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By Eden Faithfull

When I walk into the Pier One bar, I immediately notice Clementine Ford sitting with her ten-month old boy in her lap. The bar is playing smooth jazz, and I’m pretty sure Yassmin Abdel-Magied just walked past me, and instantly I feel very much out of my depth. As I go over to introduce myself, Clementine’s pomegranate lipstick beams up at me as she seats her son, Frank, on the floor between us. “I will be listening to you even though I’m not looking at you,” she says, staring at Frank as he begins to toddle towards the glass windows, “I just have to keep an eye on him.” I sit down across from her and make myself comfortable, which is startlingly easy in her presence.

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Clementine Ford is reflective and resilient, proud and unpretentious, a mother and an agitator; she is the epitome of womanhood. Throughout my interview with her she simultaneous mixes a bottle of formula, whisks her adventurous little boy away from the dangers of a hotel bar, and continues to discuss the pitfalls of Capitalistic feminism without missing a beat.

I open my Spirax notebook and read aloud from underneath the heading, ‘Questions for Clem’: “You speak extensively about how you refused to label yourself as a feminist when you were younger. What would you suggest to the thirteen-year-old Clementines of today?” She takes a deep breath, and then a smile scurries across her face.

“What I tried to say in my book is that you shouldn’t feel ashamed of speaking your truth, it is not normal to feel like you’re not worth anything, it’s not normal to think that you’ll only become something when other people find you attractive. I would just try to tell them that even though it hurts the first time, the more you speak up and stand against it, the more powerful you are likely to become.”

Frank reaches out his tiny, chubby fingers and wraps them around my notebook. Both it and Clementine’s book fall to the floor and he continues to paw through them. I let him because frankly, he’s adorable, and if I can’t get Clementine to sign my book after our interview, I’ll at least have the dried remains of her son’s saliva to remind me of our interaction. I remember the next question anyway.

“It seems like ‘feminism’ as a concept is becoming an increasingly monetised: we’re seeing t-shirts, tote bags and coffee mugs all emblazoned with feminist sentiments. Do you think that this ‘Capitalist Feminism’ is an issue, and do you think you, as a commercial author, have contributed to it?”

Clementine had clearly reflected on this, as she launched into her impassioned response without hesitation.

“Oh yeah, we’re all complicit in the capitalist system that we live in, and unfortunately for many of us, wholly opting out of it is not an option. Not everyone has the privilege to opt out of society, and that’s what needs to be acknowledged.”

We continue to speak about Western capitalist tenets, and about how capitalism is inherently at odds with equality, as it always involves the oppression of people with disadvantages. We come to the conclusion that pursuing a Western liberal idea of feminism is essentially meaningless if you still have women in Bangladesh making your Nike socks.

“It seems that with the advent of social media, the frontier for the feminist battle has shifted. You’ve had quite a bit of success with calling out prominent publications from the Internet, but you’ve also had to put up with some horrible online trolls. Should women take to social media to have their voices heard, and if so, how do we protect ourselves?”

“That’s a great question,” she muses. My heart skips a beat. “I think the internet is a really powerful tool for women to use, in fact for any oppressed or marginalised group, to take back control of a conversation that has been historically denied to them.”

As she considers her answers, Clementine wrings her hands in front of her knees, less a nervous tick than a meditative compulsion as she divides her attention between her nomadic son and her thoughtful responses. At this point, Frank has lost interest in my possessions and has skipped off to study a steaming teapot that has been left on one of the other tables. Clementine rushes off to scoop him up, out of harm’s way. Watching her clutch her son to her, I think of my final question.

“How, as a mother, do you believe you’ll be able to help your son grow up and make a positive contribution to the feminist discourse? Are you worried about a culture of toxic masculinity?”

“I’m really scared that the lessons I teach him won’t be enough to stave off the huge tidal wave of that conditioning, because there’s things that some boys are conditioned into thinking and doing that aren’t just harmful to other people, but also causing destruction for themselves,” she says, and wrings her hands tighter.

When I look at Frank in his purple and orange jumpsuit, I wonder what he’ll be like when he does come of an age when gendered expectations start to put their inevitable pressures on him. He looks straight back at me and I realise he has his mother’s warm blue-green eyes. “I think you’ll be alright,” I say out loud to him as he starts drooling on my notebook again. I never did get Clementine to sign it.

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