Margaret Thanos

Interview by Anika Mukker

From your experience as a young woman specifically, what unique or important perspectives do young people, young women, bring to these creative arts and the media that we consume as a society?

Absolutely. I think we bring so much to the table. I also do believe that older people bring a lot to the table as well, and I think that’s another portion of intersectionality that should be looked at. Older women often get pushed out of their work paths due to children and then being called “too old” – those kinds of things. When it comes to young people, I do a program where I go into schools that might not necessarily have access to resources, and I teach basic filmmaking techniques and students get to make films. It’s been really interesting over the years to see how much change in what people, what youth in high school, feel like they’re comfortable talking about. When I was in high school, we would have never even considered expressing some of the things and making some of the things that I see kids making now. I had a student who was making a film about being a bisexual woman of color, which I know when I was in high school, we didn’t even really think about those aspects of identity. It was only, what, five years ago that I was in high school. But we genuinely didn’t think about those things in the context of our work. 

So much is changing, and that’s what young people have to bring to the table. We constantly have this awareness. We’re so connected to the world around us. We’re so connected to the way the world is shifting so rapidly. We have so much connectivity to the internet and social change that perhaps older generations don’t always have. 

I grew up in the early 2000s; so much has evolved since then, and I’ve had to do so much re-evaluating. My father is 75 years old. He’s been on this earth for a really long time, so there’s an astronomical amount of change that has occurred in his lifetime. There’s a constant process of re-evaluation happening faster and faster and faster. It’s likely harder for older people to “keep up,” so I have a lot of empathy and patience for that because a lot of young people get frustrated with that fact. But, I think it’s totally fair. I know that when we’re old, we’re also going to feel so out of the loop, in not only that we might not be able to keep up with technology but also that we may not be able to keep up with the way things are changing at exponential paces.

Bringing that into a creative perspective, for hundreds, arguably thousands, of years, depending on where you are in the world, there have been huge absences of many voices that we have in our society. Australia is considered one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world, but a lot of our media, in theater and television, has been very white, very male. Obviously, we have such deep ties with our Indigenous population, but we haven’t been exploring those connections. 

Young people bring their willingness to move over and give space for others’ voices and understand that there’s enough room for all of us.

What relationship do activism, politics, theater, and film have with one another? How do art and advocacy intersect with one another?

Although I agree that all art is political, there are a lot of people who don’t agree, who don’t think that art has to mean anything. I really disagree with that idea, but I have friends who are artists and truly believe that. I think learning to accept “to agree to disagree” is a necessary part of being an artist. Creativity is such a subjective thing, and I have definitely seen works that have little meaning but give the essence of a feeling. This isn’t necessarily the case for television and film, where there’s often a clear moral in the background. But, performance art, dance, or visual art can be more abstract. For me, particularly in the theater and film form, because they are so based on words, verbalizing, and talking, the ideas that come out do matter, what is talked about matters. 

I am quite critical about everything that I watch – sometimes I wish I wasn’t because most things do have value – because when you’re given a platform of a certain size, you should be thoughtful with it and use it for good. I could point out a few films that I’ve watched recently for not considering the ramifications of what they input into their messaging. We’ve got this huge boom of the superhero narrative as of recently, especially with Marvel and DC being huge corporations now that make billions of dollars off of their media. As a result, we’re seeing some very blurry moral points being made in some of those films and shows, which is confusing for some young people on a subliminal level.

I think we know there are good guys and bad guys, but, on a subliminal level, these forms of media are normalizing things they shouldn’t be. 

In terms of the role politics and activism plays in art, my practice has been so much more enriched by engaging in activism as well. We don’t have a lot of people who participate in arts activism here, but, for me, being able to know so much about modern issues from the non-fiction writing, protests, interviews, etc, I’m coming back to artistic practices with creative possibilities I wouldn’t have considered before.

 I think every artist should consider where they stand politically: I don’t know how you could create meaningful or great art if you’re not sure if you’re apolitical. Artists are political beings by nature; when we make art, we make it to say something about the world. However, there are certain issues that artists step away from because they are too controversial, intimidating, or don’t sell tickets. I really think that it is the role of people with power in creative industries to normalize discussing these challenging topics instead of saying “we won’t make money off of this, so we can’t do it.” 

I would really like to see every artist reflect on the subliminal meaning of the shows they choose to make. There’s always the overarching message, but if work isn’t engaging in the actual meaning of those topics, or just kind of touching on them, then you miss out on a lot. For instance, saying “oh, sexual assault is bad” is good and something we should be bringing to light, but most people know about that, whereas the nuances should be explored, questioning “What is sexual assault? When does it happen? Why does it happen?” I’m tired of seeing works that are like “This is bad. The end.” When it comes to issues like sexual assault, of course, these problems are bad, widespread, and terrible, but a lot of people don’t know what they mean and what they are, especially when talking about interconnected topics. 

