Today we want to introduce you to another one of Mamamia’s better known readers – Tara Moss.
She’s an author. She’s a model. And in this interview she answers questions about sexism, breastfeeding and what it takes to write a sell-out novel.
MM: You started modelling as a teenager before moving into your writing career. Lately you’ve started blogging and have appeared on Q&A and in writers’ festivals – do you ever find people make assumptions about you and your intelligence, based on the fact that your career started in modelling?
TM: Stereotypes about models certainly affected my early publishing career – I was even dared to take a polygraph test to prove that I write my own novels – but 13 years and 8 novels later it isn’t much of an issue. I’ve also found that blogging allows me to express myself and reach people directly in ways that were not available to me earlier in my career. I’m fortunate that I have the platform that I do, so that those negative stereotypes have less power.
MM: You’ve done some quite hands-on research in preparation for writing your books, including being choked unconscious and being set on fire. Why do you feel it’s so important to take your research to these extremes? Is there anything you’ve said no to, or aren’t willing to do in the name of research?
TM: I will do just about anything to get a story right. I always weigh up the potential risks before I engage in any hands on research. I’m not keen to hurt myself, so I take calculated risks. To me, nothing can replace lived-in experience and those scenes in each of my novels jump off the page. Research is a big part of my inspiration as a writer and I have something of an obsession with facts and authenticity. Even my paranormal series is filled with research of ancient mythology and folklore.
Truth is stranger than fiction, after all.
MM: How did you become so interested in crime and crime literature? What do you enjoy about writing in this genre, given its dark and often graphic and violent nature?
TM: The crime genre allows us to explore the dangers in the world from the comfort of our armchairs. I think the popularity of the genre, from crime shows to novels, shows a need, as human beings, to explore darkness and perhaps even prepare ourselves psychologically for the real threats that exist in our lives. As a writer, the crime genre allows me to write about social issues, while creating a suspenseful story.
MM: How would you define your kind of feminism?
TM: My feminism is an inclusive one. Being a feminist is not about how you look, what you wear, what your job is or whether or not you work. It is about what you think and what you do about it. If you believe that men and women should have equal rights and equal opportunity, and you are willing to stand up for those rights, you are, in my mind, a feminist.
MM: 2012 has, in many ways, been a difficult year for women in public positions, with many being on the receiving end of sexist/misogynistic remarks. Being a well-known female yourself, have you encountered sexism?
TM: Like a lot of women, I have encountered sexism, been threatened with sexual violence and experienced some ‘close calls’. I’ve been chased, grabbed, locked in rooms, lunged at and threatened. My response to sexism is to stand up for myself, or call it out when it is aimed at others. When attacked, I fight, run and report.
Unfortunately, threats, assaults and violence against women are far too common. It concerns me that it has been deemed acceptable by some powerful men in the public eye to use sexist and derogatory language to refer to women. In my view it sends a dangerous message and creates a culture where sexism and even misogyny are acceptable. It’s not good enough.
MM: You’re UNICEF Australia’s patron for Breastfeeding for the Baby Friendly Health Initiative. What would you like to see happen in Australia in order for breastfeeding to be better supported? Have you ever encountered a lack of support in your own experience of breastfeeding?
TM: I was initially surprised when I encountered resistance to breastfeeding and the usual taboos about feeding children out of the house – the old public breastfeeding issue. Unfortunately, although most health professionals recommend breastfeeding, and the Australian government, UNICEF and World Health Organization are trying to encourage higher breastfeeding rates, a lot of women who want to breastfeed still don’t get the support they need, whether that is within the health system, the family or the community. The most recent poll showed that although over 90% of Australian mums want to breastfeed, the majority of women quit before they want to, mostly due to external pressures or lack of support when problems arise.
My own situation involved a rough start and a lot of unhelpful mixed messages. I was told repeatedly by a family member that there was something ‘wrong’ with my milk and I was also told by a pediatrician in hospital that I needed to use formula ‘top-ups’, even though she was only 2 days old and my milk could not have come in yet. I did follow that advice until my daughter became sick because she was allergic to the dairy-based formula, as it turns out. In the end I had some excellent support from my local nurse, and I was able to breastfeed successfully. The first 6 weeks were scary, while Sapphira was sick, but now my daughter is healthy and we still enjoy breastfeeding each day. It is our special bonding time and I’m very grateful for every minute of it.
