By Georgia Nelson
“How long can a secret lie dormant before it bursts up and out, unable to be contained?”
The answer: too long.
In the era of #MeToo, Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull provides a compelling, sometimes bleak, but much-needed insight into the realities of sexual assault survivors and the complex and often unjust processes they are faced with when reporting their perpetrators.
Lee details her experience as a recently graduated lawyer in Queensland; the horrors of the rape trials of children, women and men she worked with from her very first day as a judge’s associate, the exploitation of some of her female colleagues, and how these experiences brought back memories of her own childhood trauma. She writes with an eloquence that perfectly illustrates her own frustration, isolation and faltering hope in the system that she has pledged to honour and uphold.
The book itself is almost as complex as the system about which she is writing – a memoir on the surface, but delving into and picking apart the injustices of rape culture and sexual violence. Why is it that victims of these horrific crimes have their characters questioned in the process? It is taxing enough on those who decide to come forward and report their aggressors to authorities. But then they are faced with hours of questioning, going over the details of the worst moments of their lives, right down to the exact hour, the exact place, and how long they were forced to endure it.
It is as though they themselves are on trial. And as Lee points out, sex crimes are the only crimes where the victim has to prove it happened. Unlike a car break in, or a theft, the victim’s statement – and often DNA evidence – is deemed unworthy when it comes to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. For so many the crime only ‘allegedly’ happened, at least until they can prove that they did not consent. But how can you prove you didn’t consent when you were ‘baring too much skin’, are portrayed as ‘promiscuous’ due to your history of sexual partners, or find it difficult to muster the strength to report the crime years after it happened when it is just your word against theirs?
It is this scrutinizing process that makes survivors uncertain as to how to act. It made Lee doubt herself, to the point of self-harm and left her questioning if it was really worth reporting the boy she knew as a child, and if he really did assault her on that trampoline all those years ago. But it is something that has altered her life, and her mental health, since it happened.
“The ugly parts of my life kept crashing into the beautiful ones.”
One thing is for certain: Lee is not alone. All survivors are forced to live with the trauma of their past and present. It continues to haunt them until it affects all aspects of their lives. Lee’s story is shared by thousands of others all over the world. In Australia alone, an estimated 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence. What makes this story so powerful though is the raw and personal account of the trauma, hesitation and resilience that survivors like Lee deal with when pursuing justice.
Lee’s law-based background echoes Jon Krakauer’s in his novel Missoula, provoking and questioning the morals around which a society’s laws are based. And it’s almost like a domino effect. Each conviction gives another victim the strength to step forward and report their abuse, the same premise that #MeToo is based upon. But what is showcased in both instances is the inconsistency of the justice system. A guilty verdict in one case does not guarantee a guilty verdict for a similar crime.
It may be a hard reality to face, but Eggshell Skull is a story that needs to be read widely. The material is very graphic in parts. Even if you find yourself having to put it down at times it is important to remember that these things do happen. To the little girl with the unkempt hair who lives two doors down from you. To the farmer, who stands tall next to his wife and child, but crumbles in the courtroom as he confronts his childhood abuser. To your mum, your cousin, your best friend.
These abhorrent acts can no longer be swept under the rug. The perpetrators need to be held accountable, not their victims. And this book is here to do just that.
Find out more about Bri Lee here: https://www.bri-lee.com
Watch a video on why she wrote Eggshell Skull here: https://youtu.be/FcOiliT_mro
This month Writes4Women decided to do something a little different…again…because breaking out of our own mould and doing something different month by month seems to be the W4W MO. So this month our something different was pulling the Book 2 Brand segment out of the main writing podcast and turning it into a minisode all of it’s own and that’s how we will keep it from now on. A minisode dedicated to author platforms, marketing and social media for creatives. What you need to do and know as told by the experts rather than us because we aren’t experts we are just like you, trying to work it all out as we go and getting it wrong half the time.
So to kick things off, the first Book 2 Brand minisode is all about facebook. What it is, what it isn’t and what the recent changes mean for writers and creatives everywhere. Sara Hood from Marketing4Writers pops in to give us her expert advice about how to get the most out of the platform, dropping some down to earth realities about what to expect from the social media beast.
