The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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Click image to view full photo essay

Last week I had the privilege of being part of an amazing art exhibition at the Annandale Creative Arts Centre in Sydney, called Creative Conversations with Women of the World: Access Denied. Artists and performers were invited to respond to the theme of women’s inequality globally, in whichever way they chose. Many of the pieces focused on issues such as child marriage and sex trafficking, but I chose to look at something a bit closer to home – the narratives of safety that we expect women to adhere to but which are not part of men’s consciousness.

Obviously it’s pretty unusual for a writer to take part in an art exhibition, and this was the first time I’d done anything like this. I decided to produce an interactive photo essay using Adobe Spark Page (which I wrote about here, back when it was called Adobe Slate) and display it on an iPad.

The story, called The Stories We Tell Ourselves, combines pictures of young men on a night out with the narrative that would be going through a young woman’s head if she were doing the same things: Does this outfit make me look like a slut? Can I run in these shoes? How will I get home? My aim was to create cognitive dissonance in the viewer to highlight how society’s expectations of girls and women when it comes to safety differ so significantly from our expectations of men and boys. This narrative has serious implications for how women and girls view their access to public space – although a woman is still most likely to be assaulted in her home, this narrative of being unsafe in public is so pervasive that many women (especially young women) choose to curtail their public activities. This is supported by evidence, which is cited at the end of the essay. You can click on the image at the top to view it in full.

I wish I could say this was hard to write, but it wasn’t. Every one of the situations in the essay is something I’ve either personally experienced or thought about as a distinct possibility. I imagine most women have, and that’s the tragedy of it.

It was an amazing experience being part of the exhibition and it’s reaffirmed my love for interactive storytelling and new technology. It’s really exciting as a writer to be able to bring my stories to audiences that I wouldn’t normally reach, and I’m grateful to the Annandale Creative Arts Centre for the opportunity.

2 Comments

  1. An interesting photo essay which makes a really strong statement. And, as I’m sure you realise, it is so much worse in some other countries where just being a woman walking along a street on your own after dark is interpreted as an invitation for trouble.

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Of course gender inequality is relative, but I think it can sometimes be hardest to see the problems in our own society because we’re so close to them. Many of the other artists in the exhibition chose to focus on international issues such as child marriage and sex trafficking, which are obviously very serious, but I decided to look at something a bit closer to home because I wanted to highlight that, even though women’s rights in the West have made great strides, we still have a long way to go, and inequality is still pervasive. On the one hand, the perceptions that I’m exploring may seem small, but they have very real consequences in that they add to a narrative that contributes to domestic violence, abuse, sexual harassment and assault, and discrimination against women more broadly. I’d really recommend reading the PLAN International report referenced in the essay (there’s a link at the bottom) if you haven’t already – it reaches some disturbing conclusions, especially around how young women in see their place in society.

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