I recently finished reading a brilliant piece of fiction entitled “The Natural Way of Things” by Sydney based author Charlotte Wood. It was the winner of the 2016 Stella Prize and Wood’s previous work has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and The New South Wales Premier’s awards respectively. The work follows the plight of ten women who wake to find they’d been drugged, abducted and sent to a prison camp in the Australian outback to build a road for a corporation. The guards treat them impersonally, and any questioning results in beatings. The compound is surrounded by an electric fence so strong just a simple touch can leave searing burns. Although told from the perspectives of two of the women, Yolanda and Verla, we progressively learn that each of the women were in the prison camp due to being involved in sex scandals of some kind. Maitlynd the school principal’s ‘head girl’… that morose gamer girl Rhiannon, the one called Codebabe and the wanking mascot for every nasty little gamer creep in the country. Then poor cruise-ship Lydia, then Leandra from the army, then … the girl the whole country could despise: little Asian Joy, from last season’s PerforMAXX.” Finally, there are the two point-of-view characters: Verla the politician’s mistress, and Yolanda, who should have known better than to go into that room alone with those footballers. We never get the full stories of these scandals, but then, we know them without being told. They are – and this is the point –all too familiar. What we are lead to understand is that, eerily reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, in a dystopian society, transgressive femininty is punished – any woman who’s seemingly in charge of her own sexual self, is seen as an object of disdain, who’s life simply does not matter.
Just after I finished reading the book another women’s death was announced in Melbourne. A young student from my own Alma Mater, LaTrobe University, was killed whilst walking home from her tram stop. The police made an arrest within days, in a similar fashion to the death last year of Eurydice Dixon. Both of these women were young, conventionally attractive, murdered by someone unknown to them. Both deaths prompted vigils, an outcry of anger from the public in scenes reminiscent of the 2012 death of Jill Meagher, we vowed “never again”, demanded justice and social change.
But what about those of us for whom the dystopia is closer to the reality of our daily lives. Whilst there may be no electric fences or forced labour – whether we wish to acknowledge it or not – the way we apportion justice is in line with the way we see women as transgressive beings. Simply put, it has been almost 6 years since the death of St Kilda sex worker Tracey Connelly, and her murder still remains unsolved. Almost a year after Tracey’s death, a Transgender sex worker from Queensland – Mayang Prasetyo was killed in a murder suicide where the perpetrator was her ex partner. Both times the headlines were full of references to gender, occupation, and in Tracey’s case, drug use. The Courier Mail in particular made constant references to Mayang on its front page as a “Transgender Prostitute” and in one early article refused to use her full name. The Natural Way Of Things for sex workers sees our lives as salacious headlines, and our deaths as inconsequential or often punishment for existing outside the proscribed sexual paradigm. When I devoured Wood’s words, I could not help but think of these two women, and of the other victims of Adrian Bailey – the convicted killer of Jill Meagher, who also happened to be sex workers at work in St Kilda. Every single life lost matters, for sure, but when we examine the way in which deaths are viewed in broader society the dystopian society created by Wood becomes a little closer to reality than we care to admit. It pains me to know that should anything happen to me in either the course of my work or otherwise, that my life simply does not warrant justice, and I am extremely glad to have a community of supporters who are open to challenging The Natural Way Of Things, so that it isn’t natural anymore.
Justice for Tracey,
Justice for Mayang, for Aiia, For Eurydice, for Jill and for the inevitable many more to come.