I have to admit, I always get teary at a rally. Thousands of people in one space, the collective outpouring of emotion, a common cause, the chorus of unified voices … but today, it was more than that. Because today, in between the “I am woman, hear me roar” chanting, it was a couple of women who weren’t there whose voices most rung in my ears. Women for whom today’s rally may have triggered more than just a few tears.
When I told the world I wanted to publish books that ‘challenge the status quo’, I frankly didn’t realise just how much there was to be challenged if you had a story to tell of gendered violence (without any personal experience of such stories myself). Writing a memoir is hard work; to write a story about being victim to sustained violent rape and sexual assault is downright harrowing.
When I first read this woman’s manuscript, I put it down, completely wrung out, and rang one of my mentors. “I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to publish this”, I said. “I’m not even sure I’ve got it in me to keep reading”. Such was the violence this woman had experienced that I seriously worried not just for her wellbeing, having her story ‘out there’, but for the wellbeing of her readers. Did I have a responsibility, as a publisher, to stamp the book with a trigger warning? My mentor listened intently to the traumatic details and listed off a number of similarly gruelling books that changed the course of history with their hard truths, hard reading as they were. “If she has it in her to write it, I think you have it in you to publish it Regina”, she said.
And so, I got off the phone with a nervous but ready resolve. That I would do what I could to help her tell her story. Of course, that’s not been straight-forward. It is indeed gruelling work, on many fronts, and unsurprisingly she dropped it for the last six months or so.
But I also wasn’t surprised that she came back to me, just a week ago, saying, “I want to keep going. I want my story told”. To better understand her story, I read “See What You Made Me Do” by Jess Hill, which in this climate, is essential reading for well, pretty much all of us, I’d say. Her book, and other manuscripts that have since come my way, have taught me that it is not just the perpetrator that causes the trauma, but a badly broken system that entrenches the shame, the pain and the injustice – and ruins lives in the process.
A system that we are indeed part of, and have a responsibility to change.
And so, it was for these women that I rallied today. Because when we muster the strength to show up and raise our voices, we can give voice to those who can’t. Or someone who, right now, is just mustering the resolve to tell their own story.
Thanks to the women (and men) of Melbourne, and those who called upon us from the stage, to own our personal power and “double down, stand witness and give them hell”. Indeed we will!