W4W is delighted Sara was able to give us her time and wisdom on this episode, she has an extensive background in Marketing Communications, with a focus on creatives and writers. Sara’s website and consultancy, www.marketing4writers.net, provides a plethora of resources for writers in any stage of their career. Including practical blogposts and Unconferences held multiple times a year on all sorts of topics relevant to writing and marketing. In this episode she gives an in depth but also practical breakdown about what to realistically expect from facebook and how to make it work best for you and what you want.
The Facebook Changes
Everyone with the internet and a phone pretty much knows that in January this year facebook announced some major changes to the social media platform. As a direct response to learning the extent of it’s social and political influence, facebook decided to tighten the reigns on news media, branded pages and advertising. Their mission? To make facebook more human again. To bring it back to connection and community. Unfortunately for most creatives this means a big shift in how they use facebook to market and promote themselves and their art.
As writers and creatives Pam and Kel had no choice but to dive in and find out exactly what this means. These are the top 3 resources they found helpful in breaking down what the changes meant and more importantly, what we can all do about it.
This post is great for beginners to mid level users who don’t want or need to get too in depth with it all but just want to know in a snap shot what the changes mean and what they can actually do now.
This episode of the ABC podcast Conversations speaks with a Mark Pesce what is really happening in the background with Facebook, what it is doing with all of that information we put into it every single day, how it is trying to shape the way we think and feel, how we are targeted and it moulds our behaviour and reactions and curates information. It goes into the psyche of facebook as much as anything.
Talk about being facebooked out! After all this you should be able to talk like a minixpert on the subject. Next month…Twitter…Errrgh!
Writes4Womens is a feminist writing podcast hosted by published author, Pamela Cook and newbie writer, Kel Butler, all about celebrating women writers and writing and supporting women’s rights. Find it via the W4W website www.writes4women.com or subscribe in iTunes. Follow us on Facebook@writes4women or Twitter and Instagram @w4wpodcast.
In Episode 6 we had a great chat about writing retreats and why you should consider going on one. If you missed our discussion you can pop over and listen here or on iTunes here
Here’s a quick re-hash of why you should treat yourself to a writing retreat in 2018:
- Spoil yourself with some time out to do what you love. You deserve it!
- Spend time with like-minded people.
- Make connections and friendships that could last a life-time.
- Find a potential support network for your writing.
- Immerse yourself in your craft and learn new writing techniques.
- Give your writing brain some space and a fresh perspective.
- Return home totally inspired and ready to write/revise that book.
That pretty much covers it but if you can think of any others do let us know!
So now we’ve convinced you, here’s out Top Five Picks For Writing Retreats in 2018.
- Revise To Publish Masterclass at Russley Rural Retreat, Segenhoe, NSW. April 20-22nd. Spend a weekend with your Writes4Women Co-Host Pamela Cook, author of five completed manuscripts. Pamela will be sharing what she’s learnt about writing, revising and the publishing industry in this not to be missed Masterclass at beautiful Russley. Places are strictly limited so be quick. Click the link for more information or email Pamela direct: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. A Writing Retreat In Tuscany with Vanessa Carnevale
A week-long stay in an idyllic Tuscan setting. A 17th century villa with stunning views of Florentine hills, providing the perfect backdrop for a week of peaceful relaxation, writing and dining. Relax by the poolside with an intimate group of like-minded writers and a glass of Chianti or Prosecco and allow the inspiration to unfold.
What’s not to love?
Sunset over the winding road with cypresses in Tuscany.
3. Peak Collaboration: Writing Group Fiction with Alice Campion
Alice Campion is four writers in one – the only group writing commercially-published fiction in the world.
Using the Alice Campions’ successful techniques, you will work within a small team to create a finished short work of collaborative fiction.
