Talking with GSS students, on being a shameless butterfly ...
My talking-with-students book tour has officially begun! Golden Secondary School librarian, Neelam Bains, was so kind to organize my first stop in my home town, Golden BC. I spoke with grade 11 and 12 students about both my novels, with a focus on my latest one, Butterflies in the System. Then we had some fun with character-building, as I gave a crash course on how to build an intriguing protagonist, and students put their creative minds to work. It became clear by the end of the afternoon that I was sharing the room with a number of aspiring novelists.
Talking about the subject matter in my novels is always a personal experience for me, as both my novels were inspired by real events in my life and include sensitive topics, such as sexual assault, depression, youth detention, and lack of mental health resources. I'm often asked why I chose to write each of my novels and, so far, my answer has been twofold:
1) To help bring awareness about the above mentioned sensitive topics, and 2) self-therapy (in a nutshell!).
But as I spoke with GSS students, telling them all about how my novels relate to my own life experiences, the glaringly obvious struck me. There is a third reason I write about personal trauma. As I write and talk about these tough topics, I rid myself of misplaced shame and encourage others to do the same.
Shame. It is what keeps victims struggling in silence. It keeps aggressors from being held accountable. And it has, quite effectively, kept political and educational conversations that address sexual violence, youth protection, and mental health to a minimum. But where does this shame come from? Shame implies fault, while the term victim implies lack of fault. So why is it that victims of violence, especially when it involves sex, feel ashamed?
The answer lies in society itself, and which behaviours and situations we (ourselves and the people we value) deem shameful. It took 30 years before I finally felt comfortable enough to speak openly about my own experience with sexual assault. There are many sources of shame teens have to contend with. For example, getting shit-faced drunk or stoned, losing control, not remembering accurately, breaking parental or social rules, losing one's virginity by force - these are all things that can cause a feeling of shame. It was these things and the shame associated with them that kept me quiet, suffering alone, while my aggressor remained free to repeat his crime.
The important thing to note is that shame is a social construct. It is us (backed by our culture, religion, & values) that have placed the "shame" label on "victim of sexual violence." Therefor, it is also us who can remove it. Shame around sexual violence will only change when we make it OK to talk about sexual violence, and the only way to make it OK is to talk loudly and unashamedly about our personal experience. Victims are NOT EVER at fault. The more victims shout-out without shame, the stronger the message will be that sexual violence is not acceptable and that aggressors must and will be held accountable.
Of course, shouting-out can take many forms. My tool is writing and talking with students, others use art, poetry, photography, drama, music, and more. Whatever tool you choose to amplify your voice, power be with you! You are loved, not alone, and YOU are awesome!!!
Read my HuffPost opinion piece on 1980s rape culture here: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jane-powell/rape-culture-1980s_a_23558060/
Check out my website for more about me & my writing: https://www.janepowell.org
Read more about Butterflies in the System (including the first 4 chapters): https://www.janepowell.org/post/the-story-that-inspired-butterflies-in-the-system
Read the first few chapters of Sky-bound Misfit: https://www.janepowell.org/post/read-chapters-1-6