Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The #metoo phenomenon, and how do we begin to write about it? - Jo Carroll

I don’t have an answer. But anyone glancing at social media during this past few weeks can’t have missed the sheer numbers posting under the #metoo hashtag - each one disclosing how she, too, has experienced sexual harassment or assault.

I don’t know any women who are surprised by the numbers. It’s just something we’ve lived with for decades and felt ashamed to speak about. 

But no longer. So what are the implications for us as writers? This experience is clearly ubiquitous and yet I can’t think of any novel that includes an acknowledgement that everyday harassment is just something we’ve learned to live with.

There are, of course, films and novels that look at rape. I have a problem with rape being seen as a subject for entertainment - I recall seeing Sleeping with the Enemy, many years ago, and cringing when the assault lasted for hours and then the woman spent most of the rest of the film terrified that the man would find her, and all that happened to him was a quick gunshot. The implication being that terrifying women brings in the punters while shooting a man doesn’t pack the same punch. 

While most women’s real lives aren’t terrifying in the same way, many do include a level of ongoing  harassment that is deeply degrading. But I know of no one who has tackled this in fiction in such a way that women readers can nod and say, yes, that’s just how it is for me. 

And yet many of us look to fiction to find validation of the choices we’ve made in our lives. And maybe to find the courage to deal with it in a constructive and life-affirming way.

I write this hoping someone is going to drop by and tell me I’m wrong, and point to novels that raise this very issue. And if no one points me to such a wonderful novel I hope that someone else will be sufficiently troubled by the revelations of the past few weeks to knuckle down and tackle the subject in fiction.

Me - I’ve written some historical fiction. My main character has a difficult time, and finds an original way to fight back. She fails. But this is set in the nineteenth century. I’d like to think her story might be different today.

You can find her here

2 comments:

Elizabeth Kay said...

It's difficult to explain to someone who wasn't a girl in the fifties and sixties exactly how commonplace harassment was. We just accepted it as part of everyday life, and I can't ever remember feeling belittled by it. I went to a girls' school in a park, and a summertime hobby for my friends and I was stalking flashers and laughing at them. I imagine it might have been very different if we'd been walking through the park on our own, but it was a school rule never to do so. Bottom-pinching on public transport was normal, and the aim was to get your own back by stamping on the perpetrator's foot or complaining loudly in public. We never told our parents or teachers about any of it, mind you, because the prevailing attitude would have been that harassment was our fault in some way.

JO said...

I remember the 50s and 60s too - and it feels like progress that we are, at last, able to talk about it. And I hope we can also find a way to begin to write about it.