Stephanie

“You'll burn up in my atmosphere.”

Name?

Stephanie Westwood.

Where did you grow up?

Born in Melbourne, but I was raised in Antofagasta, Chile, South America, before moving back to Australia for high school.

Were you brought up religiously/secularly/other?

My brothers and I went to a few religious schools but my parents were atheist and we were never encouraged to believe in any religion.

Was there turbulence throughout your childhood/adolescence?

My parents first separated when I was 12. There was a painful three or four years in which they tried to make things work, and so my father left, came back, left, came back. They eventually divorced when I was fourteen, and my father got remarried. It was a very angry stage of my teenage years.

Were you ever embarrassed about your development/puberty? If so, why?

I always struggled with the ideals of traditional femininity – I was a self-proclaimed ‘tomboy’. Because I was often isolated from my peers, I formed a lot of internalised misogyny that I didn’t unlearn until my early twenties. I didn’t understand how to be feminine – I grew breasts and got my period years after all of my friends, and never felt like I was coping with being a woman as well as the girls around me. What I didn’t understand at the time was this was the influence of a patriarchal society, and so as a teenager I resented other girls who were far more beautiful than I rather than the societal structure. Now I know it was never their fault, and I wish I’d had the resources to realise and unlearn this sooner.

Can you remember any key moments in your formative years that shaped you?

Growing up in the desert town of Antofagasta, where I attended an international school with a mishmash of cultures and people and no set curriculum, shaped me. It felt so isolated from the rest of the world. Also my parents’ divorce, and my father remarrying and having more children with another woman, affected me.

Your sexuality?

Queer. Technically bisexual, but I identify with the activism and community of queer spaces.

When did you become aware of your gender?

No marked point – have always felt female, even when I didn’t identify with the social norms of femininity, have always been female.

When did you become aware of your own sexuality, were there any key moments?

I remember watching a movie when I was about twelve that featured crime-fighting cheerleaders and a babe of a villain (great flick) and being intensely attracted to the female villain. I think that was the first time I was like ‘wow – WOMEN’. I didn’t form a similar attraction to men until I was nineteen or twenty.

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“(I) have always felt female, even when I didn’t identify with the social norms of femininity, have always been female.” – Stephanie
Photo by Georgia Smedley

What, if any, are the obstacles you’ve overcome on your path to womanhood?

Internalised misogyny. Fear of expressing my sexuality. Mental illnesses. Fear of sex in general, stemming from sexual assault.

Have you ever been embarrassed, burdened or ashamed of your sexuality? If so, why?

In early university I had a lot of people shame me for who I slept with, and how many – and yet only a few months before, I had felt ashamed for being a virgin. The double-edged sword of female sexuality!

What is the image you would like to project?

I would like to be seen as strong and confident, but also kind, and generous, which is something that gets lost under my forward nature.

What do you think the image other people perceive is?

Abrasive, maybe a little arrogant.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice?

Pro-choice.

What are your feelings about contraceptives? Their availability, cost, stigma, usage?

Birth control should be subsidized and made widely available and accessible. Contraceptives are currently only available for the privileged, overpriced, and highly stigmatized – though I feel the stigma is focused more around a woman having sex than a woman choosing not to have children. Options for male birth control should be pushed harder.

It should also be acknowledged that some men can get pregnant, and that not all women have vaginas. It should be acknowledged that contraceptives like the pill are often used for reasons other than birth control, like the regulation of chronically painful periods. Education about all contraceptives, and who can use them and why, should be increased in all schools.

What are your feelings about casual sex?

Power to anyone who wants to engage in casual consensual sex. Have fun. Enjoy yourself. I enjoy casual sex. It serves many purposes for many different people. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons (i.e. not for negative or self-harm reasons) and that your partners are too.

Are you in a relationship(s)?

Yes, currently in a long-term monogamous relationship with a cis male.

What are your feelings about marriage?

An old-fashioned waste of time based on archaic patriarchal values.

What are your feelings about monogamy?

Wonderful, when it works.

On polyamory?

Wonderful, when it works.

How do you feel about feminine hygiene products’ portrayal in the media?

Always stigmatised; they’re used for humour and embarrassment in fictional media and presented as overtly girly, flowery and ridiculously feminine in adverts. When I’m bleeding for five days straight, I’d prefer products with bears and sharks on them to remind me how fucking indestructible I am. Take your goddamn frangipanis elsewhere. Also, there needs to be more awareness that it’s not only women who use pads and tampons, and not all women menstruate.

Do you feel your sexual education was sufficient?

No. My sexual education was based entirely on heterosexual relationships, did not discuss masturbation whatsoever, and gave no information about birth control other than condoms. We also did not discuss consent, which is so important in sexual education. There was no education surrounding transgender individuals or genderqueer ideals.

