Women’s History Month guest, Christina Ryan

One of my favourite photographs from the years I was on Australia’s Women’s History Month committee (we were not as pretentious as it sounds) is of Christina Ryan. She’s impossible to describe, impossible to quench, and is a powerful force for good in Australia. She’s also my friend. She’s not here today because she’s my friend, however. She’s here because she is an important part of women’s hsitory in Australia and it’s time to remind everyone that important historical people can also be living human beings and can be asked their thoughts. History can talk back. If you want to see the photograph… I could be tempted to share it. Gillian

Earrings as feminist activism, Christina Ryan

I wear earrings. No, I mean I WEAR EARRINGS!

My earrings tell stories, they take up space, and they are peculiar to me. In fact, I’m quite well known for my earring collection and for how I wear earrings; they are part of my feminist identity.

Once I got past the modest earrings required by school uniform, my earrings became large, pronounced, evident. While younger I had loads of hair and my earrings needed to keep up to be seen. Now I have short short hair and my earrings provide my only adornment.

I’ve never been a necklace wearer. I don’t do rings because I use a wheelchair. I’m not much of a bracelet type either, that gets in the way of my working. My earrings are my all.

Every pair of earrings I own comes from a specific location, or situation, or they were given to me by X on the occasion of Y.

I never wear the same pair twice in a week.

Young women are supposed to be “nice”, and yet my earrings took me beyond that space to being someone who was louder and would speak up, often bluntly. As I’ve grown older my earrings have become less and less polite and more and more outspoken.

Disabled women are supposed to be “nice”, but also to be quiet, unopinionated, grateful. My earrings refuse to align with that expectation. They demand that I be seen, they warn that I will speak up and speak out. My earrings turn anything I wear into a statement, not just clothing.

Best of all I have collections of types of earrings: my corporates, evening wear, party earrings, weekend wear, the purples, the specials, and my fierce collection.

Everyone should have a fierce collection!

The original fierce earrings were named by my partner. This gives you an idea of how others view me and my earrings. I got them at the MOMA shop in New York, while I was part of Australia’s CEDAW delegation, and they cost a bomb. They’re twisted cables that run the length of my neck and sweep outwards towards the unsuspecting invader of my space. They show an intention to create my own way and to take my own space as I do it. They dagger towards you as I speak and snag on anything that gets in their way. They are elegant and intimidating.

My Japanese predatory snails came from a wonderful woman at a market in The Rocks in Sydney. She’s a geologist who travels the world collecting astonishing rocks and then makes them into earrings. Each pair comes with its own card that tells its story, the types of rocks used and where they came from. I loved her and her wares on sight and ended up buying 3 pairs of earrings from her one beautiful clear blue Saturday morning. The rocks on my Japanese predatory snails are large and deep green with a smaller violet stone nestled near the hook. Below them hang real snail shells that are silver coated. The snails are Japanese and they are predators. As with all my earrings they hang long. I wear these earrings when I refuse to take any shit, or any more shit, when my statement to the world is to watch out, treat me with respect. They make me feel fierce and indestructible just putting them on.

My gold shields are classic 80s earrings. I haven’t worn them in a while, but they lurk there in the collection waiting for their chance to make a comeback. The 80s were big. I was very tall back then, had enormous amounts of hair in a high ponytail, and wore short frocks, sometimes stiletto boots, and enormous earrings. The gold shields take up real space and hang the length of my neck. They are a bit Xena warrior princess, in fact, but this was before her time. Wearing them made me the sort of woman who carried herself through the world freely with confidence. Just thinking of them makes me feel taller and gorgeous.

My feminism goes with me everywhere and is a part of who I have always been. My earrings are just as much a part of who I am and reflect my identity, my mood, my confidence and approach to life. They nestle within my activism as more than accessories, as far more than adornment. My earrings tell the story of me.

Christina Ryan is the CEO / Founder of the Disability Leadership Institute and has been a feminist activist since she was 8 years old. More recently she has worked intersectionally with Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) drawing feminism into the disability rights movement, and disability into the women’s movement.

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