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Writing Gender Violence

December 18th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Writing Gender Violence
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In November, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Writing Gender Violence event at the University. Organised as part of Book Week Scotland, the event also coincided with 16 Days of Action to eliminate violence against women, running from the 25th of November to the 10th of December.

A crowd of us gathered in the Pathfoot Dining Hall, and at the front where a panel of four women visiting speakers who dedicated their time for this event. Technically, there was only three present in the room as the fourth was on the other side of the world. Thanks to a computer and a webcam, however, three became four. The panel was made up of crime writer Alexandra Sokoloff, author of the Huntress Moon series that goes against the norm with her female serial killer antagonist in her crime series. Then, there was Madeleine Black, author of the memoir Unbroken, a true depiction of the devastating aftermath of rape and the journey of forgiveness. Next was Lydia House from Zero Tolerance, a charity that campaigns to end men’s violence against women by promoting gender equality and challenging attitudes that normalise violence and domestic abuse. Lastly, there was Lorna Hill, a Ph.D. creative writing student from the University of Stirling who has written a crime novel focusing on human trafficking and domestic abuse. This was our panel.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this event when I first sat down in the chair, however, my attention was captured throughout. Like myself, I don’t think many people have thought about the notion of writing gender violence. Even as a former journalism student, I had not given this issue much thought. However, what was made very clear to me throughout this event is that writing gender violence is a current, ongoing issue today. From Madeleine we learned that due to the very graphic details contained in her real life story, it was rejected 25 times before it was finally published, and even then there was some effort to tone down the graphic descriptions told throughout her story due to the fear that it could deter potential readers. The fact that someone would try to tone done the details of this story is baffling. Why would you try to dilute the true story and horror of the rape of a young woman? It would take away the true purpose of the story, to connect with others who had gone through similar experiences and to show them that they have a voice and that they have the right to be heard. This is Madeleine’s purpose for writing. She doesn’t see it as story writing but as story healing. Lorna also agreed with this. She also highlighted the importance of these voices being heard.

It is not just the publishing industry that struggles to grasp the importance of writing gender violence; journalists and the media are also responsible. Lydia House highlighted this. She explained the work her charity does to try and educate those in positions, such as journalists, to communicate with large amounts of people. They give them the skills to better equip themselves when reporting violence against women. Again, as a former journalism student, I cannot recall one instance where we were taught how to properly report such stories. We weren’t taught these skills and looking back, this is very surprising. Lydia highlights just how important a story’s language and pictures are to the representation of the article as a whole. They could inadvertently silence the voices of the women who deserve to have their stories told. Zero Tolerance offers journalists a Handle with Care guide that can help them when reporting these kinds of stories. They also offer a free range of photos that can be used to better represent the different crimes of violence and the victims, as the violence committed against women is not limited to just physical violence.

Moving on to Sokoloff, she wanted to create a character, a female serial killer particularly, to turn the tables, and the violence, against men. She wanted to explore the questions as to why women don’t commit serial murders, and why do men commit this kind of violence and women don’t? Women can be serial killers, but they normally don’t have the sexual aspect to the crimes compared to men. In the end, she creates a powerful character. Sokoloff highlighted that this kind of character, or story, couldn’t have been written ten, or ten fifteen years ago. Attitudes to these kinds of crimes have changed and people want to read about people’s experiences. One only needs to look back at the Weinstein scandal to see this.

Overall, this event highlighted the importance of writing about gender violence, and also the need for there to be a better understanding in certain industries in how to better handle this issue. Progress is being made, but as Madeleine said, there is still a long way to go to challenge the attitudes regarding wring gender violence. This event was informative and very insightful, and I would have recommended it to everyone.