Dancer Vanessa Marian Tells Us Why The Fight For Gender Rights Is Important To Her

by: Courtney Sanders | 4 months ago | Features

Image: Vanessa with one of our Gender Equal Tote Bags, and wearing t-shirt by Nobody Denim and jeans by Denimsmith, both coming soon to Well Made Clothes. 

One of the key issues in the fashion industry supply chain is gender inequality. 75% of garment workers, worldwide, are women. This huge global female workforce faces many forms of discrimination, including but not limited to unsafe working conditions, unfair wages, sexual harrassment, sexual assault, physical assault, and forced contraception. On top of this, they often have to leave their rural communities, their children (some of whom are garment workers themselves), their extended families and their friends – their support structures – to work in the factories, which are usually based in metropolitan areas. Yep, the treatment of these workers is pretty appalling.

We’re energised by the recent reignition of the fight for women’s rights, and we wanted to do something, in the lead-up to International Women’s Day, to celebrate the positive impact fashion can have on women’s lives. So, we’re doing two things! Firstly, we’re hosting an event as part of VAMFF, A Good Evening: How Fashion Can Empower Women’, and, secondly, we’ve created a Gender Equal Tote Bag. We commissioned artist Caroline Walls to create a gender equal piece of work for us. We then joined forces with Freeset, a certified organic cotton and fair trade factory in Kolkata which employs women who have been saved from the sex slavery industry. Freeset are currently working on their Gateway Project, a building at the entrance to the red-light district which will provide essential services to women who are still trapped in sex slavery. All profits from both the event and the sales of the tote bags will go to Freeset’s Gateway Program, which we couldn’t be prouder to support.

This project is a little sprawling, because the problem is sprawling and multi-faceted, but bear with us: to celebrate the release of the tote bags, we asked some of the female-identifying people we're inspired by to tell us why they fight for gender rights! This is the first part in an eight part series, which we're really excited to present. 

Vanessa Marian is one talented woman. She’s a dancer, which would be enough for some people, especially because she can mesmerise in 30 second Instagram videos like no other (yes we stalk you Vanessa). But she’s also the co-founder of Groove Therapy, an organisation which empowers people through dance. One of Groove Therapy’s projects was to teach dance classes to residents of retirement villages, who suffer from dementia. Of the project, she told Catalogue, “playing songs from their yesteryears really triggers their long term memories, because it’s their short term memory that’s affected. So having a conversation in the present doesn’t really work: it’s circular and repetitive, and they’re confused. She says the dance classes “pull them out of that state into a state of making sense of, and being able to contribute to, the present moment. They’re singing the lyrics to these songs”. How bloody awesome is that?

Here’s what Vanessa had to say about the importance of the fight for gender equality today.

Courtney Sanders: Why is gender equality important to you?
Vanessa Marian: I can’t wait for the day when the word gender is redundant. I’m for human equality. I don’t want to guilt white cis males just for being born into a societal privilege. It’s not about championing one gender at the expense of another. For me it’s about inclusiveness, open dialogue, and striving for peace. I acknowledge that this is not as simplistic as I just made it out to be. Sometimes it’s nice to log off from the preachy social media feeds that perpetuate hopelessness and just vibe with my mates, feeling the love.

Courtney: What do you think we can do to make the fashion industry more gender equal?
Vanesa: First it was an issue of homogeneity, and this is currently ‘addressed' with a spike in tokenism which is problematic for so many other reasons. However, I think the fashion industry is changing and I’m excited to see platforms like Instagram give a voice to the people who are representing their beautiful and varied selves in large numbers. And it’s not going unnoticed – brands are starting to catch on. For me it’s not about representing a look, it’s about acknowledging diversity. I’m excited to see the continued progression on this!

Courtney: What are your biggest concerns, more broadly, with regards to gender inequality right now?
Vanessa: Right now I’m concerned with the trolls. I’m concerned when those who seek to champion equality are brought down by people who want to stand on a righteous pedestal and pick flaws in each others’ well-meaning altruism. It broke my heart to see people at the Women’s March holding signs that blanket-labelled ‘white women’ or ’straight women’ with negative statements. Categorising a race or sexual orientation and attributing stereotypes to them is not conducive to peace. If someone says something ignorant, I want to hear open conversation.

I only learned about the notion of gender fluidity and the correct use of pronouns in the last few years. I only truly understood the horror of Invasion Day after reading about it in my early twenties. I still hear the most ‘enlightened’ lefties who preach the loudest say ignorant things about my Indian culture. What I’m trying to say is that we’ve all been and will always continue to be ignorant about something. It’s not fair to call a well-meaning person ignorant when they are probably excited and receptive to the constructive sharing of our varied contexts.

We need to try and act in a way that serves to improve the cohesiveness of society. The goal should be peace: we need to share our stories with love and compassion with those who do not yet understand the gravity of what they are saying or doing. We need to end the ‘them vs. us’ mentality. We need to love more.

Buy one of our Gender Equal Tote Bags now, and help save women from sex slavery, and, if you're in Melbourne, come along to our VAMFF 2017 event, A Good Evening: How Fashion Can Empower Women (tickets are limited and selling fast!). 

A Good Evening: How Fashion Can Empower Women is presented by Well Made Clothes and Ethical Clothing Australia, supported by Kuwaii, and sponsored by 42Below

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