Who Runs the World?

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Welcome to the matriarchy

Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good – if you’re a girl. It’s not so great if you’re a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were basically extinct.

At a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel, Roxanne Gay and Durga Chew-Bose described the general attitude of men towards woman as similar to colonisation. This may seem like a strange and rather daring comparison, but with thought, it is more and more intriguing as well as more and more accurate! Men (as a generalised whole) are seemingly always trying to ‘discover’ women’s true selves, with the expectation that they are the first to truly know us. Little do they know, this ‘true self’ they seek, this sense of identity and womanhood has been here the whole time…  There is nothing to ‘discover.’ We have already been self-discovered. I feel like this idea is articulated as an undercurrent through the fictional construct of the Matriarchy in Virginia Bergin’s Who Runs the World?

I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about this book that say it’s troubling because the Matriarchy as an idyllic society is equivalent to ‘man-hating.’ For me, I saw the long-line of female writers who have written about similar all-female societies in the past that are ‘discovered’ by the male outsider (Sarah Scott’s Millennium Hall and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland to name a couple), and the questions that it raises about gender binary within our society. These other classic novels are explorations and I think that’s also what Who Runs the World?  is… It’s an exploration of an identity that rejects socially constructed and media constructed ideals of femininity, and an exploration of what womanhood would be like if we were allowed to discover ourselves without the bombastic influences of these outside forces. I don’t think the book portrays ‘man-hating’ at all, but rather uses the absence of men as a construct for the absence of gender binary.

As well as this, Virginia Bergin’s writing is clever and seems highly calculated. Each word feels meticulously chosen, which, for me, packed an immense punch with each tightly constructed sentence. Animalistic terminology turns Mason, and the male construct by extension, into creatures of instinct and desire. But Bergin unpacks these attitudes, deconstructing each layer with care. Again, these are attitudes that are being explored not ‘man-hating’. It actually troubles me that when people have reviewed this they seem to have adopted the widely accepted viewpoint that sees forms of expression by women as ‘anti-men’ in some way.

Who Runs the World? is a fast-paced and unsettling read that definitely gives us something to think about. Who does run the world? Should they? And is there any way to change this?

All Day YA: My Top 5 #SWF Picks!

Across the 2017 Festival, some of the world’s most curious and compassionate, irreverent but respectful, intelligent and argumentative writers will be offering up their brilliant works as temporary respite, and interrogating the forces that compel us to come together and find sanctuary.

Michaela McGuire
Sydny Writers’ Festival Artistic Director

It’s that time of year again! That time of year when you’re frantically flicking through your diary and the Sydney Writers’ Festival Guide in the hope that nothing that you desparately want to see clashes. There is one day, however, where I know nothing I want to see will clash (phew, that’s a releif!)

You guessed it! All Day YA is back for the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival. This time it makes its home at Riverside Theatres in Paramatta instead of the wharf, but the line-up is so incredible it’ll be worth the trip away from the glorious literary hustle and bustle of the piers for sure!

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Here are my Top 5 picks for the All Day YA program:

1. Love Oz YA Anthology: Begin, End, Begin

I love that Aussie YA is becoming more popular and widespread (which has a lot to do with the incredible #LoveOzYA online movement). It’s important to have authentic, young, and contemporary Australian voices heard, especially because of their diversity! The release of the Love Oz YA anthology Begin, End, Begin is the YA event of the year for me so far and I look forward to hearing what these talented, successful, and passionate Aussie YA authors have to say about their writing and why it’s important to support Australian books and Australian authors. I’m certain it will be an uplifting and celebratory panel about how much there truly is to love about Oz YA!
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2. Defying Expectations: How Female Writers Defy Stereotypes

This is a topic that I hold particularly close to my heart. Being a young woman, and trying to make it as a writer, I am excited to hear what four incredibly successful female YA writers have to say about defying the expectations of gender stereotypes. All four writers on the panel are such inspirations to me! Their writing is raw and genuine and full of life. I am most interested in hearing Amie Kaufman speak about being a female writer who writes female characters that defy stereotypes within the science-fiction and fantasy genres, which are still genres that are overly dominated and defined by male writers, male characters, and gender stereotypes.
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3. Keeping Company: Characters Across a Series

I am looking forward to this panel mainly for Garth Nix! His books have immersed me and challenged me over the years, and I take great inspiration from the ways in which he constructs his characters. James Bradley is a master storyteller of future worlds, and I am a fiend for post-apocalyptic YA (especially when it is done well!), so I’m hoping this panel will include a discussion on characters within dystopian novels. I’m also interested in this panel for my own writing as I am intrigued as to how writers can keep characters interesting and dynamic across multiple novels, and have them leave a special place in our hearts.
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4. More Than Meets the Eye: Diversity in YA Fiction

This is a topic that sparks my interest, especially in YA novels because I believe it’s important to represent diversity to teenagers and young adults in an authentic way. I hope this panel discusses how they each create diverse characters that are not tokenistic, artificial, or stereotypical. I can’t even decide which author I’m most looking forward to seeing from this panel — Sarah Ayoub, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Erin Gough or Will Kostakis. It’s just too hard! Each writer on the panel is a groundbreaking and inspirational figure to me, as I’m sure they are to many other fans out there! These four Australian YA writers are sure to provide an inspiring, funny, and diverse discussion!
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5. Talking Tough Topics with Jennifer Niven

Jennifer Niven is renowned for writing fiction that draws on her own personal struggles and life-altering experiences of growing up. This is what makes her writing so raw and so real for many teens and young adults. I am fascinated by her boldness and her ability to write fictionally about things that she holds so close to her, especially things that might be deemed controversial in some way. There is lots of discussion in the media at the moment about including tough topics in YA literature so I think it will be interesting to hear from a writer who writes about these ‘tough topics’ for teens and what her opinion is about some of the contentious backlash. I look forward to hearing what Jennifer has to say about adapting her experiences and how it feels for her to let them out into the world to be read, interpreted, and discussed.
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A big thank you Sydney Writers’ Festival for giving me the opportunity to write for them. You can view the original post by them and see the rest of their amazing line-up here.