Tue, May 08, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The feminism flashpoint of the Sydney Writers’ Festival

By Steph Harmon  /  The Guardian

Hours before the cornerstone Sydney Writers’ Festival panel about the #MeToo movement on Saturday night, the Pulitzer-prize-winning author Junot Diaz — with events still booked in Sydney and Melbourne — was on a plane out of Australia.

The day before, another festival guest, writer Zinzi Clemmons, had spoken from the audience during the question-and-answer session of one of Diaz’s panels, questioning the timing of his New York Times essay and asking the writer to reckon with his own alleged history of harm.

She then shared her story on Twitter, alleging he had “cornered and forcibly kissed her” when she was 26.

Clemmons was joined on Twitter by other women — including another festival speaker Carmon Maria Machado — who made their own accusations of his alleged misconduct.

Diaz withdrew from his remaining appearances, and told the New York Times — without referring to the allegations specifically — “I take responsibility for my past.”

As the story unfolded on Twitter, journalists covering the festival were told they were no longer welcome to mingle with writers in the green room. Understandable. For anyone who thought the #MeToo movement had lost momentum, the past few days have proved otherwise.

“Let’s recap,” moderator and former Crikey editor Sophie Black told the audience before a panel that would be interjected by a protester, a whistle-blower and one of Australia’s best-known feminists. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

On Friday last week, for instance, the Nobel prize for literature was canceled amid a sexual assault scandal. The day before that, a Washington Post investigation told of 27 more women who had allegations of sexual harassment against talk show host Charlie Rose.

One of the journalists behind that investigation, Irin Carmon, was on the panel, along with Now Australia’s spearhead and spokesperson Tracey Spicer and the New York Times’ Jenna Wortham. Carmon had been working on the Rose story since 2010, but it was only when the #MeToo movement gathered steam that she was able to get it off the ground.

“[In 2010] the women weren’t ready to speak out and I had to move on, but when people started to tell their own stories on their own terms, I thought: ‘Maybe it’s time to go back to the story, maybe they are now feeling it’s safe enough,’” she said.

Carmon talked about the burden of proof needed to publish a story alleging sexual crimes and the emotional exhaustion it took for a victim to speak out.

The Rose story had taken over her life, she said.

“This is not just happening willy-nilly; people are not just doing it for fun. Having been up close in the machine and the aftermath, it is not fun. It is not glamorous just because a few people went to the Oscars,” she said. “I wish people knew that what reporters publish is just the tip of the iceberg of what we know, because it has to meet such a high standard.”

One of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, for instance, had a recording of her harassment and “still wasn’t believed... So many people don’t have that kind of evidence,” she added.

Spicer agreed. Since her public callout for #MeToo stories on Twitter in October last year, she said that 1,600 people had contacted her with allegations about 100 different Australian men.

“I’ve got beyond a dozen accusations against many of the alleged offenders [who we haven’t yet exposed],” she said. “And even with that, you have to almost act like you’re part of the police force. Is there any clothing with DNA on it? Are there any diaries? Did you tell anyone at the time, a family member or a friend? It’s incredibly difficult in this country.”

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