Madison Griffiths

Madison Griffiths on International Women's Day, exploring Our Bodies, and what's next

'My relationship to all of my critical thought really starts with the body and how different bodies, particularly those people from marginalised backgrounds, interact with the world at large.'

Trigger warning: This article mentions abortion and domestic violence.

Missing Perspectives recently caught up with author Madison Griffiths, who recently appeared on the Our Bodies panel as part of the Sydney Opera House's All About Women event.

Throughout her career so far, the writer and podcast host has been vocal about the importance of women speaking about and having ownership over their bodies.

"I can't speak on behalf of everyone obviously, but a running thread in my work is that my relationship to all of my critical thought really starts with the body and how different bodies, particularly those people from marginalised backgrounds, interact with the world at large," she said. "I think the body is such an important lotus, to look at politics through."

Here, we chat to Griffiths about the dialogue around women's reproductive rights, using literature to explore relationships with our bodies, and the rise of International Women's Day events.

All About Women is in part celebrating International Women's Day – so I wanted to ask how you feel about International Women's Day as a concept, particularly in light of all the work that you've done with women who probably don't have the means or the situations to celebrate, so to speak?

Absolutely. I think the commodification of International Women's Day has been obvious and unrelenting. I think that International Women's Day in much the same way that a lot of these tokenistic days like R U OK day have really become about being able to wear a pink badge or something quite tokenistic that doesn't really delve into the heart of what it means to be a woman and what it means to interact with the world as such. So I worry about International Women's Day and these kinds of initiatives – that they are really just lip service excuses to feel good about not being a misogynist on one particular day. Which is probably a jaded way of looking at it, really, but I mean, how many cupcakes can you eat before feeling that way while women are being killed at the hands of a partner? Once capitalism sinks its teeth into any social progressive movement, it becomes a bit of a sham. 

And I think it's also so interesting, though, that a lot of International Women's Day celebrations and commemorations or markings are solely attended by women. When we know that really the people who need to learn how to take women seriously and treat us with respect aren't typically fellow women, but the men and boys that we have in our lives.

Yeah, 100% – it sort of obscures the wants of women, and makes them so trivial and so tokenistic when really, all we want is agency at the end of the day.

Something that Missing Perspectives is obviously deeply concerned with as an amplifier of women's voices is the state of reproductive rights around the world and we know that you were very brave and brutally honest in sharing your own experience with abortion in your book Tissue. And I wanted to talk to you if you don't mind about what it was like to write that. First of all, was it cathartic in a sense? And then to publish it and share it with the world and receive some of the reactions you did? I can't imagine that's been the easiest time. 

It has been wild. Absolutely. You know, when I had my first article published about abortion, it was only a few days after my abortion, so I was still bleeding and then it was published within six days of the abortion. So by the time it was on the Guardian, I was still in the week post-abortion period. So for me, the impulse to write about these things, it's sort of like a poison you need to get out, you're kind of expelling it and hoping for the best.

I couldn't really understand why, given how deeply common it is, it hadn't been given this kind of spot in literary canon. So I decided to embark on writing a collection of essays about abortion. And the reason I chose essays was to give it that scholarly edge. I wanted to think about it as a philosophical phenomenon. I wrote in the introduction, that for me, it's like I pulled up a chair and asked abortion to sit down and chat with me. And just tell me what, what's been going on, essentially, because it's so deeply political, but it's so deeply not at the same time. And I actually wrote that book in three months! It was my first book and I wanted to not miss my opportunity because I'm a little freak sometimes about that.

I thought there was something really poetic and interesting about writing a book about abortion within the legal framework of an abortion, you know, to capture the essence of labour, within that sense of urgency, felt like something I would the project it became its own beast, which was really fun. 

It was really really fun but an incredibly hard thing to then put out into the world because when I writing about a topic like abortion in the way that I wanted to, I very quickly or very early on, decided I didn't care if the audience liked or didn't like me, and that needed to guide me because I had to capture a woman who posed an experience like this didn't know if she or if she didn't like herself, because of what society had done to that experience. 

So yeah, it was quite confronting and quite honest, but necessarily so.

How do you feel now?

I think now, I feel when I close that book, metaphorically and literally, I very much feel done. I remember when I was writing the epilogue, I felt really sad because I had also been revelling in the excuse to... wallow isn't the right word... but to sit in this space, you know, and to be like, “well, yeah, I'm writing a book.” 

And I'm also processing, but that is far less glamorous to admit so once I wasn't given permission to sit in that space anymore, I grieved for that. But I think that grief wasn't because I needed more time to process my own abortion. I think I was grieving the fact that so many women and people who can fall pregnant aren't actually afforded any legitimacy or time to sit with that, you know, that an abortion happens and they go back. They can't grieve. They can't laugh about it. 

Yeah, that's so interesting, and I think it would be such an interesting thing to chart like your relationship with your body over time and where that ends up and what might trigger to step sideways or step backwards. 

Absolutely, it's just all very charged and all very intense, I guess, is the only word I can think of. But once you've done that, once you've put it out there, and people are coming up to you or expressing opinions about the fact that you had an abortion, it's something that I was more stressed about before it happened. I think it's something I'm feeling particularly right now because the thing about putting your name to something like abortion and something like domestic violence or domestic abuse, is they're not anomalies. They are incredibly common experiences, but to speak on them is an anomaly.

And when you look at the nature of what happens, women do speak up about that stuff, and if I build a career off my trauma, I'm very quickly an unlikable woman. Whereas a man could do that TEDX talk or be an inspiration. I worry that I will reach my "cut-off oppression point" where there's only so many ways I can rub up against misogyny that I can document without seeming a little bit highly strung.

How has all of this informed what you're working on now? Are you working on anything now? Or are you taking a break?

I'm working on the second book at the moment. And I'm looking at power relationships in university systems. So looking at the phenomenon of what happens when professors date their students. And other other grey scale areas of desire, power, consent and abuse. I'm looking outward with this. So I'm conducting a lot of interviews about that to kind of find that common thread. 

It's really, really exciting. I feel very well placed at this stage of my life to be doing something a little bit more journalistic, which is really fun.