Sunday 22nd May 2022

Women Of Courage Series 2020. Accidental Feminists’ Author: Jane Caro AM. 8/2020.

Women Of Courage Series 2020. Accidental Feminists Author: Jane Caro AM. 8/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

The posts are returning each Wednesday from now…and I have posts waiting ‘in drafts’ for publication until April 2020. Do tell me in the comments if you would like to be part of this series. Already 27 women (including  Jane and I ) have shared their stories.



In April 2019 I attended Newcastle Writers’ Festival and got to hear, amongst others, Author and Public Education Advocate, Jane Caro speak. Jane’s been known to me for a long time via social media, her other books and her involvement in promoting public education. She spoke at length of the roles we women have played and often at great loss or expense to our health, welfare and future financial security in her book Accidental Feminists.


Her written and spoken words really made me think.

Women do so much unsung, not necessarily because of not wanting people to know, but because we “just do get on.” I know that my life has taken some not great twists and turns and I realised I drew on resources of courage to do so.

This led me to finding out more about courage from others.

Introducing Jane Caro A.M.

Many of you may have seen Jane speak and give commentary on TV shows like The Drum and on Morning T.V. Jane’s voice, particularly in terms of Public Education has been remarkable. She went to a N.S.W. Public High School – Forest High and I went to another local Northern Beaches public high school too. Jane is younger than I but we share some common elements in our upbringing in new-ish suburbs that now command million dollar prices. I knew of Jane’s career in advertising (she has appeared on Gruen) from her first book and she has written others. Find them here. Jane generously took time to complete the same questions I asked others, and like others who I call “Women of Courage” she does not see herself that way. Enough from me, thank you Jane Caro.




What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

People often say they admire my courage, but I don’t really feel that I am courageous. Reason being, I am not afraid. Courage, to me, means doing something you are genuinely afraid to do and – th thing that most people see as courageous – speaking my mind – privately or publicly – is not something I am afraid of. It seems it is something many others are afraid to do – hence they mistakenly ascribe courage to me. I find this terribly sad. We ought to live in a society and at a time where being straightforward and candid is applauded, not punished. For many, especially many women, the opposite seems to be true.

Sure, many people (usually men) try to shut me down by insults, sneers, mockery, threats and general nastiness but I long ago realized they only have the power to hurt me if I give them that power, otherwise their weapons shrivel and die because I will not respond the way they want me to. No doubt being forthright has cost me work, promotion and opportunities, but it has also delivered all of those (well, except promotion, we only want lily-livered leaders apparently) and, best of all, it has delivered self-respect.

Was I born this way? Certainly not. I was hyper-sensitive as a child and young person about what people thought of me and I knew they did not think well of me. What is bearable in an old lady is unbearable in a young one, I think, which is why so many of my younger feminist friends cop so much more abuse than I do. I suffered from an anxiety neurosis as a young woman and it was in overcoming that that I feel I did something that required actual courage.


How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

The neurosis was so debilitating and intense that it forced me to seek help via a variety of therapists, some more helpful than others. I learnt an enormous amount about myself and about people in general in the process of that therapy that has served me well ever since. Not least how to hang on to my own power in the face of criticism, abuse and bullying.

I think women are trained to seek approval and that is why we so fear conflict or unpleasantness or find it so hard to express ourselves without fear. This training makes sense when you are a member of a subordinate group. It can be dangerous not to be approved of and to be excluded. As a result of my therapy, I gave up seeking approval. All I try to do now is be as much myself as I can.


Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

After about 15 years of mental tribulation – I functioned fine, I just felt like shit – I finally overcame my anxiety neurosis (some may feel I have over-corrected). It didn’t disappear in a puff of smoke, just dwindled away slowly until I no longer suffered from anxiety at all. The dwindling began after I faced real danger (I have lived a very protected life) when my first child was born premature, caught an infection, stopped breathing in my arms and almost died.

She was so sick she got the last available neo-natal intensive care bed available that night in NSW. She eventually stopped breathing at least 4 times and had to be intubated. The next morning, I asked for help (as going to therapy had taught me to do) and spoke to neo-natologist and grief counsellor Dr Peter Barr. He said these three sentences to me that began to crack the carapace of anxiety I had been living behind. “There’s nothing special about you, there’s nothing special about Polly (my daughter). Terrible things can happen, and they can happen to anyone. Safety is an illusion, danger is reality.”

Sounds brutal but it was just what I needed. What he was saying to me was that I could not control what happened which, as it turns out, was what my anxiety neurosis was all about. I was both thinking of all the terrible things that might happen as a sort of spell to stop them happening, while at the same time fearing that by thinking about them, I was conjuring them up. Of course, I had no such power – none of us do. As a result of Polly’s near death (she survived with no ill effects) I began to let go of the illusion of control and with it came a loss of fear. If I can’t control my own or anyone else’s safety – no matter how much I love them – no point worrying about danger until it happens.

