I’d hope it was someone who understand true leadership – that it is as much about “direction” as it is about inspiration, courage and vulnerability.
Come to think of it, Annabel Crabb would do a bang up job…
MM: There is a growing sentiment that women are each others’ own worst enemies and stand in the way of each others’ success. Do you think that’s true?
CB: Really? Where are these women? Who are these women? Because they’re not the ones I hang out with. My women-folk and I passionately and fiercely support each other. These are the women who give me the guts to believe I have something worth saying. So although “females fighting with females” is clearly something that sells magazines, that sells tickets (mud wrestling, yada yada), it’s not been my experience. Find some friends you can love, people.
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Clare’s just released a new album – it’s called The Winter I Chose Happiness. And she’s also touring in QLD, NSW, Vic and WA over the next few weeks. For further info at BHB, visit her website here.