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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 July 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 JULY 2016 17 Writer and co-editor of Rebellious Daughters, Maria Katsonis. PHOTO: VENTURA PRESS. Lee Kofman PHOTO: WRITERS EDIT. To women sowing their wild oats The brainchild of writer Maria Katsonis, Rebellious Daughters celebrates and gives voice to women and their tales of rebellion ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS F or all those left wanting more after reading Maria Katsonis’ memoir The Good Greek Girl, a story of breaking out and breaking down, Rebellious Daughters is sure to be your next bedside companion. Unsure of what to expect of her foray into writing, the public servant admits the terrific response exceeded both her own expectations and that of her publisher. So when the push came for a followup manuscript, the self-confessed slow writer admits to being a little anxious. “It was just not going to happen, so I thought ‘surely there must be other rebellious daughters who are writers’,” - and so the concept was born. While most writers can attest to the practice being one of isolation, Katsonis saw this as an opportunity to collaborate, which is where Lee Kofman comes in. Her mentor during The Good Greek Girl, a Greek lesbian from Richmond and rebellious Russian Israeli Jew discovered they had a lot more in common beyond their approach to writing. Given the go-ahead from Ventura Press, the pair set out commissioning other Australian women writers, with one main criteria in mind: diversity. “Some of the responses for The Good Greek Girl, particularly from Greek Australians readers, was about seeing their stories in my story. So we had to make sure that we had a diversity of voices, and a diversity of experiences in our anthology. And so we were very specific that the people we approached were able to support that concept,” she tells Neos Kosmos. And they’ve certainly fulfilled the brief, with writers ranging from Amra Pajalic, Michelle Law and Jamila Rizvi to Rochelle Siemienowicz and Silvia Kwon, to name but a few. “We have Chinese, Korean, Russian, Polish, Greek, Indian, Muslim; we have straight, gay, single; we have people who rebel in their late 40s, we have people who rebelled when they were very young – we’ve got that spectrum,” all of whom she admits responded very positively to the concept and the opportunity to participate. But after agreeing to take part, Katsonis says the challenge finally set in, with the question being: ‘What will I write about?’ “Even though it was my idea, when I think back, I had to step back and really think deeply about ‘what does rebellion mean to me? Why did I rebel?’” For some it was their own rebellion, while for others such as Jane Caro it was the experience of having two rebellious daughters. Whereas Jamila Rizvi, who was always the good girl, opted to tell the story of her rebellious baby sister. Aside from giving voice to women and their stories of rebellion, the anthology’s concept has also ignited a discussion about the difference between the expression of rebellion for females as opposed to men and boys. “Boys can ‘sow their wild oats’, and it’s seen as a rite of passage; of emerging into manhood or however you want to look at it. But for women I don’t think we have that same positivity; the message when we start to explore our sense of self, our sense of identity and what happens when we don’t conform to the stereotypes. We don’t have that equivalent,” states Katsonis. “What does it mean for a woman to ‘sow her wild oats’, without it looking as if it’s kind of derogatory or you’re going off the rails and acting out? Think about those phrases in comparison; there’s very different judgements inherent in each of those.” And so why do females rebel? Is it about attention? Stereotypes? Is it about identity? Or a mix of all? And why is there fear from those who impose the status quo, of women enjoying independence of thought to make their own decisions? If we seek the answers in Rebellious Daughters, the main conclusion that emerges is that rebellion manifests itself in a variety of ways and for various reasons. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘the big act’, for example; it can be about being attracted to the wrong kind of boy, it can be about being attracted to girls instead of boys, it can be rooted in appearance – wearing too much makeup, rejecting the clothing your mother wants you to wear.” Reflecting on her own contribution, ‘A Spoonful of Sugar (or not)’ in which a young Maria rebels against her Greek father’s expectation to have his Elliniko kafe (Greek coffee) ready upon his arrival home, the notion of breaking free resonates. “When I went back to thinking about my own rebellion with The Good Greek Girl, I knew it was an inherent part to my identity. But when I went back again, I started to think about ‘what did rebellion represent to me’, and it was about breaking free,” she confesses. But at the age of 53, Katsonis can now say she’s come to terms with it all; both her sexuality and its initial collision with her cultural roots, and of course her mental state, a realisation which came home for the writer just last month at the Greek and Gay Network’s 21st anniversary celebration. Attending alongside her 80-year-old uncle and 75-year-old aunt, she found herself “dancing the tsifteteli on the Greek dance floor with my theia (aunt) amidst a very queer group of people, and it was as if all of these parts of myself had melded into the one. I thought that inconceivable 20 years ago. “So I think the passing of time and that increasing acceptance of who you are and how others might perceive you as a person brings about a different perspective,” to which she also attributes the maturation that can only come with age. Since first coming out with her own tale of rebellion in 2015, for Katsonis it has been an experience that can be summed up in one word: “rollercoaster”. Her unexpected success saw thousands connecting with her story, giving way to a new public platform on which the writer, who is open about her depression, was expected to perform. But she admits to underestimating the impact the continual telling of her story in front of dozens of people, technically strangers, would have. “I’ve done a lot of public events and the library circuit for quite a while, and I didn’t pace myself, not realising what it was going to be like. So it is almost going into a bit of a persona that is authentic, but I’ve got to maintain that disconnect; I can’t connect with my story every single time.” But then there’s the second aspect to the experience, that which she describes as “the most heartening and supportive of all”, being the way in which readers engage with her story, which ultimately makes the vulnerability that comes with exposure all the more worthwhile. While Katsonis’ road thus far has admittedly been a challenge (a similar sentiment shared among other contributors in Rebellious Daughters, no doubt), there’s no denying the long-term benefits that can often result from rebellion. “You start thinking independently and start making your own choices; even the difficulties that you can encounter with rebellion develop resistance,” she says. Bringing it back to her own experience, she concludes with a message of hope. “I have a very clear and unassailable sense of identity and who I am, and I had to really fight for that in a certain way and carve that out. But it also gives me strength.” * Rebellious Daughters is schueduled for release on Monday 1 August, 2016.
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