Tara Moss has released a memoir, The Fictional Woman.  She opens with some frightening facts:the-fictional-woman-197x300

  • Women comprise 50.2 per cent of Australia’s population but as of 2014 they make up less than one-third of all parliamentarians and occupy roughly 5 per cent of all Cabinet positions.
  • About 70 per cent of front-page by-lines in Australian newspapers belong to male journalists, despite the fact that an equal number of men and women are employed as journalists.
  • During six months of US election coverage in national print, tv broadcast and radio outlets, 81 per cent of statements about abortion were made by men.
  • As of 2010, the National Gallery in the UK had 2300 works in its collection, of which ten were by women.
  • In the top-grossing 250 films of 2012, 92 per cent of directors were men, as well as 85 per cent of writers, 83 per cent of executive producers and 98 per cent of cinematographers.  In 2013 the top ten male actors combined made over 2.5 times more that the top ten female actors combined.
  • Women working full time in Australia earn, on average 17.5 per cent less than their male counterparts.

Using telling examples from her own life, Moss explores the myriad roles that women adopt, and the stereotypes and labels that are foisted upon women by others.

Moss has worked as a fashion model.  She’s also a highly intelligent and a successful writer.   So she’s had first-hand experience of the difficulties faced by women who do not conform to a stereotype.  A fashion model must be stupid.  A successful writer can’t possibly be attractive.

Moss plays at length upon how she was asked by one interviewer to take a lie detector test in order to ‘prove’ that she had, in fact, written her own books.  Cue outrage.  While the requirement for a lie-detector test is a vivid illustration of the vapidity of stereotypes, Moss’ use of the anecdote is a little disingenuous.  The interviewer who requested the test was feminist writer Emma Tom (now known has Dr Emma A. Jane) and her subsequent article was itself a send-up of those very same pretty=stupid stereotypes.  Asking Moss to take a lie-detector was part of the joke but throughout The Fictional Woman Moss treats it as if it had been a serious request.  And that’s probably OK – the anecdote as Moss uses it provides a memorable and useful shorthand for the way women are forever being asked to prove their bona fides; to prove that they are smart enough, tough enough, good enough.

Moss has other and more powerful stories, though.  Her mother dies when Moss is barely in her teens.   She is chased through streets of a European city by a gang of men and barely manages to escape.  As a teenager she starves herself in order to work as a catwalk model.  She marries badly, twice.  She marries well and, eventually, has a baby.  She miscarries.

Moss uses these descriptions as a spring-board for her engaging discussion and analysis of women and the wider issues we all face in everyday life.

Over the last few years or so I’ve read a lot of books like this: well written, accessible analyses of the ongoing discrimination against women that exists in the developed world.  Most of them use the author’s personal experiences to illustrate wider points about the disadvantages suffered by women in every sphere.  I inevitably find myself agreeing on almost every score.

But to what extent is Tara Moss preaching to the converted?  Moss already has a wide fan base for her crime novels so perhaps some of them will follow her to this new book. Maybe they’ll learn something along the way.

But so what?  Is awareness raising enough?  While I’m pleased that the term misogyny seems to have entered into common usage, is talking about it enough?  I already know women are discriminated against, although Moss’ meticulous research gives me some ammunition for the next time a client tells me that “All the hiring decisions here are made on merit.”

I think I’d really rather see a call to action: action at the personal level (calling on men and women to call out discrimination when they see it); action at the social level (in the same way, for example, cultural change occurred about the acceptability of drink-driving); and of course action at the institutional level (for example better access to child care, better representation of women on boards, in government and in senior management positions).  To her credit, Moss does make a start in this direction during her final chapters.

What am I doing about it?  I’m educating my children (Where are all the women in this movie?  Why are there no men in the cleaning product ads?).  I’m raising my concerns with people in authority – sometimes in an informal way, at other times directly.  And I’m voting – at the keyboard with the click-through choices I make, and at the ballot box.

What are you doing about it?