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#MeToo revelations and loud, angry men: the feminism flashpoint of Sydney writers festival

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For anyone who thought the movement had lost momentum, the last few days have proved otherwise

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 in Melbourne was on a plane out of Australia.

The day before, another festival guest, writer Zinzi Clemmons, had spoken from the audience during the Q&A of one of Diazs panels, questioning the timing of his recent New Yorker essay and asking the writer to reckon with his own alleged history of harm.

She then shared her story on Twitter, claiming 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, the green rooms no journalists policy was enforced with more vigour. Understandable. For anyone who thought the #MeToo movement had lost momentum, the last few days proved otherwise.

Lets 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 Australias best known feminists. Weve got a lot to talk about.

On Friday, for instance, the Nobel prize for literature was cancelled 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 Australias 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.

Tracey
Tracey Spicer, Irin Carmon, Jenna Wortham and Sophie Black during a panel discussion. Photograph: Jamie Williams

[In 2010] the women werent ready to speak out, and I had to move on, she explained. But when people started to tell their own stories on their own terms, I thought, Maybe its time to go back to the story, maybe they are now feeling its safe enough.

The movement has made it easier, she said, but its still not easy.

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, she said, had taken over her life. 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.

Later, 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 Weinsteins accusers, for instance, had a recording of her harassment and still wasnt believed … So many people dont have that kind of evidence.

Spicer agreed. Since her public call-out for #MeToo stories on Twitter in October, she said 1600 people had contacted her with allegations about 100 different Australian men.

Ive got beyond a dozen accusations against many of the alleged offenders [who we havent yet exposed], she said. And even with that, you have to almost act like youre 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? Its incredibly difficult in this country.

So whenever you read these stories or see them on television, you know that they have been robustly researched.

Australias restrictive defamation laws work against the whistle-blowers, as do varied pressures inside newsrooms, which have been hampering investigations at home. Spicer has spent the past six months connecting the strongest of the stories with news outlets around the country but her efforts, she revealed, havent always been welcome.

This is a conversation thats not going to be very popular in this room, but its something Ive been wanting to say publicly for a long time. When we started doing these stories in this country … we had the support of Fairfax and the ABC, and they were tremendous, she said.

But recently, in the last two months, Ive seen mainstream what we would call old media organisations starting to pull away from some of these stories … Not only is it costly, not only is it difficult because of defamation, but its getting a little bit too close to our executives. And that is a true story.

For that reason, she has been taking stories to a broader array of outlets, including Guardian Australia, the Financial Review and News Corp. If you want to keep reading and hearing about these stories, contact the media outlets in Australia and tell them, she said.

At least one of the people who had told their story to Spicer was in the room; she found her way to a microphone during the audience Q&A. I came to Tracey with my story last year and she followed up with me. She said, Youre not the only victim of this man but we just cant get the story up …

You shouldnt have to be sitting on a stage, putting out a call, asking audience members to give you the resources to bring these man to justice, she continued. I have seen you done so much more than what your job description has asked you, and honestly, the responsibility lies with the media organisations.

Following the Diaz allegations, the panel also discussed so-called trial by Twitter: women making allegations against men on social media or blogs, sidestepping journalism and the justice system.

I dont agree with people naming people on social media, Spicer said, but I understand why people are [doing it]. They feel a frustration with the gatekeepers.

It was even more difficult for women who didnt fit the mould of the victims whose stories have so far been prioritised: white, privileged, straight and famous women. I dont think were dealing or talking about it at all the way we should be, in terms of non-white, hetero normative, straight [victims], said Wortham, who co-hosts the Still Processing podcast on race and pop culture.

Wortham also spoke about the toxicity of open secrets, referencing the shitty media men list which privately circulated New York late last year before it was exposed.

The shared document named men whose allegedly inappropriate and harmful behaviour had, in some cases, been known by many.

I had gone to drinks with those people, I had been alone with them, Wortham said. I was a young 25-year-old who didnt know any better, and Id been in situations that could have potentially been very difficult. And because they were open secrets, the onus was on me to know that that was a dangerous situation.

But she hadnt been tapped into the whisper network. Either I wasnt successful enough or I wasnt interacting with the people who were privileged enough to have that information and pass it along to me. I wasnt in the right place on the hierarchy of knowledge …

Weve developed these coping mechanisms to deal with these societal problems that are really insufficient, and put the [onus] on us.

The panels penultimate moment was a welcome surprise: notable Australian feminist and writer Eva Cox stood at a microphone with a question for the panellists.

Its not How do we stop that man from doing that to us?, but How do we stop men feeling like theyre entitled to?, she said.

We have to start looking at what we are doing to little boys to make them feel entitled. We need to sit down and start addressing the social problem, because we are still the second sex. And unfortunately, a lot of what were doing to fight this … is using a male-driven system to try to screw a male-driven system. It doesnt work.

As the applause died down in the audience, a lone voice could be heard from the front: a man who had been barred from the microphone during the Q&A was standing in front of the stage and screaming aggressively at the strong, accomplished women who sat in front of him.

HOW MANY INNOCENT MEN WILL GET TAKEN DOWN? he yelled, as he was escorted out. GEOFFREY RUSH IS AN AUSTRALIAN ICON!

The four panellists had spent the last 60 minutes illustrating why this movement wasnt going away. It took just one man, in one second, to succinctly prove their point.

  • An earlier version of this article implied journalists were removed from the green room following the Junot Diaz allegations. According to the festival, the green room was intended as a journalist-free space

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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