Where do you feel unsafe as a woman?

On the street, on public transport, even driving, at work, at bars or pubs, at parties, online. Almost everywhere.

Where is somewhere you can exist without fear?

When I’m home alone.

In what ways does being a woman make you vulnerable or exposed?

I feel like my physical appearance is always being analysed – I’m either objectified or not feminine enough. I feel like I am often spoken over or interrupted by men. I feel like I am invalid in many conversations.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes.

How do you define feminism?

The belief in political, economic, and social equality of all genders, taking into consideration other factors that impact some women more than others, such as race, class, disability, and identity.

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“I often forget what I am capable of.” – Stephanie
Photo by Georgia Smedley

Do you think the world’s perception of women limits or benefits them?

Limits us. It is no longer as severe as it once was but we are still perceived differently than men are. We are prudes or we are whores – we are strong and sexless, or we are weak and sexualised. We are ‘crazy’ or we are meek. We are an endless flow of insults, of negative descriptions; we are objects to be described, to be pigeon-holed, to be lumped together.

What is your relationship to sex?

I hated sex for years – was afraid of it, disgusted by it, could not enjoy it. Only in recent years have I been able to enjoy sex with both men and women.

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

Yes. I refuse to be made uncomfortable in any situation.

Have you found a balance of fulfillment with your partners?

Most partners, no. Only with a rare one or two have I been able to discover equally what we want and enjoy it.

Do you feel that YOUR desires are marginalized in the bedroom or are less important? If so, why do you think that is?

They have been in the past, because I have been with selfish men, or because I have been afraid of voicing my own opinion.

Have you ever been physically or verbally threatened because of your appearance?

Yes, I’ve been called a dyke, and been told I need to be ‘fixed’.

Is sex empowering for you?

Sometimes, yes.

Is sex embarrassing for you to discuss?

It depends who I’m with and my mood – sometimes I’m open and comfortable and sometimes I’m a closed door. Years of childhood/teenage stigma and embarrassment surrounding sex is pretty damn hard to unlearn.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind/stand up for yourself?

Around my friends, in certain work settings, in certain online spaces.

How do you feel about the media’s portrayal of women?

There are a few examples out there of strong, nuanced, well-written female characters, but unfortunately there is an avalanche of awful female stereotypes, clichés, and over-used tropes that reinforce patriarchal standards and misogynistic values.

Are you satisfied with the women you see depicted in film, television & advertising?

Far from it. As an aspiring film and television producer, it is my goal to fund projects by women, for women, about women.

How do you maintain a sense of self?

I write a lot, which gives me perspective on all that I do and reminds me what is important, who I am and who I have the capacity to be. In day-to-day life, surrounded by people and the monotony of existence, I often forget what I am capable of.

What is something you deeply love about yourself?

My strength, my values, my imagination.

Who are/what are your biggest motivators?

Successful female filmmakers such as Jane Campion or Kathleen Kennedy. The lack of quality media content every day motivates me to continue my career.

Do you ever feel overlooked in the workplace because of your gender?

In the past I have been treated cruelly, objectified, or ignored while working at restaurants and cafes. Working on film sets I am often in a position of power – producer, 1st AD – and I make it my business to be noticed and respected.

Since starting to work full-time in television I have found an equal balance of men and women in my office, with equal respect, which is a nice change from my past experiences.

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“When I’m bleeding for five days straight, I’d prefer products with bears and sharks on them to remind me how fucking indestructible I am.” – Stephanie
Photo by Georgia Smedley

Have you ever experienced sexism or sexual harassment within a workplace?

Yes, especially in hospitality. I’ve had male waiters and chefs ganging up to ask me about my sexual partners and my fetishes or kinks, insisting I tell them, theorising about my sex life in front of me. It’s so casual that many don’t realise it is harassment – but it is, and should be stopped.

What are you feelings about motherhood?

I have huge respect for those who choose to take on motherhood but as someone with multiple mental illnesses, I cannot bring myself to have children who might inherit a disease from me. And as someone career-driven, I can’t imagine raising someone instead of living the life I intend to live.

What are you biggest fears?

Vulnerability, being ignored, rape, monotony.

Your biggest regrets?

Staying in abusive relationships, though I didn’t understand how abusive they were at the time. My years of internalized misogyny and self-shaming.

Your greatest accomplishments?

I have travelled widely, most of it before I turned eighteen. I have produced several short films that have won awards at international film festivals. I am currently winning my battle with mental illness… for now.

Anything else you’d like to add?

An excerpt from something I wrote last year:

You are not brave for loving me
I am not here to be fixed
I am not a puzzle to be solved

You think I am a far off star that exists for you to discover?
You’ll burn up in my atmosphere.