There is still a real risk though for women who do share these stories and stories of this nature. In one of the essays which I’ve been lucky enough to have a read of in an advanced copy by Ginger Gorman. And she’s talking with Julia Baird from the Drum on ABC about how aware women are that to come into those forums, those spaces, to speak out opens you to trolls, opens you to online harassment and abuse. It’s a kind of double-edged sword. That there is the experience and then there is the ongoing trauma that comes from speaking out. Do you feel worried about that? Or how does that affect this particular work and how you’ve brought ixt together?
Oh look I think anyone who is in the book would feel concerned about it. But at the same time I think you can’t let people bully you into silence. And that’s been important for me in talking about my story and I think it also feels a bit safer when there’s a collective of women saying, “Hold on, it’s not just this person, it’s not just that person. It’s like thirty of us in this book have said…” And you know, we had to turn away so many submissions because there was just too many to take on. Which was a real pity because we wanted to publish everything, but that would have been bigger than Harry Potters.
I wonder though, with that original commission you’re talking about, asking a singular male author to write a kind of mass survey of #MeToo, you assume that’s probably more of an academic book. What’s different about sharing first person stories?
I think story draws you in in a way because you can relate. I think when you’re having people talking at you about a situation that’s very different from hearing someone who’s gone through something themselves. And also having such a broad range of women talking about a broad range of experiences in different forms I think is really powerful as well because it’s…the book is saying…it’s not just a simple thing that is the problem. It is all these things. You know. It’s a sliding scale of sexism that we’ve all had to put up with our whole lives that has sometimes culminated in just the most horrific violence. But I think it’s broader and it’s more personal at the same time.
There was some recent research from Jesuit Social Services around men and masculinity and their identities. The findings corroborate lots of other existing research saying that men who hold really traditional normative ideas of themselves are more likely to suffer harm both to themselves and then to those around them.
So it’s not just women who suffer from this kind of toxic masculinity. It’s men themselves. What do these stories tell you I suppose about the state of men and masculinity in Australia?
Oh the state of men and masculinity in Australia is such a big issue here in a very particular way because of, you know, what we might call “blokey culture.” Which is predominately white. Is born from a rural ideology about a man standing alone and suffering …
Exactly. Suffering against whatever to make a good go of it. And no one can do that. No one can do that alone. No one can do that without a community. And I’m not surprised that there is genuine mental health issues around…or in men who hold that idea because that’s such an awful amount of pressure to live up to. And it destroys any notion of asking for help, which I think is very important for us. We are humans, we are social creatures, and we should be able to ask for help when we need it. This is at the core of a certain kind of masculinity which is really toxic to men and women. And it perpetuates this horrible myth of the solo hero who doesn’t need any help. It’s not possible and it’s not true. And I don’t know why men do it to themselves. But of course it’s not men doing it to themselves because you look at the men who are, you know, in charge of our industries, of our politics, of our entertainment industries, of our book industries, and they are not only white straight cis-gendered fully abled heterosexual – I said straight. It’s worth repeating twice.
But they are also middle class. And often have been given huge advantages. But they don’t like to talk about that, or that’s not really reflected, because that’s not very romantic to say, “Well, you know, I faced this and I won because my parents helped me or my parents paid for it.” So there’s a kind of fallacy that men who have made it to the upper echelons have done it in this solitary pioneer way, which I don’t think is true. You know, broadly true. And I think they perpetuate that myth because it makes them feel better about themselves. And then when other men are trying to live up to it, they can’t.
But whose responsibility is it to change those rules or shift those norms? Or who is going to be able to? Is it all of our responsibility?
Who do you see having the ability?
(laughs) Wonder Woman. (laughs) I don’t know. I don’t know. I think you’re right in that it has to be all of us and I think one of the things that men can do, particularly middle class men who have good jobs who are secure can take time out and do some caring around family. Children, elderly parents, sick relatives. We have to start valuing those other kinds of work that are not in the spotlight or ego driven. I think men are slowly…especially men who live in urban centres who are well educated are slowly realising that they’re missing out on things. That it’s not just about going off and having the fabulous career and providing for your family and then being able to pat yourself on the back and say, “I’m a good man,” but that they are actually missing out on their children’s lives and those kinds of things. So I hope that men can do their part. And I think obviously the work will fall to a lot to feminists because it always has fallen to feminists to, you know, point it out and hopefully enable some real structural change.
Or how do you think people will respond to these stories in the #MeToo anthology?
I don’t know. I think a lot of people will see themselves. A lot of women will probably see themselves in the stories and I think that’s both sad and good. I would hope that men might see aspects of their behaviour or aspects of their friends’ behaviours in the stories and start to critically examine those behaviours and what they mean and how they can be construed by others. Because we have a…there’s this horrible semantic debate around, “well that wasn’t meant as abuse, so it’s not abuse.” Whereas I think if it’s experienced as abuse then it’s abuse. You know. I don’t think it’s up to the perpetrator to create the definitions. I think we have to listen to the people who’ve been, for want of a better word, victimised by them to create those definitions. So I would hope as uncomfortable as it is that there will be a little bit of reflection. But I also don’t kid myself that a lot of the men will read the book. I don’t think they will. It will be predominately women who read the book.
In one of the stories, by the writer Kath Kenny, she is talking about successive waves of feminism and what the #MeToo movement reminds her of in relation to Helen Garner’s, “The First Stone”.
In that that was a high profile interrogation of where sexual harassment was at in Australia and we’re still talking about it decades later.
What do you think is different about this moment now and what does “Me Too” offer for that?
I think sadly the movement has become popular because you’ve had a whole bunch of white actresses say it’s happened to them when we know that “#MeToo” was started by a woman, Tarana Burke, who was an African American woman who’s very concerned about her community. So I think, you know, it’s one of those things that’s become popular because of the white actresses involved. And so there has been a bit of momentum behind it. And there has been not just one or two women but lots of women coming forward. So the use of social media and of that hashtag, “#MeToo,” has been really important and galvanising. So I’m hoping that’s the difference. That it has global coverage, that it is easily used or recognised by social media and that women have been emboldened to speak up about their experiences collectively.
I’m going to cross my fingers for that one.
Yeah me too. It takes courage to speak up, and to see so many women feeling like they can speak up, that this is something important that they should say, that’s been wonderful.
I’m really…I am hopeful though. Because I think that there is traction and change. But it was sobering to start the collection with someone looking back so recent histories that hadn’t necessarily delivered all of the change that you…I mean you just have to say, that women deserve.
Women deserve lives free from these kinds of harm. So I’m going to keep crossing my fingers. I love though that you mentioned Tarana Burke because I think that she is not necessarily someone who receives the same media attention here in Australia, you know. We’re really guilty here, as a society, of thinking of harm as only important once it begins to happen to quite a privileged class of women. But Tarana also talks about really wanting to move beyond the statistics. Like we all know the statistics. But she talks about wanting to move to solutions.