Models can’t write because they are beautiful and stupid. If they claim to have written books, the reality is that their boyfriends probably wrote the books for them, or they hired a ghost writer, or they were heavily plagiarised. None of these statements are my opinions, but the opinions of book reviewers, critics, journalists and other sexist commentators who threw this sort of cruel, nonsensical criticism at Tara Moss after she published her first crime novel, Fetish, at the age of 25.
Moss was on the Gold Coast recently to participate in the Somerset Festival of Literature and to talk about her most recent book, The Fictional Woman. It’s the first non-fiction book that Moss has written, and blends her own life story with commentary about sexism and fictions about women. She is now the mother of a young daughter, and as she states in her book, “I want her to have opportunities and a voice”.
Because of this, because of a life lived as a woman in the public eye and all the vitriol that comes with it, and because she was raped many years ago while still living in Vancouver, Moss has written a book that keeps the feminist conversation alive.
Tara Moss was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, and had been a model in North America, Europe and Australia before writing her first book. People had often told her “you should be a model”. Moss says no-one ever says to young beautiful women “Hey, you should be a writer!” She went to Europe at the age of 17 to model. Her Canadian modelling agency sent her to a ‘model apartment’ in Germany because they couldn’t afford to put up models in hotels. A much older man owned the one bedroom apartment.
“It became very clear by the end of the night that I was expected to sleep in his bed with him”, she recalls. She managed to lock herself in another room all night and escape in the morning.
Two and a half years after Fetish, she published her second novel Split. Around that time she says she agreed to take a lie detector test “to prove I wrote my own books because there was such a stereotype about being a dumb model”. A journalist from The Australian newspaper, who was in fact on her side, contacted Moss to ask if she would take a polygraph test to put to bed the unsubstantiated claims levelled at the author on a regular basis. Of course, the polygraph test confirmed that Tara Moss does write her own novels. “I became the first scientifically proven author in the world!” Nonetheless, she has since had a Spanish book reviewer claim in 2012 that her looks helped her get published. She also frequently has the ‘Model turned Author’ description attached to articles written about her, and countless descriptions about her looks in reviews about her books. Even compliments can be back handed.
“I am often told I write strong female characters. No-one ever uses the adjective strong to describe male characters”.
About media portrayal of women in general, she says “Women are too often portrayed with a mixture of allure and contempt. There is no winning position”.
Many women recoil at the idea of being called a feminist, and it is often said that we are equal now so we don’t need feminism anymore. Statistics tell a very different story. Moss is a meticulous researcher and is well versed in gender statistics. Some disturbing examples include; Australian women working full-time earn 18.8% less than men (this has been worsening since 2006); 50.2 of citizens in Australia are women yet less than 30% are parliamentarians; 90% of the current Federal Cabinet are men; 91% of film directors of top grossing films are men; there were 2300 artworks in the National Gallery in the UK and only 10 of them were by women; 70% of front page by-lines in Australian newspapers are by men despite equal numbers of men and women being employed as journalists. Moss says “We need leadership if anything is going to change”.
Tara Moss is a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, and recently became the patron for the Full Stop Foundation which aims to end domestic and sexual violence. In Australia, this year alone, two women every week have been killed by partners and former partners.
“Services are chronically underfunded” she says “and there is a toxic silence around the issue that shames the victims and protects the predators”. That is why she has chosen to speak out about her own experiences.
“I wanted to show solidarity with other survivors of crime and also to push the conversation.”
She also says “The victims are disproportionately women and we need to listen to their experiences”.
According to Moss we need a collective approach to help end the violence. To help the victims she says “Just do what you can.”