The word intersectional is thrown around a lot nowadays without really understanding the meaning or weight of the term. What does intersectional mean to you, in feminism and advocacy? Why is it such an important practice?

I totally agree that intersectional is thrown around a lot and has become something of a buzzword. But, lots of people don’t know what it means. I was in a meeting once where a white woman was asking about my intersections, suggesting that you could not be an intersectional feminist without having multiple intersections. I think that’s one of the big problems holding back the whole movement for women’s rights. There’s a battle between white feminism (what some people also associate with corporate feminism) and this idea of intersectional feminism, these sorts of factions that hold the movement back from progress. This is kind of a dire way of looking at it because even in my lifetime there has been a lot of growth, MeToo being the most obvious paradigm shift of feminism in recent years.

In terms of intersectionality, there’s this idea of two people standing at a fence, a tall person and a short person, neither of whom can see over the fence. This metaphor of the short person being disadvantaged for their race, gender, sexuality, status as an immigrant or refugee, etc.

In this fence situation, you can give both of these people a ladder, the same ladder, but now one can see all the way over the fence and the other can maybe just see a bit over it. To create equality, you need to give these people different size ladders: there is no one-size-fits-all approach and you can’t give everybody the same assistance. You need to give people support based on the kind of oppression they are experiencing in their lives, but that’s a really difficult thing, and it’s one of the most complex ideas when it comes to every single person being different. Every single individual has experienced so many different challenges, and I think that’s really important to remember that everybody has problems. There are definitely groups of people who have very few troubles, and those people are disgruntled by the fact that others are receiving so much assistance in the modern world. This is the kind of mentality brewing these extreme right-wing movements – the disgruntled nature of the right-wing, “Oh how come that person gets help? What did they do that I didn’t?”

There’s this idea that we’re supposed to live in a meritocracy where everyone works hard and achieves their goals. This idea comes out of the American Dream, this falsification of “you can work hard, make money, engage in the capitalist model, and you’ll achieve, rise through the class system.” But, of course, the problem with that is that if you’re BIPOC, you immediately have so many disadvantages. You’re much less likely to be safe, and your life expectancy is lower.

The most important thing about intersectionality is that it requires so much empathy, which is also why I feel like art is the gateway to understanding concepts like it. Art brews empathy. Art makes you empathize so much with a character that you’re motivated to go out and make a change in the world.

See, I’m a Greek-Australian woman. I’m white. I appear completely white, and I exist in the upper-middle class. Moving over and making space for those who don’t have that has been a really important part of my feminist journey. I really do think it’s important for the feminist movement to recognize that when you’ve been raised with the privilege to let go of it.

The future of the feminist movement rests in teaching people to move over, teaching people how they can keep their livelihoods and still exist in a totally fine way without monopolizing leadership spaces and taking over all the voices in the room.

That’s something we’re definitely still working towards. Even me, someone who’s very connected to these spaces, I’m learning about what it means to move over, when it’s appropriate to move over, and naturally when I need to take up space as an artist because I have a voice myself. 

We also have a similar idea that if someone’s getting an opportunity, it’s taking away from your opportunity here because, here, our refugee policy is horrendous. I’m sure everyone in the world knows that. It’s so embarrassing. In a country that’s so huge — we’re close to America in terms of space but only have 1/6 of your population, a declining population at that — it’s been interesting to watch over my lifetime, the evolution of rhetoric around immigration. It’s stupid to think that if migrants would come here, they would take away our jobs, especially considering that Australian citizens are absolutely prioritized and have so many more rights and abilities compared to those who aren’t citizens. Obviously, when you have an influx of refugees, as many countries in Europe have had in the last few years, there’s the widespread idea that “these immigrants are going to take our jobs.” However, as it has been shown, when you welcome these populations, more jobs are created because more services are required for more people.

I do totally wish that we could stabilize the countries individuals are fleeing from so they’d be safe to live in. But also, our governments haven’t had a good track record with that. I wish people didn’t feel the need to escape from their home countries. But, looking at the States, it’s also America’s fault that conditions are like that with international financial interactions.

These ramifications — we’ll continue to see them, these economic games, getting in the way of real humanitarianism. With so many dictatorships popping up, that’s quite scary. It does feel that so many sentiments between the late 1900s and now are tying into a shift towards conservatism. These neo-colonialist approaches are only contributing to nations’ sense of still being colonized by continents. 