The vibrant natural and cultural world of the Himalayas should provide inspiring shared sights, sounds, experiences and characters that will resonate in your writing. The Alice process includes periods of both solitary and shared work, and whether you’re hiking, meditating or shopping in a bustling market, your mind will be collecting gems to bring back to the group. The process also includes lots of laughter and you may well forge deep creative bonds.
This is my dream retreat. How about you?
4. WA Writing Retreat with Natasha Lester
Natasha is one of our faves and a fantastic facilitator. If you live in the west of Australia this is one you should check out.
‘Would you like to go away for a long weekend and concentrate solely on your writing? Would it make that time even better if you had the help of a published writer to guide and teach you, as well as a group of like-minded souls to talk to about the ups and downs of the writing journey? If that sounds like your idea of heaven, then keep reading!’
5. Commercial Fiction Signature Masterclass with Fiona McIntosh
Fiona McIntosh is one of Australia’s best selling authors. Her Masterclasses are highly sought after and ‘designed to propel writers from simply talking about the novel they want to write, to confronting the task, doing the hard yards and finding the courage to submit their manuscript for consideration of publication. The aim is to offer participants much more than just creative advice.’
Places are filling fast for Fiona’s 2018 classes.
Hope you get yourself on a retreat in 2018. If you do, be sure to let us know how it goes!
A Cautionary Tale of Sexual Harassment In The Australian Film Industry
By Kel Butler
It’s a moment I will never forget. Sitting in the back of a taxi with a work colleague, late at night after yet another function, lubricated with way too much liquor and thick with suggestive lewdity. A normal midweeker for someone working in the film and television industry in Australia in the 2000’s. I had been particularly chuffed about my invite to this event because some major players were involved and I thought it was a reflection of my talent and ability, that I had been given a seat at the table.
The gender balance at this event, as at most, was fairly imbalanced. I was one of a handful of ambitious (yes I was ambitious!) women in lower level positions mixing with men more powerful than me. Men who could literally make or break my career overnight. The night was pretty run of the mill really, littered with arse grabs and sexual innuendo that just got more overt as the alcohol flowed. It was always worse at the end of the night when everyone usually ended up at a dingy karaoke bar or some club in the city.
In the dark, silenced by pumping music and vulnerable from alcohol, the boundaries didn’t seem to exist anymore. It was like being caught in a thick fog of hands and sexual suggestion, the boys falling in line behind the men, taking their spot in the queue, hierarchy forming based on the perceived sexual attractiveness of the women in the room. The most attractive women being the target and prize for the most powerful men and so on.
Not that any of us knew this of course. It didn’t matter what the women wanted or whether we were even interested or available most of the time. This is the insidious language of misogyny and entitlement that the entertainment industry was built upon. This is the way it has always been. Where else did the concept of the “casting couch” come from? And who can forget the grand studios of the golden age of hollywood, plying their female stars with drugs to keep them thin and controlled.
Ashamedly for me, it was just easier to roll along with it and appease, than confront it head on. Having an undiagnosed anxiety disorder didn’t help either. So that’s exactly what I did and what many of us are still doing today. It’s just easier to put up with it, don’t say too much, act like “one of the guys”, take “the joke”, be “chill” about it because it’s all “in good fun”…even when it really isn’t.
This is not new. All of my feminist heroes have addressed it in their own books. Clementine Ford, Tracey Spicer, Caitlin Moran, Gloria Steinem and so on but it is STILL happening and it is STILL how most of us react when faced with sexual harassment in the workplace. Serving to perpetuate the problem because when it happens on such a consistent basis, when it is the rule rather than the exception, then we normalise it because it IS normal. It feels more normal than NOT being harassed but it shouldn’t and herein lies the crux of the problem. In the entertainment industry being sexual harassesed is about as common as rain and we women have all learnt to carry umbrellas to protect ourselves from it instead of the industry itself, stopping the rain from falling in the first place.
So back to the taxi…one had been hailed after the wind had finally fallen from my bosses’ sails at about 3am. One of the big wigs hopped in a cab with me even though their house was nowhere near mine. I only learnt that…in the cab. Not the first flag I had chosen to ignore that night. He was a person I respected and admired. One of the most powerful influencers in the film and television industry at the time and someone I desperately wanted to impress. With my brain.
