It’s the morning after Tara Moss appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program and she’s a little worse for wear. It’s not that she couldn’t handle the discussion that covered everything from internet trolls to supertrawlers. It’s not that Tony Burke, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, nor Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate and shadow parliamentary secretary for regional education Fiona Nash were too much to take. No, and maybe she’s let Q&A’s dirty secret slip, apparently there’s an afterparty and given that rock legend Angry Anderson was also a panelist that night perhaps this one kicked on a little bit.
”I was one of the first panelists to leave the green room and I was home late,” Moss says.
”I felt boring leaving early but I have a small child at home and she tends to get up at six so they doesn’t make for too many late nights.”
It was her first time on Q&A and she thoroughly enjoyed participating.
”It’s a really unique program in Australia, a great opportunity for people to discuss important issues, we don’t have a lot of forums like that.”
It was an interesting week for Moss to appear. Broadcaster Alan Jones had accused women of ”destroying the joint” as he widened his attack on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to take in other female public figures including Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
Social commentator Jane Caro picked up on the theme – tweeting ”Got time on my hands tonight so thought I’d spend it coming up with new ways of ‘destroying the joint’ being a woman and all” – launching a public response that was immediate and, at times, rather hilarious.
That night on Q&A Moss herself was #destroyingthejoint.
”I was very amused to see the tweets, I was strangely proud,” she says. ”#destroyingthejoint is now a euphemism for all kinds of women’s contributions. I’m sure that’s what Alan Jones meant to say, that women make a valuable contribution to society.”
While she can see the humour on one side of it, Moss says she’s both surprised and disappointed by some very open examples of misogyny lately, also citing the incident where prominent Liberal Party strategist Grahame Morris called 7.30 host Leigh Sales a ”cow” on ABC radio.
”I’ve been in Australia since 1996, been a citizen for over 10 years and I haven’t seen anything quite like this before,” the Canadian-born Moss says.
”It seems to have a different kind of tone, a certain openness to it … Some people seem to feel it’s quite acceptable to talk this way and that’s been something of a surprise.
”I wonder if it has something to do with progress and all the changes happening globally, as well as in Australia. When there are changes there’s something of a backlash, if this is perhaps part of a backlash, a pushing back.”
Moss says there is important progress being made in regards to the treatment of women but there is still a long way to go.
”It’s one thing for Grahame Morris to call Leigh Sales a cow, that’s totally inappropriate and quite ridiculous. He was called on it and apologised for it but for every one of those incidents women in every day Australian life are getting those sorts of comments or at the very least on the receiving end of those attitudes on a daily basis.
”That’s what concerns me the most, what this points to.
”Is it a big deal that Alan Jones says women are destroying the joint? Well, yes, it is, in the sense that he’s a popular public broadcaster, it does matter. But more than that it represents the issue that’s very real in our culture and that we need to move on from, an old, tired set of ideas seems to indicate that women don’t contribute to society in a valuable way.
”That’s just nonsense. It’s a very old, tired idea and it has to go.”
She says everyone, and not just women, should do all they can to stamp out misogyny.
”We should call out inappropriate comments, like these ones, when they’re made; we should encourage women to follow their dreams, whatever they might be; encourage more women to take part in public life, if they’re able. Obviously it’s not the life everyone would choose but there is real value in encouraging women to not only know they’re able to take part in public life in a significant way but in showing it as something aspirational.” She sees something of this in her role as an author. Her latest book, Assassin, the sixth and final installment in the Makedde Vanderwall series, is out now.
”I’m a crime novelist so it’s a tricky one because the world of crime is depressingly filled with statistics about violence against women … men tend to commit crimes, particularly violent crimes, and women, in the majority of those cases, tend to be the victims. It’s a very depressing reality.
”As a crime writer, being able to capture the reality of what’s going on around you, you do end up writing about violence against women. To balance that it’s important to have strong female characters, ones who are police officers, who are survivors, who are able to deal with this very ugly element of society in a way that’s inspiring and constructive.”
With her heroine Mak, Moss wanted to create a character who was strong and smart ”but slightly naive at the beginning so that I could take her on a journey and give her an arc of sort through the series”.
In the first book Fetish, published in 1999 she was a victim of a heinous crime ”but she became a survivor and through the series and now in Assassin she’s grown and evolved and toughened and is more switched on to what she needs to do to survive”.
Moss says she wanted to create a heroine who was as strong and tough and unapologetic as any hero in fiction and she wanted to give her those qualities the hard way.
”In Assassin she goes to some dark places out of necessity and that’s built throughout the series.”
She has always been interested in those dark places, the dark side of human nature.
”They’ve intrigued me since I was very, very young and I don’t see that changing.
”I think it’s important to explore the darkness and it gives me the ability to be more balanced and enjoy the goodness in people and the lightness in the world.”
Has becoming a mother – daughter Sapphira is 18 months old – changed her writing in any way?
”The hours I write are different,” she laughs, ”but nothing else is significantly different.
”The one thing that has surprised me is how I have changed.
”I’m more fiercely protective, I have more conviction on certain issues than I did before I became a parent, I have more of a sense of being connected to the world and therefore I care even more than I did before about a lot of big issues, and in particular the welfare of women and girls.
”There’s this stereotype of women going soft when they become mothers, it’s pretty unfounded because we’re conflating emotion and maternal love with softness but it’s the opposite. You only have to look at mamma bear and her cubs to get a feeling for that protective instinct.
”Funnily enough I’ve been asked that a lot since I’ve become a mum. It’s a stereotype we play on. It doesn’t give justice to what parenthood is really like for people or what a woman’s journey really is when they become parents.”
How was her journey into parenthood been?
”I tried not to put too much expectation on what parenthood would be like,” she says.
”I kind of figured, as with most things, what I’d read about it wouldn’t be entirely accurate in terms of the personal experience and that’s been the case.
”It’s been a surprise and a delight and I’m enjoying it far more than I had anticipated, even though it was something I wanted.
”I’ve certainly found I’m a less stressed out person, that is perhaps one surprise, less stressed in the sense of regardless of what’s happening in my professional life, I can put down the phone after talking to you, or put down the newspaper, or when I’m finished writing and I close my computer I can turn around and there’s this giggling, gorgeous, little girl.”
Moss was set to appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney this weekend, on a panel with feminists Germaine Greer and Eva Cox, discussing the idea that ”All Women Hate Each Other”.
”I disagree very strongly with the title of the panel, obviously,” Moss says, laughing.
”It’s a title that’s been chosen for precisely one reason, to get debate going … I’ll be interested to hear the thoughts of Germaine and Eva Cox though.”
She is saddened that so many people have bought this line as some sort of biological truth about women, she says.
”It’s a tired stereotype that gets trotted out regularly. Certainly the Samantha Brick episode was classic example. I was in London at the time when her column came out and I can tell you there were negative responses from men and women.
”The men’s responses were the typical ‘I wouldn’t screw you’ response and that’s in polite terms. But when women responded angrily the focus was on women not supporting one another because that was the premise of her article.
”She wrote an article about how all women hated her because she was so beautiful and men loved her so much, found her irresistible, so when women reacted negatively there was a column that followed up, ‘See I was right, see how much women hate me.’
”It was a set up and proved nothing about women, it proved a lot about the ability for provocative and sensational pieces to distract us.”
Provocative is a good word to use to describe Moss. Initially it might be because she is stunningly gorgeous, physically, but it’s only after talking to her that you realise the most provocative thing about her is her sharp mind. She is #destroyingthejoint.
■ Assassin by Tara Moss is published by HarperCollins. $29.99.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.