If I can’t control how you will react to what I say, to what you think of me on TV or when I give a speech, I shall just put my energy into controlling what I can – my research and preparation for the task and let your reaction be yours. I shall not worry about whether you like or approve of me because doing so makes no difference to whether you do or not. I finally learnt the truth and power of what we call ‘boundaries’ – simply where I stop and you start. Once you know what you can control (inputs) and what you can’t (outcomes) life gets much easier and you don’t actually need courage.


Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I don’t know and -with respect – I don’t really care.

For the situations that may await me I will do no preparation or worrying. I will deal with them as they appear and I will deal with them as I need to which may be with courage or may be with full on weeping, whining and falling apart. I have learnt to trust my emotions rather than fear them or try to control them. Sometimes the strongest thing to be is not strong – but honestly vulnerable and needy. I don’t need to be better, nicer, smarter or more courageous than I am. I just need to be as I am.


Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Be yourself. Accept and celebrate your messy, needy, unwieldy bits – they’re the best and most genuine part of you.

Don’t pretend, especially don’t pretend to yourself.

Don’t strive, just be.

Have fun and never,ever,ever feel guilty about that.

Know where you stop and others start.

And stop seeking approval. You are fine just the way you are, you just need to believe it.


Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

Life is short, stop trying so hard.


I have read Jane’s words over and over and wish to take many of her messages on-board. The quote from the neo-natologist still blows me away. I too need to remember this.

With much gratitude Jane, for your time and advice. Love that you could share here too.



Social Media:

Jane Caro  on 26 January 2020 is found here.

Twitter: @janecaro

Bio: AM. Walkley award winner. Novelist (Just a Girl, Just a Queen, Just Flesh & Blood), author (Plain Speaking Jane, Stupid Country, F Word, Accidental Feminists)



Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

Copyright © 2020 – All rights reserved.



  1. Jane’s quote from the neo-natologist and grief Counsellor was my anchor during the early days after my son’s suicide. It grounded me and has helped me develop a more resilient paradigm for life. Thank you Jane for sharing so honestly your journey and for all you do as an advocate for public education and for women and justice.

    • Thanks for telling me this Dorothy. You pass on courage and, no doubt, you have needed much of it yourself. All the best Jane Caro

      • Jane, knowing your incredibly busy activism, I so value your words. I have shared your words with both my daughters today, one a neo-natologist and the other a public school teacher

  2. Thank you for bringing us Jane’s words. She’s someone I’ve long admired and been inspired by. I especially like the comment about attempted control as being a sort of spell to stop things from happening. An aha moment for me. #MLSTL

    • It was for me too Jo. And I had also read it in her memoir Plain Speaking Jane. It stuck with me through some very trying times.

      I count knowing her and having her agree to ‘answer the questions’ as a privilege.

      I am humbled by her fortitude. In the recent fires, watching her tweet from the very vulnerable area where she has a home was, as you know from your situation, a heart-in-mouth situation. Their place was saved and the surrounds thanks to the Firies.


  3. Jane I have followed you in the media for many years. I know you speak your mind but it really does surprise that you’ve had so much negativity and I’d call it bullying thrown your way. There is so much good advice in this article that I’m going to take on board. Thanks for sharing this wonderful guest pist with us Denyse. #MLSTL Sharing

    • Ah if I may respond from my perspective, Jennifer, Jane’s words are not taken well by some. Sigh. Media appearances probably divide even more.

      However, how gracious Jane is to have shared her thoughts for this series.

      I so appreciate that!


  4. Wow! So many ‘take away’s’ in this piece Denyse. I’ll have to read it a few more times for every one of them to sink in. After reading this I can totally see how you came away energetically inspired to start this series. May the force remain with you my friend 😉

    • Thank you Sandra. I think we are very privileged that Jane, published author many times over and sought-after public speaker and more shared this with us here…free. The book I also found great from Jane is “Plain Speaking Jane” published in 2015 and the story of her life where she shares so openly.


  5. This was a fantastic set of answers to your questions Denyse – Jane has achieved what a lot of Midlife women long to – freedom from people pleasing, freedom from anxiety, and the ability to let go of that perception that we have any control over how other people respond to us. Her last words on life being short tie in so well with my theme this year – life is indeed short and we need to learn the valuable lessons she’s already grasped. Great stuff!
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM

    • Thank you Leanne, in reading her memoir “Plain Speaking Jane” it is most interesting to learn the ‘how’ of what Jane has been through. I think you would find it great read too.

      I am so fortunate to have met Jane a couple of times and to be able to share her words here is a privilege as we all connect and learn from each others.


  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jane’s answers to your questions Denyse and along with what the neo-natologist said I love this quote: Sometimes the strongest thing to be is not strong. Having dealt with my granddaughter’s premature birth at 25 weeks while on the other side of the world to my daughter i can so relate to all of what Jane has said. I have always admired Jane and her stance on public education in particular from my days working in the state’s prison system and her support as we were all made redundant from our professional roles. There is so much to take from Jane’s words and it is a brilliant start to your Women of Courage series for 2020. Thanks so much to Jane for her words of courage and worthwhile advice to us all. Loved it and sharing for #mlstl

    • I am so glad you found Jane’s words (and her work from all the years helping public education too) so helpful and of relevance.