He had been making advances all night. I had been either pretending to ignore them or flirting in that way that implies you may or may not be interested. I’m not proud of it but for the first 10 years of my career I played that game. The game of ambiguous availability. You know what I’m talking about. The game where you aren’t really into someone but you give just enough extra attention to make it ambiguous. The point being the men always think they have a chance with the girl and in return the girl might be considered for a seat at the table or a voice in the room. We play for the crumb of acceptance because that crumb is the only way forward sometimes. We fool ourselves into thinking it’s really about our skills, when we know damn well it’s only because the guy thinks he might get into our pants. We’re playing the long game, looking forward to a time when we won’t have to play anymore because we will have earnt the right to be respected…even if we no longer respect ourselves as a result.
It is fucked up and it is wrong and it is borne out of years of conditioning that tells women that unless we are sexually desirable to a man we are pretty much worthless. Well that’s how it was for me anyway and honestly, most of the time, I didn’t even know I was doing it. That is not a line. It is a humiliating truth. One that this Harvey Weinstein scandal has ripped from the recesses of my subconscious and shoved right in my face.
I look back on myself now and want to gag at my fear, my compliance and my weakness. I want to shake myself by the shoulders and scream at me to wake up. To speak up. That my worth went beyond a triangle between my legs and some mounds protruding from my chest. The woman I understood myself to be was such a stark contrast to the person I actually was in that cab that night, sitting uncomfortably but smiling congenially at the old guy ogling me like a delicious meal, his eyes wet with the expectation of an agreement I had no part in making.
The cab pulls into the curb. I put my hand on the door handle, pause, turn, smile…always gotta smile “Well, this is me.” throw in a drunken giggle, a flick of the hair “Have a good night. I’ll see you in…” then the inevitable happens. His pissy face looms large, his lips marinated in expensive grog, land sloppily on mine and smash about my face. “What are you doing! Get your greasy paws away from me you slimy fuck!” is what my mind screams until it is silenced by the much louder voice of “Remember who he is. Just get out without offending him.” A hand snakes it’s way creepily around my thigh. I hear my mental fury come out as a flirtatious giggle and want to punch myself in the face as much as I want to skewer his testicles to the seat.
I don’t even remember what I did to disentangle myself from the situation but I remember standing on the footpath, waving and smiling like a moron at the man who had just treated me like a blow up doll. Every meeting, interaction, anything I was to have with that man since – and there were many due to work – was laced with an undertone of some unspoken relationship that was supposedly happening between us. I did the cowardly thing and walked the fine line, careful not to lean too far in either direction. Colleagues or “friends”. Ambiguously available even though I had 0 interest in anything outside of the professional.
Why? Because of who he was that’s why. The same reason sooooo many of us have walked this same line time and again. Because I was scared of what might happen if I rejected a man with that much power. Because I was ambitious and I wanted to succeed. Because in the blink of an eye this man could make years of hard work meaningless and we both knew it. BUT also because I had been taught from childhood that, as a girl, my intrinsic value to the people who ran this society, who made the decisions, was sexual. Not from my parents, I learnt quite the opposite from them but from a society that sexualised girls and therefore me and placed more value on what gratification I could provide men, than anything else I could offer.
The erosion of my self esteem started very young, as it does with most girls; with the trusted teachers who were sexually inappropriate to me in high school, through the 30 year old man in my drama group who put his hands down my 14 year old skirt, via the barrage of media and advertising messages that tell us our job is to please men and then instruct us on how to do it. It was that time the taxi driver started groaning and rubbing himself next to me when he was meant to be taking me home and every time my boyfriends made me feel less than because I didn’t want to quench their sexual desire at any given moment. It was the colours people assigned to me, the toys and then the vocations. It was the silent guiding of girls in one direction and boys in another. It was teaching boys the language of sexual violence and entitlement through objectification and then teaching me how to protect myself from them. It was watching generations of women still subservient to men and having those images reinforced in most of the television and movies I saw for the first 20 years of my life. It was all of these things and so much more, all the way up to my first significant, much older boyfriend who systematically abused me for 2 years. Successfully eroding what was left of any self respect and value I had left.
