WORD: Speaking Out – Tara Moss interviewed by Joanna Norris

Tara-Moss_Speaking-Out-promo-shot-1At the 2050 session yesterday about climate chaos, panellists spoke about the danger of going from denial to despair. I was thinking about that a lot as I watched author and feminist activist Tara Moss give a presentation on sexism in the media, politics and society. The statistics are unrelenting, and I was too sad to write all of them down: women comprise only 11% of protagonists in top-rating US films; worldwide, fewer than 1 in 4 people we hear from or about in the media is female; a third of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. One third. That’s literally billions of us. Christ. She encouraged us to photograph her slides but I was too depressed.

Moss herself was very calm; charming and warm. She is an Australian writer who has moved from writing crime novels to feminist non-fiction. She’s here promoting her latest book, Speaking Out: A 21st-century handbook for women and girls, which I have duly purchased and she has kindly signed for me. But in the face of stats like this – women worldwide are 27 times more likely to experience serious online abuse than men; one fifth of women worldwide have been raped – what on earth are we meant to do?

As Moss said, “everywhere you look there’s an imbalance”. Even down to the way words are defined in the dictionary: take a look at bossy, where all the examples are derogatory of women. On the plus side, I now have a new interest: feminist lexicography. On the downside … this is how we develop unconscious bias, when our cultural places of authority have sexism woven into them so deeply we can’t see it.

After she had given us her presentation, The Press editor Joanna Norris interviewed Moss. They spoke about rape. Moss herself is one of the one in five women who has experienced rape, and she acknowledged matter-of-factly that there were a lot more of us in the audience as well. It’s still an issue that triggers a huge response. She made the excellent point that “we have a toxic silence around this issue but it’s so shockingly common that it shouldn’t be shocking to talk about it” – yet it still is.

Norris asked Moss whether there’s such a thing as oversharing. “There’s no such thing as overshare when you’re talking about important issues … Toxic silence does a lot more damage than oversharing … Actually there’s no such thing [as oversharing], that’s crap … I don’t think there’s anything we should feel we can’t talk about. Silence has never solved anything.”

Her solution to addressing sexism is, as the title of her book suggests, to speak out, together. “The calling-out needs to be done collectively, none of us can do it by ourselves. The women’s movement has been done collectively over the centuries … There are so many women we need to thank … That’s how things are going to get better. We need to normalise the discussion.” Personally, I’m going to start with a stiff drink in one hand and Speaking Out in the other, and then see what I have to say.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Speaking Out: Tara Moss interviewed by Joanna Norris

Speaking Out: A 21st-century handbook for women and girls
by Tara Moss
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460751336

The Fictional Woman
by Tara Moss
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781460751206


Book Review: The Birth of the Pill, by Jonathan Eig

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Jonathan Eig is a former senior reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is the author of cv_the_birth_of_the_pillthree highly acclaimed books – Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season.

During the First and Second World Wars, while our men were fighting for freedom overseas, their wives, girlfriends and mothers were working in jobs once considered the domain of men. The women enjoyed the freedom – the freedom from worry of contraception and the freedom to earn their own money. Women up until then had been conditioned to believe their place was in the home – looking after their menfolk and bearing children. The types of birth control were very limited: condoms were given out to servicemen to stop the spread of venereal diseases while the men were posted overseas. Later on there were early forms of diaphragms, which had a high failure rate.

In the Winter of 1950 in Manhattan, Margaret Sanger, a woman of 71 years of age, who loved sex, wanted a better way for woman to be able to control when and how they conceived. She had spent forty years trying to find a way – a scientific way, and she had campaigned throughout those year for a woman’s right to control their own fertility. She finally met a man in an apartment high above Park Ave, who was, possibly, her last hope.

That man was Gregory Goodwin Pincus (known as Goody), a scientist with a genius IQ and a dubious reputation. He was 47 years old. He wasn’t famous and he didn’t have any world changing inventions filed under his name. He’d been considered a radical by Harvard and had been left with no choice but to conduct experiments in a converted garage. Pincus was a biologist and perhaps the world’s leading expert in mammalian reproduction. He’d attempted to breed rabbits in petri dishes using much the same technology that decades later would lead to the development of IVF for humans. Pincus does not give up; this book goes on to describe the dedication and sponsorship of many people, to achieve a much-needed result.

Reading this book in today’s world it’s hard to imagine the hardship women went through over the decades to achieve rights to control their fertility. We now take contraception for granted with millions of women worldwide swallowing The Pill daily. I found this book a fascinating read, with a lot of detail – at times too much detail. This book will be enjoyed, hoever, by anybody with an enquiring mind who is open to learning.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Birth of the Pill
by Jonathan Eig
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447275558