As a little tribute to finishing the first revision reading of my book, I wanted to address two questions that have come up several times during the process of my writing.
1. Why does your book focus on “subtle” sexual and gender harassment and not the “big” topics of sexual harassment and assault?
When I first started writing A Sacrificial Justice, I wasn’t even going to include sexual harassment of any kind. I wanted to make the entire story about the experience of a whistleblower without diving into the issues that come with sexual harassment. I tend to avoid hot-button topics when I can because I hate conflict. The problem was, as soon as I started writing the book, the sexual and gender harassment became integral. I couldn’t tell the story without it because both my sister’s experience and my own experience included it, so it became a large part of the story.
When people hear about my book, they automatically assume that I’ve included the “big” problems of physical sexual harassment and assault whereas I focus on verbal harassment and belittlement. I believe that we have the big problems in society because there are a lot of little problems that we allow which pave the way. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are common problems in part because we’ve allowed phrases to slip into our vernacular, and we’ve allowed behaviors to saturate our everyday.
The following is an excerpt from A Sacrificial Justice where Marcy has let on to her coworker, Kat, that she was the reporter:
“Oh, Marcy,” Kat groaned.
“What?” My stomach sank.
“You’re the one who reported him, aren’t you. Anna was right. That’s why you acted odd at the holiday party,” Kat didn’t phrase it as a question, and I didn’t think it garnered a response. I could feel my cheeks flush crimson. I had revealed my place in this investigation, but I didn’t care. It was a relief to let someone else who wasn’t directly involved at work know, even if she wasn’t on my side. I started walking again and shoved my fists deep into the pockets of my coat. Even in February, the wind blew bitterly cold, and I took advantage of the girth of my scarf and nuzzled my face back down into it. “Marcy, why did you do it?” Kat walked behind me and caught my arm. I turned around.
“Why? Because I don’t think he should be using people. I don’t think he should be forcing people to write his grants and ghostwrite his manuscripts. He shouldn’t be using his position of power. I don’t think he should be sexually harassing all of us. I don’t —”
“Sexually harassing?” Kat boggled. “Did he touch you or something?”
“No,” I scowled, “but you know as well as I do the comments he makes.”
“But, they’re just words. It’s not like he’s actually done anything,” Kat said.
In stories I’ve read and in stories people have told me, women are often pushed aside and ridiculed when they approach someone to report verbal harassment. Somehow many people don’t think the verbal harassment is a problem, but it is. The words people use are powerful, and people use verbal sexual harassment to assert power over others. Verbal harassment is as much a problem as physical, and if we allow the verbal harassment to slip by, I firmly believe that we’re paving the path for physical harassment as well.
2. Why aren’t you writing a memoir or other nonfiction?
This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked, and the answer is really quite simple: I prefer to write fiction. I’ve always been a fiction writer more than nonfiction, and I just prefer the liberties you can take with fiction. There are also a lot of legal aspects to the experiences my sister and I went through which would make nonfiction a lot harder to accomplish.
And, also – and this is one of the biggest reasons – fiction reaches a different audience. It just does. Fiction has a different way of pulling us into a story and allowing us to see ourselves there too. I personally read more fiction than nonfiction, and I am much less likely to pick up a memoir about an experience than a fictional account. Fiction has the power to reach where nonfiction cannot. By writing a fictional story, I was able to blend my sister’s experience, experiences of other women, and my own experience into one story. My hope is that this creates a more universal experience that women from different backgrounds can read and relate to.
Do you have any other questions about my process or decisions with A Sacrificial Justice? I’m an open book (terrible pun intended ;)).