RASHMII AMOAH BELL
BRISBANE – “Hilary Clinton is finally expressing some righteous anger: Why does that make everyone else so mad?” is the title of an op-ed piece capturing the often hostile reaction to the recent release of Hilary Clinton’s post-election memoir ‘What Happened’.
The article’s author, Rebecca Traister, opens by referring to Clinton’s speech to the 2017 graduating class of Wellesley College, the Massachusetts liberal arts college for women established in 1870 and Clinton’s alma mater.
Wellesley was also the setting of the 2003 film, ‘Mona Lisa Smile’, in which a star-studded cast of Hollywood’s leading women deliver an important message about the life choices women should have the right to determine irrespective of peer, family and societal pressures.
In the movie, the brilliant, unattached and ambitious teacher Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is told by her equally brilliant andambitious student Joan (Julia Stiles) that being married and a primary caregiver is more important than applying to Yale Law School.
Fast forward to Wellesley College, 2017.
“Don’t be afraid of your ambition, your dreams or even your anger” Clinton urges graduands.
Ambition. Dreams. Two words I explored when I chaired the My Walk to Equality session at the recent Brisbane Writers Festival.
I sought the panel’s view on prevailing Papua New Guinean male attitudes towards women of our generation having equal access to education, career building - and ambition.
Film maker and poet Vanessa Gordon identified a key factor stalling the ability of Papua New Guinean women to amplify their voices….
Vanessa’s words articulated similar sentiments voiced by American actress, author, poet and film director Amber Tamblyn in a New York Times article, ‘I’m Done With Not Being Believed’.
Tamblyn shone a spotlight on her experiences of sexual harassment in Hollywood and in doing so stated what multitudes of women often deliberate on before speaking out: a consideration of “the scrutiny and repercussions she’ll be subjected to by sharing her side”.
Tamblyn coined a term for this process - ‘risk consideration’.
Vanessa explained this as PNG women weighing their desire to speak out against anxiety about vilification centring on their gender, weight, dress, age or professional status.
So what is the position of PNG women who speak out about instances where they have experienced unfair or unjust treatment and in some cases been subjected to criminal behaviour?
I sought dialogue on this question when I penned my July 2016 essay, ‘PNG’s violated women do not deserve to be treated as Cassandras’
Recently, in comments on PNG Attitude, I have aired my flaccid relationship with members of Papua New Guinea’s Crocodile Prize Committee which led to my eventual departure from the group.
I’ve also shed light on the vitriolic attacks I’ve been subjected to from fellow Papua New Guinean writers, male and female, throughout the first phase of the My Walk to Equality project.
I waited until pilot phase ended to articulate my disquiet at this behaviour, mirroring the ‘risk consideration’ that Amber Tamblyn and Vanessa Gordon saw as cause for pause and deliberation before enjoining debate.
But, as a writer who utilises literature as a mechanism for social activism, for me to fear assertiveness or even anger in my writing would be a missed opportunity to highlight injustice and inspire social change, especially as a voice advocating the collective position of Papua New Guinean women.
The reception that met my public disclosure of my own case was captured succinctly in Rebecca Traister’s commentary on the Clinton memoir: “Censorious anger from women is a liability; from men, it is often, simply, speech.”
A glimpse at any PNG-focused Facebook pages is evidence enough that, when men express anger, the overwhelming reaction is a raucous cheer. The impulse to adopt the male gaze of conversations led by women seems irresistible.
Such gaslighting through coded language reinforces shame, misogyny, double standards and gender inequality. Papua New Guinean women are continually subjected to this and it is unacceptable.
At the core of my comments, I have expressed rage at the absence of mutual respect and any reciprocal relationship in my interactions with a number of people within the Crocodile Prize organising group.
This is interfering with this group’s ability to develop a sustainable contemporary literature for all Papua New Guinean writers.
All Papua New Guineans writers - living in-country or abroad.
Attempts to pit one person against another on the basis of location are destructive, non-pragmatic and stifling of writing ambitions. It is a twisted dialogue that must be rejected and muted by all.
Engaging in such speech is a major liability to the development of a nation-driven, thriving, sustainable literary culture in Papua New Guinea.