Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Tara Moss: The Fictional Woman

By Nalini Haynes

Benjamin Law introduced Tara Moss, starting by acknowledging the traditional owners, then going to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: HOUSEKEEPING. ☺ Throughout this session, Law provided a little comic relief while also taking issues seriously, drawing Moss out on a wide range of subjects, mostly related to her latest novel, The Fictional Woman.

Moss is a model, the author of nine bestselling novels, a TV presenter and a . . . what? Law read out her impressive list of achievements so quickly I had no hope of writing them all down.

As a teenager, Moss was incredibly shy, introverted tomboy. Her parents thought if she walked the catwalk in a local modelling show, it might help her confidence. however, the agency running the show insisted Moss had something called "it", so she was put on a catwalk with a hood to hide her mullet and told to keep her mouth shut to hide her braces. She modelled lingerie when she was 15. She told us that younger girls aged 13 or 14 might be asked to model wedding dresses in Milan, as well as lingerie and age-defying skin creams.

"What does that tell us about advertising?" Law asked.

Advertising is not real life, it has a very clear agenda to make you buy the product; the claims about the product may or may not be true. We cannot look to advertising for a representation of our world because it will always be skewed.

The conversation moved on.

Women are most likely to experience sexual violence from the age of 10 until 24 then the likelihood of sexual violence starts to decrease. It’s easy to forget that those statistics represent a real person, a real life lived. Tara talked about being raped and all her near misses. She said, "How you’re supposed to react is whatever gets you through the situation, whether that means you shouted or you didn’t shout. If you got through it, you did a good job."

"Why are there so many statistics in your book?" Law asked.

Telling stories has value, putting faces to statistics also has value. The statistics show that sexual harassment is a really big problem - an epidemic - and they help us to focus our energy in terms of social justice and necessary change.

"They're useful in terms of ammunition. There’s a widespread idea that bigotry is wrong, therefore it doesn’t exist," said Law.

Tara agreed.

Close links between groups with power and groups that are vulnerable are where incidents of abuse are more likely to arise. As boys grow up they are less frequently victimised. Intersectional groups, people who exist in more than one minority – eg someone who is both disabled and a woman – are more likely to suffer abuse. We can prevent that by working to create equity.

Look at parliament: 100 per cent of cabinet members are white and five per cent of cabinet members are women. If gender doesn’t matter, then WHY? If women are paid less, if so few women break through, then WHY? In the 1970s women were allowed to be married and work; while the policies have changed, the cultural hangover remains.

Moss is interested in the Middle Ages because we reiterate the fictions arising from the cultural canon of that time, fictions that have the gendered attitudes of those times embedded within them.

We still tell stories about witches, we don’t tell stories about wise women. We tell stories about Gandalf but not about the female equivalent. Tara loves Alice in Wonderland yet the Queen of Hearts represents chaos; she’s a woman in power. Snow White is beautiful; her mother is a vain woman who wants to kill her. These stories influence other people’s storytelling. A male protagonist rescues Princess Leia. She might have a blaster and some leadership dialogue but she still ends up as Slave Leia being rescued.

"As a parent who’s aware of this stuff, how do we communicate with our kids that these templates aren’t quite right?" asks Law.

Children’s books sometimes feature a little more variety but they’re still male dominated. We still have to work harder to create equity. Websites like ‘A mighty girl’ have recommended readings and cinema; they know girls take up half the sandbox.

"What is Paris thin?" asks Law.

"Paris thin" is a commonly-used term to describe the size needed to get onto the catwalk. The sample sizes are rigidly capped: models have to be quite tall and quite thin to fit the sample sizes. If you don’t fit the sample sizes, you don’t get the job.

Moss says she’s not naturally model-thin. During her brief period of being ‘Paris thin’ she was probably eating about 500 or 600 calories, about one-third of the recommended daily calories intake for a teenage girl.

>In 1999 Moss's first book was published under the name ‘Tara Moss’ although Moss acknowledges that a lot of women write under initials or pseudonyms because there is unconscious gender bias. By the time the sequel came out, Fetish was a best-selling novel but rumours still abounded that Moss's novels were ghost-written, heavily edited or written by her boyfriends because people — journalists and the public — expected Moss to be a dumb bimbo incapable of writing best-selling novels.

Law reminds Moss, and astounds the audience, that she actually took a lie detector test in order to prove that she was actually the author of her own works. "Good looks were actually working against you."
Age, time passing, social media and developing her voice have all helped Moss overcome this stigma, the archetype of the dumb bimbo.

Moss says she’s an optimist. She says the next chapter is ours, we can change the fictions one voice at a time. It’s in our best interests to make a more equitable society. We can improve all this and we have it in our power to do so. The things that are holding us back are notions, changeable and flexible notions. Inequality is not inevitable.

Moss spoke eloquently and passionately about social issues, blending sociology with memoir as she does in her book the Fictional Woman. Law was a courteous host, combining thoughtful interviewing with a light humorous touch to — periodically — leaven the subject. I’m two-thirds of the way through Fictional Woman and, after seeing Law speak both yesterday and today, I need a copy of his books too. And not just because his mum, his biggest fan, sat next to me today, urging me to read them!

The Melbourne Writers Festival 2014 is over for another year; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every session I’ve seen, adding to my TBR (To Be Read) pile with every speaker. I highly recommend reading more reviews of MWF events to find the authors you enjoy, so you can add to your TBR pile too. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.