How important is it for larger organizations to create spaces for youth activists of diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives? Why is it so important to create these spaces in intergenerational communities?

Looking at Plan Australia’s Youth Activist Series, I’ve done so many things in my life after leaving high school, probably more than 100 projects since then, and this has been one of my best. Because Plan is such a huge organization with reach and span, doing such great work in so many countries around the world, I’ve been able to connect with the media so much more. Normally, as a 21-year-old woman talking about feminism, nobody cares, nobody wants to listen to you. From our Youth Activist Series program, so many youth activists have been nurtured. For instance, there’s a girl named Yasmin Pool, who’s an acclaimed activist in Australia now. I think it can really launch you into the political and activist sphere in ways that may not have been possible otherwise.

For me, politics is not my career, and I don’t intend for it to be. I very much am an artist, and I’m very committed to being an artist. The fact that I have this creative perspective has mixed well with other activists who may be more focused on the analytical or the political element, while I am more focused on the human element.

We’re having our own MeToo movement within our Australian parliament right now. Particularly earlier in 2021 has been a pivotal time to be a part of these spaces because there’s so much opportunity to speak up about how our political systems function to keep men safe and women unsafe. We’ve been really privileged to talk about these things. 

Obviously, there are a lot of opportunities to volunteer as a young person. But, it’s another thing to be supported and can really bring so many learning experiences. I went to a meeting earlier this year with people from the Facebook Headquarters, talking about women’s safety online. There have been so many examples like that, where we’ve been able to try and make a difference. Young people don’t get access to a lot of these things because older people are quite frightened, quite apprehensive about what we have to say.

Traditionally, young people have been the most radical. Looking at the Vietnam War to now, young people bring the freshest ideas to change things the most. For elder generations, the structure assists them in their normal life. For us, we want to deconstruct that structure because it’s keeping us from raising our voices. 

How have your culture, community, and background influenced the causes you are passionate about and the impact, change, that you are working to create, the one that you envision creating?

I’m very passionate about refugees and immigration because, for one, I wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my father and grandparents having been able to seek refuge. Initially, my grandmother escaped the Nazis in Greece and settled in Cyprus, where she met my grandfather. They then came over to Australia because of the turmoil in Cyprus, because at that time, it was a colony. I wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for them having had an open pathway to come to Australia. 

I think our communities wouldn’t have been as vibrant and wonderful if it weren’t for that. We wouldn’t have as many types of food and businesses and engage in the privilege of access to this diversity. I live on the main road and can walk down the street and get any kind of cuisine I want. That’s really amazing.

I’m really passionate about gender equality because I live as a woman. Because, even as a woman who faces comparatively a lot of privilege in Australia, I still face a lot of discrimination. 

There are still girls being married off. Female genital mutilation. Sex trafficking. These are real, real, serious issues. That’s where I wish we could concentrate our activism. But, we can’t if we don’t fix the problems here. For instance, Australia has only had one female prime minister and she wasn’t even elected. We haven’t ever elected a non-white prime minister either. The fact that we’re living in a world where that is still the case is crazy and also does Islands that it’s harder to turn our attention away from the problems in our own systems. We live right near the Pacific islands, where some of the islands are classified as some of the worst places in the world in regards to gender equality because women are so barred from so different areas of society. 

Education for girls will help us address climate change, help address population growth. Particularly in some parts of the world where some girls are having children as soon as they are fertile, potentially all the way until they’re no longer fertile, is crazy. We’re not baby-making machines. It’s totally fine to be a stay-at-home, to have lots of kids, to make these choices. For a lot of girls, that’s not their choice. 

I think there are some causes that I’m super passionate about. Climate change is something that affects every single one of us. I personally have a lot of climate anxiety and just have to turn off the news because it’s too hard to watch the embarrassing level of climate action on national and international scales. There are so many things.

One thing that I would say though, is that I do encourage people to be passionate about things not directly affecting them. I do my best to show up to protests for Black Lives Matter, for Indigenous Rights, for Disability Rights because fighting for each of these areas makes a better world. 

Obviously, you can’t support every cause equally. It’s not possible and you shouldn’t be expected to. But, I think that being an ally is something we can all learn. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s affected by every single thing. I think it’s almost selfish to be an activist and not fight for things not directly affecting you. Of course, that’s within reason, because some people only have the effort, time, and resources to fight for the things affecting them. But, if you have privilege, not looking beyond that, that’s where concepts like white feminism come from.

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