Label Breaker: Tara Moss' The Fictional Woman

23 May 2014

I was particularly struck by one moment during the launch of Tara Moss' new non-fiction book The Fictional Woman, at Sydney Writers' Festival last night.

Speaking of her past as a gawky teen, Moss held up a copy of the book and turned it toward us, showing us a picture of herself at that time. Smiling broadly, she self-effacingly remarked on her awkward fashion sense. "It was the '80s."

The way she invited us closer after technical difficulties with the microphone, urging the front row to sit cross-legged on the floor, felt like we were at a night of Story Time with Tara, and in a way, we were.

Moss -a doctoral candidate in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney - began her talk with a list of statistics. She expounded upon the lack of female professionals in politics, journalism and the film industry.

These statistics were clear in what they showed - the under-representation of women even in today's supposedly flawless meritocracy. Tara, an admittedly very successful novelist, television journalist, model and now PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, assured us that she too is "one of the stats."

The Fictional Woman represents a melding of the personal and the universal, and Moss tells her own story to also tell the story of women who, like her, have been harassed, insulted and even assaulted, purely because of their gender.

She spoke of a "toxic silence" that leaves women who have been made victims of verbal or physical violence unwilling or unable to speak out. Author, journalist and University of Sydney alumna Julia Baird, introduced and conversed with Tara throughout the night.

The book's striking cover explores these stereotypes forcefully and eloquently. The cover image shows Moss' face painted with words that she has been metaphorically painted with throughout her entire career. Some are marks of pride - mother, feminist, inspiration - and others the bold slander that often gets thrown in the direction of successful women - dumb blonde, gold-digger, bitch. Moss talked of the personal element of her book in addressing the striking cover; "My face, my fictions," she said plainly.

In telling her personal story, Moss sets the record straight. "We all have fictions that are applied to us."

Attendees at the event could choose to have their own faces painted with words of their choosing - positive or negative, true or untrue. When she summarised her intent behind writing The Fictional Woman- "Knock these fictions down" - her words were met with a round of applause.

On the surface, The Fictional Woman is the story of Tara Moss - a celebrity autobiography. But it is far more universal than that.