      I first read that quote in Jane’s Plain Speaking Jane and am pleased that in responding here she mentioned it.

      One part of Jane’s address to the Newcastle Writers Festival and in Accidental Feminists is about “not being taken seriously” and I nodded very vigorously as the daughter of a traditional man. I must say, in his latter years ( he IS 96 now) he is better at listening to my perspectives!

      Jane’s work with assisting public education and via NSW Teachers Federation is done with passion and gravitas and I am so grateful for that and hearing your story too.

      As a result of a program on ABC TV’s compass, For Better For Worse, we contributed our marriage day photo with one replicated in 2015 for the program. Whilst we were not part of the 4 episode series, our involvement came after I saw Jane do the call-out for it. I love her work in documentaries.

      Hope that being ‘home’ is feeling a bit more settled!


  7. Love, Love, Love this article, Denyse. I’ve added Jane Caro to my list of must-read authors. Women who won’t be beat, who won’t sit down when something needs to be said, who won’t put up with those who belittle… these are the women who need to be in our History books and acknowledged as the shapers of the world we want to live in. I recently did a book review of Old & Smart by Betty Nickerson and she reminds us how the History our children are taught is about warring and conquests, the things that too many men find noteable.
    Thank you for introducing me to Jane!

    • Thank you Agnes, it is my privilege and pleasure to introduce Jane Caro to you. I am so delighted her words and wisdom borne of life resonated. She is a tireless worker for public education and equity here in Australia too.


  8. Wow, Denyse you kicked a goal being able to introduce us to Jane who I have followed for some time. I agree and am inspired by her advice: Life is too short, stop trying so hard. This is one of the attitudes I want to change in 2020. Trying too hard can just burn you out. Finding the balance between doing something well and just going too far to please others is a lesson I’m learning. Thanks for sharing at #MLSTL and have a great week. xx

    • How fortunate I am to know Jane and of her work. She was so kind when we saw each other at the Newcastle Writers’ Festival as she hadn’t seen me “with my smile” in real life. She was lovely.

      Her words were so helpful to me and also gave rise to this series because of her research where women DO do more of the heavy lifting in life than many know.

      Calling the series Women of Courage has, as you know, had mixed reactions from those I invited to take part based on my thoughts and observations of the people I chose.

      When it came to asking Jane (who had tweeted and re-tweeted all the posts since they started) I decided I could make myself vulnerable and ask. I did. Jane was very caught up with other work and I did not hear back. However, I did not get a ‘no’ from her either and just after Christmas when I wrote to some people again, she said ‘sure, send me the questions.’

      It was a matter of timing and her kindness in doing this. Some writers would not and I understand that too because they believe their words are part of their potential income. I hold Jane in even higher regard for this spirit of generosity.


  9. Wow – how special to have Jane as a guest in this series Denyse! I’ve read her words over and over and they are fabulous. They struck a chord with me today as I’ve had a very stressful few days. They actually brought me to tears. What she shares here with us makes so much sense and I hope that her words will help me to overcome a lot of the anxiety I live with and to care less about what people think of me. Thank you Jane for taking the time to share your thoughts and contribute as part of Denyse’s Women of Courage series! #TeamLovinLife

    • Oh Min, I feel for you. Days like these happen. I had one a few days ago.

      Fortunately we come through. We always do.

      Jane’s words are borne of being in similar situations and her way of changing things came at an extreme time.

      If you are interested in reading her memoir it’s Plain Speaking Jane where she outlines much more of her struggles with anxiety and how life has changed since those words from the neonatologist.

      Take care Min, thinking of you.


  10. This really spoke to me:

    “We ought to live in a society and at a time where being straightforward and candid is applauded, not punished. For many, especially many women, the opposite seems to be true.”

    There are so many times where I want to speak up/out but don’t because I think forward to the consequences and decide it’s not worth it. We really ought to live in a society where being candid is accepted and seen as a constructive way to move forward.

    I miss watching Jane on The Drum now that I have moved to the US, I but I follow her on Twitter and love to read her views to give me some context on what’s happening back home.

    Thanks for giving me a link to her books, Denyse! I now have some more to add to my reading list!

    • I am so pleased Jane and her post here resonated.

      Jane Caro’s works and words are part of modern Australia’s account I think of ‘who we are and who we have been.’

      Jane is also a fan of Elizabeth 1 and has written about her too.

      Thanks Kat for your shout out too on social media.


  11. Denyse, This topic came up recently on another blog “women do so much unsung…”. I have found this concept true my entire life and especially after becoming a Mother. It is interesting how a common response is how these women do not consider themselves courageous. I love Jane Caro’s words, hanging on to her own power. Tears when I read about the very scary situation with her child. A very powerful story! I am saving this post and placing it where I can be reminded of the gems. Denyse, I greatly appreciate you sharing Jane Caro. Her words will make a difference in my life. I plan to read them over and over again. #MLSTL and sharing SM

    • Oh Erica/Erika, I am so glad the words of Jane resonated.

      Yes, we “do” so’s called taking on the ’emotional load’ too.

      I am glad that we can be connected via similar interests and experiences in life no matter where we live.

      Thank you for sharing too.