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  • Shame, Trauma, and the Body After #MeTooThe Year in Australia
  • Emma Maguire (bio)

[Shame] is the emotion that supports and breathes life into every form of structural oppression we have ever created. It is the way that systematic unfairness gets under our skin and into our blood and bones.

Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Since the #MeToo hashtag exploded in 2017, there has been a wave of women's personal narratives of sexual trauma in published forms, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. In Australia, Kathryn Heyman's Fury (2021) tells the story of failed justice and unresolved trauma after rape. Gemma Carey's No Matter Our Wreckage (2020) explores online grooming and grief. Ellena Savage's essay collection Blueberries (2021) offers experimental and intellectual reflections on girlhood, womanhood, and various personal and political traumas, and Veronica Gorrie's Black and Blue (2021) traces how structural traumas of race and gender have a compounding effect that must be acknowledged in the context of Aboriginal experiences of self and identity in a racist settler colony. These texts are striking examples of women's personal storytelling, and they each—for better or worse—use lived experience to reach outwards to important social problems, and in doing so, include or consider lives beyond the writer's own. Importantly, they point to a shift in #MeToo discourse: seeing the issue of sexual violence problematized and elaborated beyond the initial surge of women publicly raising their hands to illuminate the horrifying scale of the problem. Many worried that the wildfire of #MeToo would burn out quickly, leaving no lasting effects, but the continuation of these stories in forms such as memoir shows that women are using personal storytelling to capitalize on the urgency of the hashtag moment to draw out and push forward discourse around sexual violence. These texts serve to sustain public attention and [End Page 1] increase popular understanding of this complex form of gendered violence, and they also reflect a continued public interest in women's testimony.

Lucia Osborne-Crowley's My Body Keeps Your Secrets (2021) offers one such site of outward-reaching auto/biographical engagement with trauma, and its unique approach as well as the material it covers make it worthy of consideration as an important work of life writing. As a teenager, Osborne-Crowley was raped at knifepoint by a stranger. She told no one about the assault, and over the decade that followed, her body began to break down in ways that mystified doctors. When she finally disclosed the rape and began treatment for trauma, she began to piece together how trauma had impacted her mind as well as her body. Osborne-Crowley told her story at length in her first work of life writing, the memoir I Choose Elena (2019). But in My Body Keeps Your Secrets, she broadens her scope to include many others' stories alongside her own, with a focus on shame, trauma, and the body. The book takes its name from Bessel van der Kolk's landmark work on trauma and illness, The Body Keeps the Score. A journalist by trade, Osborne-Crowley puts her occupational skills of research, interviewing, and reportage to work. She interviewed more than one hundred women and nonbinary people (30), and in the book she draws together a multitude of those stories, linking them through themes of sexual violence, secrecy, shame, illness, and oppression. Together these stories form a chorus that echoes the multivocal #MeToo moment, framed through Osborne-Crowley's autobiographical voice and story. In the introductory chapter, she urges feminists to leverage the energy behind #MeToo to move the conversation forward:

Here's what I want next from #MeToo. I want to move on from the men we call monsters and start talking about the greyer space. The smaller acts of shame transmission. … I want us to understand that carrying other people's shame affects a whole life. I want us to keep watching the woman after the bad thing happens. … I want us to see how it keeps affecting her. … I want to connect the rape to the illness to the aggressive Hinge date to the screaming argument with a man you thought you were...

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