Arabella Peterson doesn’t have a lot of spare time, but she uses it wisely. Between working two jobs and freelancing, she also volunteers as the editor in chief at The Ladies Network and plays board games in the weekends. We talk to Arabella about gender equality, work/life balance and kindness.
Story photographed by Hannah Roche.
Tell us about The Ladies Network and how it started:
The Ladies Network started as what was meant to be a little exhibition in Surry Hills, Sydney in 2015. It ended up being not so little, with over 500 people showing up to the 200 person capacity gallery, it got shut down by police, which was actually pretty exciting! We've all changed a lot in that time, and explored many different avenues with The Ladies Network since then, including selling art and prints online, running a website profiling creative women and non-binary people, representing artists and holding art and music events to showcase creative people. Right now, we're in a position where we're trying to find balance and figure out our next steps.
The Ladies Network is an empowering platform for women and non-binary people. What is your biggest focus in the movement toward gender equality?
This has changed exponentially over the past five or so years. I think for a long time I was a bit naive and didn't consider my own privilege enough when it came to gender equality. I've always cared deeply about social equality and justice, but I often approached the movement merely from a stance that I could relate to; things like equal pay, bodily autonomy, reproductive rights and representation in media and employment - things that affected me directly consumed my focus. These are all incredibly important, but I don't think I took into consideration the vast nuance and intersections of sex, race, culture, physical and intellectual differences, class, identity, location, education and other crucial elements that influence gender and power. I suppose I don't have one particular focus, but I'm trying to learn more every day so that these elements can inform my words and actions. At this point, I just want to put my passion for social justice into practice through my work and contribute my time and resources to causes that I care about.
In addition to running The Ladies Network, you also work two jobs. How do you manage everything?
I don't even think I have an answer to this! I'm so busy that I feel like the days and weeks blur into each other! Everyone probably feels like that though. During the week, I work two jobs across two offices and then do some freelance media work on the side. Unfortunately, I've had to put a hold on my writing for a while, which I really miss. I work on The Ladies Network when I have the capacity.
Something that I've learned is that to find balance, you need to pinpoint the areas of your life that are making you stressed or unhappy, do your best to remove them, and focus the whole of your attention on other more fulfilling areas of your life. For a while I was working around the clock on The Ladies Network and I really burned out, I realised it had become an obligation rather than a passion project, which is a negative and counterproductive way to feel about volunteering. So, I reassessed what I was doing, took a break and channeled my effort into other areas, and now I feel much more comfortable with where I'm at. I've made a new rule for myself that I don't do any work on the weekends, which has been so good for me! I get to spend time with my family and friends so much more now. It does mean that I often get to the office at about 8 and stay until about 6 before going home to do The Ladies Network and freelance work, but at least now I have two days per week which are dedicated to looking after myself, I think that's really important.
You do so much, how do you take care of yourself?
I don't think I'm a perfect example of a healthy work/life balance, but I am getting there!
We all know how important our mental and physical health is, but with the pressures of trying to forge a career, pay rent, exercise, eat properly, volunteer, retain some shred of a social life, support the community, get seven hours of sleep and drink enough water - self-care is not something that a lot of us pay enough attention to. Something I would advise is to reach out for help, if you feel like you're drowning in work or your life is seriously off balance, seek help, ask for advice and confide in your friends. Another thing that I'm really trying to learn to do is say no. For a good year or so, I said yes to almost every single person who asked for help or promotion through The Ladies Network, and with dozens of requests a day - it was a lot of work on top of my job at the time. This definitely contributed to me burning out, so now I've realised that there's no point in spreading yourself too thin, it's not good for anyone. Emotional labour is just part of being a considerate human, but there are limits, and we need to look after our own wellbeing too.
When you're not working, where will you be and what will you be doing?
All I want to do when I'm not working is spend time with my family and friends. I want to go to gigs, exhibitions and events and be as supportive to other people and causes as much as possible, but going out to crowded places really stresses me out sometimes. I think the days of partying for me are pretty much over! I prefer dinners and movie nights, so you'll find me with my siblings and my partner watching terrible movies. We actually tried to make a podcast once where we watched Adam Sandler's entire back catalogue, but that only lasted one episode. On a sunny day, you'll find me in my backyard with my friends, we're obsessed with playing board games and I've just started playing Dungeons and Dragons too, which is super fun. I like to escape Sydney as often as I can as well, so I take weekend trips to the coast or the mountains and I always feel happy and refreshed when I return.
What specific elements of popular culture have been influential in your creative development?
Artists like Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Renee Cox and Barbara Kruger shaped my understanding of art when I was younger. Avril Lavigne's first two albums also had a profound impact on me.
These are all women who have been profound in breaking the status quo. What political or social issues are concerning you at the moment, and how do you think these can be remedied?
Big question! I'm working in the disability sector at the moment, so issues relating to the proposed funding cuts to advocacy organisations that work with people with disabilities has been consuming my mind a lot lately. Like most issues, I think this can really only be remedied by campaigning, putting pressure on the government and increasing public awareness.
There are so many issues that need attention, it can get overwhelming and depressing. Nobody can give 100% of their attention to every cause in the world - it's just impossible. But we can continue to educate ourselves on these issues and there are so many little things that we can do to help.
Is there a piece of advice or quote that is currently resonating with you?
I think the quote "Always be a little kinder than necessary" is a lovely one to live by. I think it's from one of J.M Barrie's novels. If everyone was just a little bit more empathetic day-to-day than what's expected of us, how sweet would the world be.
How about showing kindness to the environment? What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, sustainability means trying to reduce my impact on the earth as much as possible. I cringe when I think about the attitude I used to have towards fashion and belongings, it was so disposable to me and I would buy the cheapest stuff that I knew I was going to use once and get sick of. I think a big part of moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle was not putting so much emphasis on acquiring possessions and truly caring where my clothes come from and how they're made. We live in a society built on consumerism, and nobody can be perfect, but we can try and take active steps towards making a difference.
I think it's about changing how we think about our belongings. If we're happy to cause significant harm to humans, animals or the environment, just so we can have a cheap t-shirt, then our priorities are seriously out of order. Now that having children is something that I'm thinking about, I often think about the kind of earth I want to leave for my children. If we don't have our environment, then we have nothing!
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