Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I am a feminist activist, visual artist, performance artist, art critic, essayist, and author. Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor is my debut book. Since I started writing again in 2014, it is as though all of the writing I have done has been in preparation for the writing of this book.
Like a lot of writers, I started writing as a child. However, I haven’t been writing and honing my skills consistently since then except for in school with creative compositions and essays. In my early adulthood, except for some journaling, I wrote essays at university and became particularly skilled at the formal aspect of essay writing. It was as though, like a painter who begins with figurative drawing, I was learning the rules of essay structure and grammar so that I could break them—which is exactly what I have done and, as I write and think about it now, this breaking of rules has happened in tandem with my development as a revolutionary. My writing now, as with all of my art, is about revolution: being a contributing voice to an ideological revolution—which is the only way we are going to have lasting change in the West (which, tragically, because of globalization, pretty much means the world). I often joke that I write the same thing, over and over again, in different contexts. After all, that’s what the other side has done for millennia! Repeat and convince. Repeat and maintain. We have a lot of repeating to do until everyone hears and believes us, the same way the majority of society believes the dogma they are fed daily that is lived as unbroachable reality.
I started writing again for real in 2014. One evening, I was at a Graham Gilmore exhibition at a big gallery in Vancouver Canada. At that time, I was immersed in my visual art and, like most (or all) visual artists who have yet to get the coveted representation from a commercial gallery, I had an ulterior motive to go to Graham’s (amazing) exhibition: I wanted to talk with the gallery director and give him my card so that (just maybe) he would be interested enough to check out my work and (please god-of-the-almost-impossible, succeed as an artist in my lifetime) represent me.
I wandered around the gallery innocently checking out Graham’s paintings; I came up with a clever question about gender; I spied the gallery director; I told him I have a question about one of the paintings; we walked over to it together; I asked him my clever question holding my card strategically in the hand where he couldn’t see it yet.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Graham will love that question! I must introduce you to him.” My desperate undiscovered artist’s heart fell. I was escorted over to the famous artist wreathed with his admirers. The gallery director ushered me through the eager mass, all vying for Graham’s attention. Yes, Graham loved my question. He asked for my card. I reluctantly gave him the one I had poised opportunistically in my hand for the gallery director. We chatted a bit. Other admirers jabbed the circle for his attention. I went home, elated by experiencing his exquisitely wrought and culturally important paintings, but with a heavy heart about yet another failed attempt of even getting the slightest interest in my own work.
The next day I received an email from Graham.
“I want you to write a comprehensive article on my oeuvre. Do you want money? Art? Both?”
“But I’m not an art critic. I’m a visual artist like you.”
“I don’t care,” he responded as the delightful eccentric he is. “I want something different.”
So, I did. I wrote my first piece of art criticism. It’s called: “Excavations: A Feminist Resistance Artist Dialogues with Graham Gilmores Love Sic.” The article was published in Border Crossings, the most important art magazine in Canada. I was even paid over $1000.
“Oh, I guess I can still write,” I said to myself. Since then, I have written many articles of art criticism and revolution. You can find the links to some of them on my website under essays.
What inspired you to tell your story? What message do you hope readers will take away from your book? What is one message or piece of advice you’d give to anyone who is struggling with experiences similar to or like the ones you share in your book?
As stated above (here is an opportunity for strategic repetition): contributing to the revolution of a culture built with exploitation inspired me to tell my story as it does everything I create. However, the narrative thread of Victim was also inspired by (or one could say based on) the real-life experiences of sexual violence that I have personally been victimized by and survived. It was also inspired by the revolutionary knowledge—embodied knowledge—that I gained by having been victimized by and survived that violence. This can be seen as ironic because typically one thinks of living through sexual violence as a negative, traumatizing, experience. And, of course, it is. And yet, as I write in Victim:
“One of the main effects of my personal victimization has been an acute awareness of injustice, especially regarding sexual assault. Whenever I watch or see or read or hear about rape, prostitution, or pornography, I feel like I am being raped all over again. But, the interesting thing is, it’s not personal anymore; it’s not just about me. And, it may sound strange: it’s not all bad. It is as though, through an experience that is perceived as—and is—horrifying, there is more to it than that. Instead of being weak, passive, and defeated, my experience as a victim kicked me in the ass. It made me start doing something about it.
