Earlier this year, Natalie Kon-yu, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott, and Miriam Sved produced the anthology #metoo, an anthology of essays and poetry by Australian writers on the subject of the #metoo movement. The Tulpa team has recently been in contact with writer Heather Taylor Johnson to discuss her involvement in the anthology and the importance of #metoo as a political movement.
Why is the #metoo anthology so timely?
Feminism has always been inevitable (it existed long before a man named Charles Fourierit so generously named it for us) and it will forever be a force. The #metoo movement is another phase of history’s (herstory’s) feminist wave and so it follows that the #metoo anthology is a document of its time. Look around at what’s happening now with the rise of populism and the eerie what-if of The Handmaid’s Tale. This is where we are and it’s scary times. Toxic masculinity is killing women at regular and alarming rates through domestic violence, killing hoards of people through mass shootings, encouraging rape cultures in universities and rugby clubs, forcing women to be compliant if they want to keep their jobs. At this point in feminism, I’d say most of the women are on board. Here is where we gather the men. In my opinion this anthology is about educating ourselves, women and men – especially men – so that we can responsibly raise the next generation of boys. Here is where we make a radical cultural change.
How does the #metoo movement in Australia differ from its American counterpart?
I don’t see the two as separate, maybe because I’m American Australian. I left America as a fiery twenty-five year old woman who thought she could do anything so long as no man ever kicked in her front door to touch her while she’s sleeping again. Now an angry forty-five year old woman baffled that a man at the gym thought he was complimenting me by saying he was glad to be sparing with me and not the man in the corner because that man ‘boxes like a girl’. Nothing has changed in the nearly 14,000 kilometres I’ve travelled and nothing has changed in the last twenty years. I’m sure the movements, as geographical entities, have been influenced by and will continue to influence each other, but I see #metoo as universal – that’s what Twitter is meant to do for political issues today. That a 280-word story can be broadcast to the world and that the world can respond through a love heart or a retweet or a shared hashtag proves that this movement is community-making, and that’s what ‘global’ should mean.
Where do you see the future of the #metoo movement in Australia?
I think it’ll keep pushing the boundaries of intersectionality. Just as with Trump’s brand of popular sexism, I think, too, his overt racism – indeed the racism we’re becoming so accustomed to seeing all over the world and in shocking regularity in our own country – encourages more outspokenness among racial minorities, and people seem eager to listen. I see this in the publishing industry now where publishers are actively pursuing stories by people of colour and suddenly literature is opening up. I think the confluence of women’s stories and minority stories is where the movement is at now (and thankfully where the anthology is situated) and where it will continue to go. ‘Minority’ can mean race, it can mean disability, it can mean sexuality or gender, and these stories are enlivening the #metoo movement. There’s more discussion. There’s more room for empathy. This can only mean growth.
What does the #metoo movement mean to you and why did you decide to get involved with the anthology?
It’s not any small coincidence that the #metoo movement gained momentum during Trump’s first year as president. Women were angry, unwilling to quietly accept that someone can get elected President of the United States after saying “When you’re a star, they let you do it, grab ’em by the pussy, you can do anything”. I’m an American Australian, still struggling with what Trump means to me as a displaced citizen and still ANGRY as a woman whose body seems to be fodder for legislative decisions. Seriously? We’re still arguing about the right to have an abortion? The best I can do as an artist is to work harder, so I’m trying to focus on issues that matter to me. The poem I sent into the anthology is about a lifetime of innate fear and low expectations due to gender, and how I’d like things to be different for my daughter, and how I get the feeling that they won’t be. I didn’t know until I’d finished the poem that I was writing it for my daughter, and that’s sort of what we’re all doing: trying to make change for our daughters.
How does poetry compare to the essay as a means to discuss issues surrounding the movement?
Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was the beginning of a new type of political awareness for me in terms of my art. I’ve written dozens of poems calling out sexism since then and not because I want to be didactic or self-righteous, but because I simply need to get this anger out (apologies I keep bringing him up but he certainly has a lot to answer for). I write poetry and I write essays – I also write novels – and the choice to use one form over the other is often process-driven. When I need to explore questions and ideas, I write novels. When I need to rip apart incongruities and find commonalities, I write essays. When I need to release intense emotion, I write poetry. Poetry is the quickest, most satisfying way for me to dig into something I’m feeling too much and violently regurgitate it. Then I can move on. The fact that I’m still writing the poems calling out sexism means there’s a lot more for me to discharge, plenty more word-vomiting to come. I’m envisaging a collection that does just that through imagery and testimony, and the poem in the #metoo anthology is one of them.
You can read more about the #metoo Anthology here and the book is available for purchase online and from all good bookstores.