I’d like to see a more rational, evidence-based conversation about breastfeeding, and more support for women regardless of whether they chose to, or can breastfeed. Milkbanks should become more readily available for those who are struggling, but want breastmilk for their children. I also feel that we need to do more to support the majority of women who choose to breastfeed, and do so in public. It is unreasonable and unhealthy to expect women to hide away every couple of hours when their child needs to eat, yet many women are still asked to cover up or to leave cafes and public places – despite the fact that public breastfeeding is protected by law. As the patron for the BFHI program, which has had great success internationally in helping women who want to breastfeed, I’d also like to see more hospitals become ‘baby friendly’ accredited. I’ve seen how their policies can make a positive difference.
MM: There is a growing sentiment that women are each others’ own worst enemies and stand in the way of each others’ success. Do you think that’s true?
TM: This is an absurd stereotype. I recently spoke at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on this topic, with Germaine Greer, Eva Cox and Dannielle Miller. The panel was called ‘All Women Hate Each Other’. The different views were fascinating, but one thing we agreed on is that this stereotype is part of a double standard. No one says that ‘all men hate each other’ or that ‘men are their own worst enemies’, yet men are far more likely to cause injury or death to each other – and to us. Males are 400% more likely to commit an offense intended to cause injury than are females. About 90% of homicides are committed by men, and 80% of domestic homicides involve a male perpetrator and female victim. Men not only commit over 90% of homicides, but they are also far more likely to be murdered. In 2010 in Australia, for instance, males between the ages of 15 and 24 were more than twice as likely to be murdered as females in the same age group. Overwhelmingly, the killers of these young men were other men.
You know what they say, all men hate each other.
I wrote on the subject here.
MM: What was the most disappointing moment or biggest setback in your career? How did you recover?
TM: I am constantly trying and failing, but I can’t pin point one particular career setback that was worse than any others. Most of my failures have been opportunities to learn and evolve.
The toughest period in my professional life was certainly my first 3 years as a published author. I have wanted to be a novelist since I was a kid. It was my childhood dream. Writing my first novel was hard work, as novels always are. And when I was published in 1999 I was hit with a rumor campaign suggesting that I was just a dumb model and could not have written my own book. It was incredibly dispiriting and frustrating at the time, not least because it was before the days of social media and blogs, and it was not so easy for me to express myself and cut through those stereotypes. In 2002 I was dared by The Australian to take a polygraph test to prove that I write my own work. I passed and ended up with a 30 page report telling me that I am an author. The rumors mostly died down after that and 8 novels later it isn’t generally an issue.
MM: Fess up. What’s your favourite chain store and what was the last thing you bought?
TM: I am a fan of the Australian brand Jacqui E, which is one reason I agreed to sign on as their face. I find their clothes suit my shape, particularly as I am 39 now, and some of my pre-baby wardrobe no longer fits. I like to pair their suits and basics with some of the more wild things in my wardrobe, too. A Vivienne Westwood skirt and Jacqui E top and suit jacket is my favorite professional combo at the moment. I also like their dresses. It’s nice to have things fit off the rack.
MM: If Australia became a Republic tomorrow, who would you choose as our head of state?
TM: I would be interested to see who puts their hand up for the job and what they would campaign on. I have no political affiliations, but some of the politicians who have impressed me lately include Tanya Plibersek, Malcolm Turnbull and Penny Wong, among others. I am interested in intelligent, well thought-out policy and debate, and a focus on what is fair and humane in terms of social justice.
MM: Can work life balance exist? Have you found it?
TM: Absolutely. I am constantly adjusting and re-adjusting to find that balance, but I do achieve it despite a busy schedule. When I am professionally engaged and challenged, my body and mind are as healthy as is reasonably possible, and my family and I are healthy, safe, and able to share time doing things together that we enjoy, that to me is balance. There is a lot of happiness in that balance and I am grateful for it.
Work/life balance is an issue that affects everyone. We must all balance work and play, responsibility and personal fulfillment, and this is certainly a challenge as we increasingly work longer hours away from home, often in sedentary jobs behind desks, and often with an expectation that we should be on call even when we are at home. We need to all work together for a healthy balance as individuals and as a community. I’d like to see more of a focus on health, balance and shared responsibility, so that, for instance, balancing family and work life is not viewed as a problem solely for mothers to grapple with, which is how the issue is often framed. And I do hope that when my lovely husband publishes his first novel next year, he is asked how he juggles writing with being a father…just once.