Don’t get me wrong: I certainly wouldn’t wish my particular form of initiation into the realm of righteous anger on anyone else, but this is good anger, healthy anger, an anger that motivates. I mean, shouldn’t we all be angry about the sexual exploitation of women and children? Shouldn’t we all be angry when more than half of the people on earth are under siege?” (Victim 144-145)
One of the main messages of the book—and the reason that I chose the controversial term ‘victim’ for the title—is because I turn the concept and reality of ‘victimhood’ on its head. When a person lives through extreme violence, you change. It affects you. There is no going back. Victimization has long-term effects because the system that victimizes has not gone away. As Andrea Dworkin said: “Victim is a true word. If you were raped, you were victimized. You damn well were. You were a victim … And if it happens to you systematically because you were born a woman, it means that you live in a political system that uses pain and humiliation to control and hurt you.” I write in the book: “It’s from then on always after.” And, in response to Dworkin’s connection of victimization and the system that does it, this awareness and acknowledgment of the victim being an inescapable result of rape means that the acknowledgment is the source of transforming the system that creates a victim—and the victim not only knows this, they feel it.
Like many other victims, since I became fully conscious of the violence I have experienced and the aftermath of PTSD I still negotiate daily, the politically correct term ‘survivor’ has always felt like it doesn’t tell the full story. Yes, of course, I survived. And, yes, time passes. But what happens during that time, the life passing in what our culture construes as an ever-forward moving trajectory, shouldn’t promote the shedding of experiences, an eradication of life. There is no moving on from a life-altering experience, getting over what will always be a part of our lives. For me, this is not healthy, nor is it realistic. As I say in Victim: “I need to learn to honor my scars. So that they won’t happen again.” Scars are a source of wisdom and empowerment and not inflictions of debilitation and defeat.
Acknowledging and deriving power from our victimhood also debunks the patriarchal ideology of linearity, constantly moving forward, not looking back (which is the ideological infrastructure of neo-liberalism where no acknowledgment or responsibility is given to what has been plundered through in order to fill the bottomless glut of individualism and greed, that which exploits in order to exist and that which rapes not only women and children, but everything). Linear thinking negates any possibility of sensitivity and awareness; we rush past without noticing what came before, what exists on the margins of our individualist prerogatives to get ahead. Victim was intentionally written as a non-linear narrative not only to overwhelm constrictions, but also for me as the writer to experience the writing process as it happened, as it was remembered. Each part, each memory, each process of remembering, each connection of remembering through the act of writing—what phrase, what word, what rhythm arose—bred the next part of the manuscript. However, remembering is not only a backward trajectory, the inversion of the forward: what memories, what parts of our lived lives have been pushed aside and return with their connection to another memory residing in a word that can re-surface what has been buried. And then we are greeted by the narrative of how we have forgotten this, what caused us to push this aside? And the remembering, the excavating, through writing, continues as a cycle, never a line.
For me, this process of remembering (and being) is how writing happens; it is how being simultaneously conscious and unconscious with all of the obfuscations and clarities in between. You have a topic, what you are going to write about, and maybe you even have a general idea of where you’re are going; however, for me, there is the necessary alchemy of the first sentence that arrives as a miracle from my subconscious and is filtered through a love affair with language. From that first sentence, the work is born and, as I write, I come upon experiences, ideas, and observations that I had no idea were even there, even though they were. Writing, when one opens oneself to it, surprises, teaches and gives the writer a more acute relationship with reality. As the now tall grasses, with their tips of reaching seeds, draw tender cycles, in the ever-moving air.
Men cannot be left out of the discussion of sexual violence, both as perpetrators and as victims. Men cannot be left out of feminism as a movement that is fighting for justice for all and for a culture without violence. In Victim, I write about my very difficult but, in the end, very beautiful, relationship with my father. As women, our relationships with our first sexed and gendered male are absolutely formative in how we negotiate a system of male supremacy and the female oppression that guarantees. While writing Victim and telling all (even to the extent of my own self-condemnation, my own imperfections, my own humanness), I was very interested in the genesis of the victim. However, I was also very interested in (and still am) how a perpetrator is constructed in a violent culture and how men are also victims. Breaking the cycle of abuse is critical. In patriarchy, male victims are conditioned to harden as opposed to opening to the fact that we are all vulnerable and that victimization affects us. In patriarchy, men are not permitted vulnerability. It is an acknowledgment of and living lives as vulnerable creatures that make active empathy possible. Conditioned to be strong and emotionless, those socialized as men have a much more difficult time with this. As Robert Jensen says in his book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men: “I was socialized in patriarchy into a toxic masculinity that not only subordinates women but also crippled my own capacity to be fully human.” This inability to feel fully inevitably contributes to the creation of the perpetrator—and, most often, his victims.
It is very significant and special to me that Victim has had wonderful responses from men, including, of course, you Anthony. One male reader said: “This is the most honest book I have ever read (and I have read a lot of books).” Another, as Daniel Gawthrop writes in his article for The British Columbia Review: “Victim is a rich and soulful testament to the power of human resilience that redefines the meaning of victimhood itself.” And your final verdict, Anthony: “While the subject matter of her own life was tragic, her strength and ability to turn her trauma into empowerment gives hope to many for the future and helps shape the blueprints to help build a better society that values compassion, equality, and justice.” Thank you!