So when the time came for me to stand up to the powerful man in the taxi, slobbering on me or that colleague at the next desk making another inappropriate porn reference (when I was PREGNANT no less!) I had nothing. I had not a scrap of self worth left to fight back with. And I am ashamed to say that every single time I did the same thing. Swallowed my extreme discomfort, went along with it, laughed like everyone else and just squeezed my mental eye tight until it all went away. The problem is it doesn’t go away. The more we ignore it, the more we play along and the tighter we shut our mouths, the bigger and more putrid the beast becomes…and the further men think they can go.
The reason I remember that night in the taxi so vividly, the reason it still makes my anxiety peak to this day, was not because it was unique on any level. It wasn’t. It was because I found out, to my utter humiliation, months later, that my boss had offered me up as a prize to this executive and that was the whole reason I had been invited to the soire in the first place. Not because I had earnt my seat at the table but because a powerful colleague and buddy of my boss had found me fuckable! And my boss, being the great guy that he was, thought nothing of pimping me out to ingratiate himself and clock up another favour.
I have never quite recovered from that discovery. There is something so debasing about it, so lacking in any dignity or respect that the foul taste of reddening disgrace sticks in the back of your throat forever. And I don’t want another woman to ever have to taste it. Which is why I am writing this, driven by the silence that was so deafening, when the news of Harvey Weinstein’s 30 year run of sexually harassing women, broke last week. For days it was crickets. The biggest news story to hit the entertainment industry since Cosby and no one wanted to discuss it because of what it might mean for them. And perhaps because of how many are guilty of complicity through silence all of these years.
Silence is not the answer it is the disease. We know this. The only way things will change is if people start having the real conversations about what it is like to be a woman in the entertainment industry. It’s the only way to remove the crippling shame attached to the way women have been forced to survive, in an industry that treats them like cattle. Shame is the best friend to silence and it will eat you alive from the inside out. It would’ve devoured me whole if it weren’t for those feminists I mentioned earlier. Their words, their honesty, their openness, their courage, their truth and their wisdom saved me. They helped me understand that I was not alone and gave me the insight to forgive myself. And that is what I want to do for others. By providing a peek into my experience and the very flawed, human way I reacted, I hope to prevent other women from silently sucking it up and suffering the same.
From one woman of entertainment to another, if you read this and recognise yourself in my words please don’t add to the total destruction of your self esteem by hating on yourself and being ashamed. There is no need. You are not alone and YOU have done nothing wrong.
To the people who read this and this is happening to them right now. PLEASE SAY SOMETHING TO SOMEONE! Seriously the minute you finish reading this turn to the nearest person you trust and say “I’m getting sexually harassed at work and I need help”. If you are unsure then go to Reach Out or click here for further resources on sexual harassment. But take it from me, if you think you are getting harassed, if you have that horrible feeling in the pit of your gut, then you probably are. Don’t swallow it and don’t look the other way. Be the voice. Break the cycle of silence. For yourself and for every other woman out there.
And finally, for the young women going into the entertainment industry now or in the future. Be the force. Be bold. Don’t let this happen to you. Go in with your eyes wide open and learn from our mistakes. Read the women who have already paved the way through the patriarchal sesspool of entertainment (of life) and found their voice. Use them to buoy you while you find your own. Don’t be afraid to have personal boundaries and even more so, don’t be afraid to demand they be respected. Observe your thoughts, behaviours, attitudes, reactions and audit them to see how much is driven by unconscious bias and how much is conscious choice. Be selective about the language you use when it comes to women and be a champion of them, instead of falling victim to stereotypical tropes (they are sneaky and they are everywhere and they have been created by men). Most importantly know your self worth in any and every situation and do not be afraid to stand up for it.
Being a woman is not a disadvantage it is a wonderful priviledge and we have the right to not only be respected but to respect ourselves. It’s high time EVERYBODY understood that!