I had been writing Fat Mo for a while. Quite a lot of it went through the Lancaster MA critique system and became part of my portfolio. But I was never ready to publish it either as a standalone short story or as part of a collection of similar pieces. The time was not right; the collection was too hotch-potch; there was no obvious market.
Then Weinstein happened. #MeToo happened. Women were suddenly saying out loud what so very many of us knew to be true – that getting on in the world meant getting on with men and doing what they said we must. That not all of them had our best interests at heart was obvious but had to remain an unspoken feature of progression because the most likely outcome of any complaint would have been shaming at best and exclusion from our career paths at worst. Actually, not at worst. Women have died at the hands of entitled, controlling men and still do.
Gradually though, some voices began to break through – often famous ones, glamorous ones, ones belonging to people with high aspirations. Not yet the small voices of ordinary women in ordinary jobs trying to climb the ladder while seedy men stuck their hands up their skirts. It was time for Fat Mo.
So I put her story together with two ancillary stories; Merv, her boss/abuser, and Pauline, a woman who sees much but is never noticed because she is just the cleaner. Together, they offer an insight into the grooming process in a small-time 1970s north of England office. The power of carefully constructed charisma; the gossip; the isolation of the victim; the sense that everyone knows and feels free to sneer because, for the men there’s the fantasy of doing that themselves, and for the women the moral superiority of not being ‘like her’. No wonder women have not spoken up. No wonder so many have kept their experiences quiet, often for decades.
So when Dr Christine Blasey Ford spoke up; an academic, a person more used to the lecture theatre than the red carpet variety, much of the world listened. And let’s be clear, listening does not mean prejudging guilt or innocence, it means hearing someone’s side. Investigations are ongoing and it is just possible that, while she is right about the attack, she is wrong about the attacker. We will have to wait for the outcome.
The President of the United States, a man of supreme power and influence, while saying much the same thing about innocence and guilt, was not inclined to wait. He felt free to mock Dr Blasey Ford in a disgraceful display of partisan politicising of this dreadfully sensitive and difficult situation. He performed as only he can his impression of Dr Blasey Ford’s account in much the same way he parodied a journalist with cerebral palsy. A performance designed to intimidate, humiliate, and ultimately discredit her testimony. In case you have not seen it, here is the video.
In doing this, he tells every woman and every young girl – in fact anyone who speaks out about sexual assault against someone of power – that their voices are not to be heard, that the notion of ‘hearing’ their account is lip service, that humiliation is the proper outcome. At the same time, he tells every powerful man in whatever context they happen to exercise their power, and every part of the justice system that they need not take women’s complaints seriously, that this is how to behave instead.
It is hard to know what to say about a president who will so unnecessarily wield his own power in this way. I am just grateful he is not mine.
Fat Mo is on sale now. All the proceeds go to a UK charity that supports people with intellectual disabilities who have experienced sexual abuse. I hope you feel moved to buy it for that reason alone, but I hope also that you choose to read it for the voices of victims whose lives are too small for most people to notice, then maybe to be the one who notices and acts.