I have known for decades that the story of the abduction, how the serial rapist tricked me, what happened psychologically while he had me, and how I got away and ended up being instrumental to his life sentence is a darn interesting story. However, as an artist, I am able to detach from my own personal life and to exist beyond myself in order to create. I have often joked: even my own trauma is interesting and, in a section of the book where I am delving into what happened to me psychologically in order to survive and ultimately over-power the serial rapist, I wrote: “the time has come to perform an autopsy on my twenty-eight-year-old psyche.”(Victim: 39). That said, because the story—however personally terrifying—is so interesting, I’ve often thought that the narrative of the story would make an amazing screenplay. Others have said this now too after reading it, so maybe it will be one someday.
However, beyond my personal narrative, Daniel Gawthrop observes how: “Now fifty-five, Moe says she was emotionally incapable of writing this memoir until now. And that’s a good thing, for Victim is a much better and wiser book than it would have been had she published it within a short time of her terrifying abduction.” It was through the years of activism, research, and scholarship between the writing of the book and the experiences of sexual violence that not only serve to extend the book far beyond the memoirist and into the system that raped her, but also by building a manifesto and a call to arms for both women and men.
What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I was born in 1966, as you will learn when you read the opening pages of my book. As such, I frequently joke that I am half-luddite. I do my best with social media. I have Facebook and Instagram. I can’t stomach the argumentative nature of Twitter, although I know “I should.” I am working towards starting up TikTok. Because I published with a very small Indie Press (Vigilance Press who are great but don’t have the capacity to book the ambitious tours I have been undertaking), I have to do virtually everything myself. That includes organizing and booking these tours. I just completed my US Trauma & Triumph Tour for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April 2022. I am currently organizing my Cross Canada one for September. I hope once it’s set up, I can begin TikTok. As you may have noticed, I have a lot to say. I have started the account —and now I have to figure out how to do it! This is a lengthy process for we Gen Xers and we have to psychologically prepare ourselves for researching YouTube how-tos and make the process as stress-free as possible. My name is “Logical Feminist.” Stay tuned! It will happen! And now it has to because I told you it will. Eeek.
About the part of the question as to which site has been the most helpful. Maybe Facebook because I have more friends on Facebook (and I know that to a lot of people of younger generations, FB is so passé). Although, more people on Instagram (percentage-wise) seem to be interested in my more revolutionary posts and there have been some feminists within the K’s amount of followers who are noticing me and my revolutionary posts. They haven’t followed me yet. But I seem to be on their radar (if that means anything!). I have DMed them. But, as of yet, no response. We’ll see! If anyone has any social media tips let me know and feel free to follow me and the press. Vigilance Press is an imprint of Vigilance Magazine:
However, for me, I just want to write my next book. And I have started, even though I haven’t finished touring my first. I have heard that the best way to sell your first book is to write you next one asap. That’s not a problem for me as I have two next ones eager to be born. Ideally, social media will take care of itself (I know! A Gen-X-get-someone-to -just-do-this-for-me-already thing to say 😉 Virginie Despentes has someone doing her social media. And she does what she is supposed to do: write. Alone. No one bothers her. Her mind is clear to create. She has space in all senses of the word to say something, to make something, important. #damrightmetoo.
What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Start. And, with writing, always be on the lookout for the opening sentence. The first sentence is the magic. I say to my students, when you have your first sentence, it is in many ways as though the piece of writing is written. The first sentence of Victim that I wrote in November 2016 is “I have lost the mustard yellow suede jacket from that time.” From that sentence, the book poured out of me.
Also, with writing as with all art, there is no going halfway. Art is a vocation, not a dabble. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people and politically correct artist-run centres say that anyone can be an artist and spend thousands of dollars of culture grants attempting to prove what isn’t true. And, not only is it not true, it’s an insult to all of us who have committed our lives to honing our skills through, most often, personal sacrifice. Everything I do is bent upon creating because, if I don’t, I don’t feel well. Not everyone has to create in order to not feel bad. And, I know that not everyone could live the life on the edge that I, and the majority of other artists, writers, and composers now and throughout history, have lived. You either want to create or you don’t. Wanting to write a book is not based on “Oh, I would love to write a book someday.” For one: there is no someday. And: there is no want. It has to be an all-encompassing need. An obsession to say something. (As an aside, I would like to add that not everyone can be an artist, but everyone can be a revolutionary and contribute to the movement in some way. For example, I could never be a lawyer and we need revolutionary lawyers to give justice to so many rape victims who are never given any and retraumatized by being brave enough to report being raped, not to mention save other women by getting another rapist out of circulation).
