Review: The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

If you have ever heard Tara Moss speak you will know that she is smart, articulate and passionate. The same goes for her writing as crime novelist, blogger and journalist. The Fictional Woman is her first non-fiction book and it reflects all the things she is known for: thorough research, attention-grabbing human stories and a courage of conviction that you cannot ignore. This is Tara Moss’s manifesto on feminism.

The early chapters are an introduction to her life, personal and professional, from child to model to writer. And then she goes for your heart, opening up about a number of personal experiences that while upsetting at the time she credits for shaping her into the fierce fighter she is today.

As a reader you now feel that Tara is your friend (which is why I’m calling her Tara and not Ms Moss). You are fired up. You want to know more. So she takes this and gives you an education.

Women throughout history are discussed, from their role in literature and mythology and in the present-day media. Conniving femme fatales, bitter old women, virginal young beauties that need protection and brides as property – not to mention warring soccer mums and competitive career women – the gamut of stereotypes are tackled and myths busted.

She presents a call to arms for women (and men) to come together and do what needs to be done for the equality of women in society.

Tara does not go into the semantics over the need for feminism or for women’s rights. She assumes you the reader are intelligent enough to take the information she has presented and understand for yourself why feminism is important. I like this.

The Fictional Woman provides an excellent grounding for the study of feminism. I would love to see it brought into high schools for at least teenage girls to study and discuss, if not boys too. It is an accessible text that tells it like it is without beating you over the head. Unfortunately there were a few things I didn’t agree with so much.
While I recognise the validity of the body confidence movement – I have even written on it myself – and women’s desires to wear whatever clothes/cosmetics/hairstyle they desire I must admit I, not being terribly interested in fashion or my own appearance, connected with her initial points in this chapter. However I felt she began to go off the rails when she started discussing how men should be treated as women are in visual mediums such as advertising – where usually less clothing is more. She argued that while men of power (and by this I mean success) tend to put on clothing and adornments, women tend to take it off. Women display their success by becoming household names and retaining their youthful bodies and men get to grow old with dignity and cover up with suits and luxury cars. The female body is beautiful – but so is the male body, so why do we only see it in its youth? She spent a good amount of the chapter talking about how much she enjoyed looking at the male body.
Now I am not one to disagree. I love the male body too. But it felt like she was focusing on the least important point here. I am not a prude either – I am not telling women to cover up. Do I think there is too much skin on show at the moment? That is an entirely different topic. But I felt like this was her chance to encourage us women to raise the bar – not drag men down to the crappy level we have currently settled for.

There was a bit of repetition. Tara is not a man hater. Not by any means. She gave an interesting history lesson on the status of women throughout the ages, from property to plaything to adornment to member of society. Both in real life and in stories women have merely been something man has used to get what he needed (or wanted). Life is pretty good now for women compared to our ancestors, and yet we still struggle with a cultural force that withholds true equality even though we all know that technically, women are just as capable as men. The lesson delivered is eye opening, particularly for a reader who like me has never engaged in any formal feminist studies.
Unfortunately to drive the point home, the ‘women as property’ lesson is recapped just a few too many times and like a know-it-all teenager I found myself tuning out as soon as I saw the text headed in that direction (which was nearly every chapter).
I understand that while this might be the basis for the women’s liberation movement, we in the Western world are now actually liberated from our property status. I do not think that mulling on our bitterness over this is the way forward in striving to reach equality for ourselves and helping those women who are struggling to or are unable to be free for themselves.

BUT – and I have to put in a great big BUT there – this book has done exactly what it needed to do, and what I believe Tara wanted it to do. It has educated me on the topic of not just feminism but my position in life as a woman. It has made me think about where I stand on certain issues. And most importantly, it has made me bring up these issues in conversation with other people – both men and women (and write about it too!). And therefore I think this book is excellent.

As a writer I particularly liked her musings on the need for strong female characters in stories, not just in support or part roles but as leads. It gave me a lot to think about in planning out my current stories.

And something I cannot agree with more is Tara’s views that people can practise feminism differently and still be feminists. There is no universal rulebook. Everyone has their own interpretation. You can disagree on things and still be fighting for the same cause. In fact, it’s good to be clashing with each other – it means we are determining our own values WHICH IS THE POINT.

So in summary, read it. Get your friends to read it, and your daughter and niece and their friends and talk about it with everyone you know. Tara Moss has done the women of Australia a service.

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