The Fictional Woman

I've just finished reading The Fictional Woman, by Tara Moss, and what a cracking read it is. 

Part memoir, part social analysis, this is Moss' first non-fiction novel that weaves her personal experiences as a model, author, mother and journalist into her analysis of common fictions about women in contemporary Australia.

It's an incredibly brave book. Moss writes about painful experiences in her life for the first time. Rape by a friend of a friend in her early twenties, sexual harassment as a teenager and two heartbreaking miscarriages. She uses these personal experiences to throw a light on the broader experiences of women in Australia and globally, and does so with great compassion and thoughtfulness.

The book examines and challenges the fictions surrounding women in politics, motherhood, the media, advertising, in the workplace and at home.  Each chapter deals with these common fictions, sexism, discrimination and violence experienced by women, every day.

Fictions about our bodies and the pressure to be thin, young and beautiful - in accordance with the impossible - and fictional - representations bombarding us every day from the media, advertising and in magazines. 

Fictions about the experiences of sexual violence and harassment experienced by women in their every day lives - and the ridiculous notion that women experiencing such violence are somehow 'responsible' for it. 

Women experiencing such violence are never responsible, period. The perpetrators are and it's a crime - always. 

We know this, right? Well, no, as a society, we don't. Last week, a national poll revealed that 'one in five Australians believe a woman is "partially responsible for being raped if she is intoxicated", and  "most people believe violence is caused by men being unable to control their anger and their need for sex."

These are critical untruths to debunk. Sexual violence and harassment isn't instinctual or innate. It's a choice, and it's a crime - always.

The Australian statistics concerning sexual violence still deeply shock me. 

More than half of Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. That's every second woman we know: our mothers, friends, daughters and colleagues. Quite possibly you, and me. And yet, as Moss points out, we don't talk about it enough, as a society, as a community, in our family and our friendship groups.

I think we need to. Combating such violence and harassment starts with our children, our communities, and our society understanding that women are equal to men. 

Again, we know this right? As Moss' book eloquently points out - we don't. She notes that "despite women making up over 50% of the population, as of 2014 they make up less than one-third of all parliamentarians and occupy about 5% of all Cabinet positions."

In our parliament women do not have equal representation, or equal voice, to their male counterparts. I don't think this is somehow an accident of fate. Discrimination and inequality live large in Australia.

We don't need to look far. Our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has previously said: "it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate, or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas. Simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons." 

Are you serious PM? The last time I checked, the fact that I'm female has zero impact on my ability to achieve in life. What does impact all women, are sexist and discriminatory beliefs like these.

I want my sons to grow up understanding that women are equal to men in this world. I want my niece to grow up in a world where she is respected and valued for who she is, regardless of her gender. And I want every female not to fear sexual violence and harassment as they go about their daily life. 

If you can get your hands on Moss' book, read it. It's brave in laying bare her personal experiences and fictions surrounding her as a woman. In doing so, it strips away the fictions all women face in their everyday lives. 

We don't live in a society or world where women are treated equally to men. But, as Moss says, we can be part of the conversation to change this.  I wholeheartedly agree.


  1. Definitely will put on my to-read list Pia! I really like everything Tara does. Such a brilliant writer/speaker/role model. x

  2. Me too. Inspirational in how many diverse things she's done in her life. It's a great book!

  3. I'm going to order that book right now. Have you read "Half the Sky", Pia? I'm very much looking forward to reading the Fictional Woman.

  4. No - but I remember reading great reviews about Half the Sky when it came out - adding it to my reading list right now, thanks for the reminder!



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