However, even though it’s very difficult and discipline is required, for me anyway, the writing is the fun part. It is the getting the agent, the getting the publisher, the literal making of the book that is the hard part. When I first started submitting my book in 2019, I googled how to go about doing just that and the first website I came upon said: “Oh, so you think writing your book was hard!” That statement pretty much sums up what comes next after you’ve triumphantly finished writing your book. Especially your first one.
What does the future hold in store for you? Are any new books/projects on the horizon?
I have had my next book planned for the last couple of years. It came out of the research that I did for Victim. During the time that I was held captive by the serial rapist, he confided: “There’s nothing like a good whore.” Because of that statement, I had to research and write a section on the sex industry. Part of that research ended up being about child sex slavery. Lydia Cacho’s Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking and Julie Bindel’s The Pimping of Prostitution: Ending the Sex Work Myth were both invaluable resources for not only my first book but for planning my next which will be called Inconceivable Reality. For me, there is no greater proof that the culture we live in is wrong and needs to be revolutionized than the fact that child sex slavery even exists. Of course, all sex slavery is despicable and all human trafficking unforgivable, but child sex slavery takes the proverbial cake in despicability. The fact that typically so-called first-world men will go to the third (and the third world as a geographical and economic site of exploitation also exists in the first) and pay to violate and destroy a child’s life is inconceivable to me and it has to be exposed because child sex slavery, violating a tiny and innocent body and being, has to no longer be true.
However, recently, another book has appeared on my horizon. It is a book I conceived of last fall during my participation as a forest defender at the Fairy Creek Blockades in British Columbia, Canada. The Fairy Creek Blockades are the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada. Some of the last remaining temperate rainforests is being clear-cut. Of course, it’s the same old story of soullessness and greed—the reason why I write revolution in different contexts, is to resist the non-stop repetition of ‘progress’ and ‘individual gain’ along with throwing up our hands and saying there is nothing we can do about it. Yes, we can. We in the first world still have a semblance of human rights. At the very least, we can tell the world that we don’t agree, that this is wrong, and that what we are asking for, preserving the tiny portion of what is left of pristine ecosystems, is absolutely logical. Unlike countries like Honduras and in the Amazon where land defenders are assassinated, in Canada, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand we can still protest and we can still win. The forest defenders at Fairy Creek were and are miraculous people and show the good that can be activated in all of us. You can access the articles through my website that I wrote last summer which strive to tell the whole story—as opposed to what is not told by the mainstream media and these gaps, what is left out, become lies in themselves.
The politics of colonialism in Canada, as in every other colonized and colonizing nation, is very complicated. Because the logging of the Fairy Creek Watershed is also an Indigenous land claim issue, the politics are far from limited to capitalism and its acceleration into neo-liberalism: they are firmly entrenched in the ongoing colonial state of Canada. Elder Bill Jones is an ancestral elder of the Pacheedaht Nation. He is the First Nations ancestral elder who invited the settler (non-indigenous peoples) forest defenders to Fairy Creek to help him and the rest of the ancestral Pacheedaht save the old-growth forest and its ecosystem. I will be writing a book (yes, another manifesto) that will center on the life story of Elder Bill Jones, now in his 80s. The book will be called Re-Indigenize: The Revolution of Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones.
I am, technically, in terms of labeling, a ‘radical’ feminist; however, during the writing of Victim I thought: “Why is logic radical?” So-called radical feminists look at feminism as eradicating patriarchal hierarchy, as a political movement to change the sexed and gendered distribution of power, eradicate hierarchy and the ideology of taking, and undermine the infrastructure of a masculine system that guarantees exploitation. Hierarchy, violence, and exploitation affect everything: women, gender, race, the environment, animals and yes, of course, men. Everything is connected.
About the Author
Karen Moe is an art critic, visual and performance artist, author and feminist activist. Her work focuses on systemic violence in patriarchy: be it gender, race, the environment or speciesism. Her art criticism has been published internationally in magazines, anthologies and artist catalogues in English and Spanish and she has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. Karen is the recipient of the “Ellie Liston Hero of the Year Award” 2022 for being instrumental in putting the serial rapist, who raped and brutalized herself and countless other women, away for life in 1996. She lives in Mexico City and British Columbia, Canada. Published by Vigilance Press on April 2nd, 2022, Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor is her debut book.
Karen has just returned from her US Trauma & Triumph Tour for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, will be having a variety of events throughout the summer, and will be embarking upon her Cross-Canada Tour in September 2022.