By stages Eve. She is rich, shiny and beautiful with “high and prominent cheekbones that assert themselves as contradictions”. Eve introduces Michaela to thinkers like Susan Sontag. They debate the feminist merits of casual sex. Love and virtue captures the almost erotic thrill of being a young woman, alone and adrift, who finds an intellectual equal in another young woman.
But their bond, which excludes those who don’t like them, contains a vein of toxicity. At a party, Eve passes off Michaela’s anecdotes as her own. She laments capitalism in vegan sneakers that cost “several hundred dollars”. Like Elena and Lila in Elena Ferrante’s My brilliant friend, Touchstone for Reid, their spark feels charged, ready to explode.
“I think it’s important to talk about toxicity,” says Reid. “Michaela and Eve don’t compete with boys, they compete with each other because they think space for women is limited. But having a rivalry with someone means that you take yourself and your ambition seriously.
In a philosophy class called Morals and Mores, 18-year-old Michaela is drawn to a teacher twice her age, Paul Rosen. In front of a pub, she chases him. As you might expect, they start to sleep together. Under patriarchy, young women are socialized to see their intellect through the prism of male authority.
Writes Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan in “We can’t sleep with your students,” a chapter of her 2021 book The right to sex: “Where a student’s desire is rudimentary – do I want to be like him or have him? – it is too easy for the teacher to point it in the second direction. ″
Reid says, “At first, Michaela didn’t really see Paul as a person. She is living out a fantasy that she is conditioned to want because he is powerful and a teacher and that proves that she is intelligent.
Consent, as critic Parul Sehgal puts it in a June 2021 press release New York Times article, derives from consent, Latin for “to feel together”. What does it mean to “feel together” when two people, whether friends or lovers, feel the weight of cultural forces in such different ways?
Reid says, “I think when we talk about consent, what we are really talking about is the women’s agency. Their right to feel that they are in control of their body, they are in control of their life, and they are in control of the narratives around these things.
Love and virtue begins with a meeting in a bar: “A boy and a girl, hug each other, limbs released with alcohol.” There is a sexual relationship in his dormitory. She throws up in her trash can.
The incident evokes testimonies, offered by former and current Australian high school students, posted online by activist Chanel Contos.
And that happens during O-Week. The period, according to The red zone, a 2018 report from End Rape on Campus Australia, coincides with one in eight attempted sexual assaults at residential colleges at the University of Sydney. In May of this year, the NSW government took a historic step towards an affirmative consent model, thanks to the tireless work of advocates.
In Australia, our cultural obsession with the “good guy”, the “superior guy” gives rise to the myth that “good guys” don’t do bad things.
Love and virtue invites the reader to bury the incident. Then, in a flash of memory, Michaela learns that she is the dorm girl during a drinking game led by Sackers, a fan of public humiliation. The “boy”, however, is Nick. He has “calm eyes and curly hair that matches his Italian last name.”
He is a “good guy”, all in all more thoughtful, less titled than the friends with whom he went to school. But, in Australia, our cultural obsession with the “good guy”, the “superior guy” gives birth to the myth that “good guys” don’t do bad things. This kindness is a matter of individual integrity, rather than systems that invite abusive behavior.
“There’s this idea in philosophy that most people are more interested in looking good than actually being good,” says Reid. “When Paul breaks up with Michaela, he says ‘I don’t want you to hate me.’ I think the men who have had these island educations in private schools haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to reflect on their place in it. The world. Maybe if you grew up in an environment where there are no material limitations, you take it for granted that you will be a good person. She pauses. “My take-away point is that most people are not good people, being a good person is really, really hard.
Michaela cannot decipher the significance of the incident at O-Week. But Eve does it for her. When Michaela refuses to be interviewed for an article about toxic culture in the university’s residential colleges, Eve appropriates her friend’s experience, passing it off as her own. It’s a private violation of consent that does a huge public good, sowing the seeds for institutional change and making Eve a famous women’s rights advocate on campus. The culture of misogyny she exhibits isn’t confined to campus – the boys she involves, we now know them all too well, are graduates to work in law, media, and politics.
Reid wrote Eve’s Betrayal – the idea that sparked the book – to explore another form of power.
“I was trying to show how easy it is to think of power when it fits into an existing narrative,” she says. “Eve is quick to say that Michaela’s relationship with Paul is bad because of the power imbalance. But Eve is really rich and really beautiful, and those are the types of power that are harder to see. “
Eve is also white. Throughout history, whiteness, when associated with class privilege, is itself considered a kind of virtue. A June 2021 report from the Harmony Alliance and the Monash Migration and Inclusion Center found that 42% of migrant and refugee women had survived physical and sexual violence. And 2020 figures from Our Watch revealed that three in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have experienced violence from a male partner.
To me, Eve’s choices also reflect a society that still requires survivors to match the types of credibility and capital that she already values.
Reid, who is working on his second novel, wants his readers to be less confident in their opinions at the end of his book than at the beginning.
“Another tension that I try to wrestle with in the book concerns the difficulty of making moral judgments,” she says. “Very often the way we judge others by asking ourselves ‘is what you have done is moral?’. I think the question we need to ask [should be]: “Is the course of action you have taken the most moral considering all the lines of conduct available to you?” “. I think Eve’s actions have good consequences. I accept that you can be crippled by the nuance and never do anything. We need people who think in black and white. She smiles. “I just don’t think these people are inclined to be novelists.”
Love and virtue is published September 29 and is published by Ultimo Press.
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