Amy Reed: Overcoming millennia of misogyny starts with solidarity

American author Amy Reed overcame her struggles by writing about them. Now, she shares the stories of teens surviving sexual assault and addiction and mental illness

As a teen, I felt so alone in my struggles, and when I started writing around age 13 it was because I had a desperate need to tell my story, to be heard, even though I rarely shared my writing. Just getting it on paper made my existence feel more solid, more valid. Now, so many years later, that core drive for storytelling hasn’t changed much.

Though the stories I write are no longer my own, they are still about teens who are dealing with way more than they should have to, as I did. They are about teens surviving sexual assault and addiction and mental illness, as I did. I write stories about teens like I was, young people who have to worry about things more complicated than romance or grades or getting into a good university, who deserve to have their stories honoured, who need to know they can survive too.

Luckily, I see so many young men making an effort to be allies with women

The Nowhere Girls is about three misfit girls who start a movement to fight the misogynist culture at their high school and get justice for one of their classmates who was raped. It’s about the dark realities of rape culture, but it is also very much about solidarity, friendship, empowerment, and hope. The idea for The Nowhere Girls started percolating shortly after I read two incredible books in 2015, The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith and All the Rage by Courtney Summers. There were so many stories in the US media at the time (and still) about boys getting away with sexual assault, where the victims were essentially blamed and put on trial.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is out now, published in the UK by Atom Books, £7.99

I was also working on healing my own trauma. I thought about all these stories and lives, and the thing they had in common was that the girls were alone. No one stuck up for them. No one believed them. The institutions that were supposed to protect them perpetuated the girls’ trauma. I wanted to write a book to fight that system, a book about young women reclaiming their power and creating their own community to support one another, and in that process, changing the system itself.

We are not only a powerful force for societal change, but a force for our own healing

Garbage statements like “boys will be boys,” or our president’s favourite “just locker room talk”, don’t give boys enough credit. As a society, we’re not challenging them to be better. They can be better. Boys have been failed by the adult men in their lives, by the media, by our culture in general; they’re doing what they’ve been taught.

That doesn’t get them off the hook, of course. It is up to us to break those cycles of conditioning. Luckily, I see so many young men making an effort to be allies with women, to actively question sexism and gender roles. In my generation, I know so many hetero families in which the mom has the ambitious career and is the main breadwinner, and the dad is stepping up to fulfill more duties of nurturing. I see so much progress. But there is still rape. There are still cat-calls. The groper-in-chief is still our president. The manosphere is thriving online. The “men’s rights movement” is actually a thing. There is still wide misinformation about what defines consent. So we must continue to teach and educate each other. We must continue to empower ourselves and other women, and to find the inner strength to confront misogyny in ways that feel safe to us.

The toxic assumptions of rape culture can be internalised to the point of violence. As a young teen, I didn’t even know I had a right to say no to sex. No one taught me about consent, and they certainly didn’t teach the boys I knew. And now, at age 38, I still have PTSD from the experiences that came from that ignorance, and I most likely will for the rest of my life. I don’t want any girl to have to go through that. And if she does, I want her to know she’s not alone, that she can talk about it. I want her to know it’s not her fault. I want her to know there is a community to support her.

I think that’s where our greatest power lies, and what I tried to get across in The Nowhere Girls – that together, supporting one another, we are invincible. We are not only a powerful force for societal change, but a force for our own healing. I hope people – girls and boys, young and old – will read The Nowhere Girls and feel seen and heard and honoured. I hope it inspires you to create change in your own life, and in the world, strengthened by the knowledge that we are all in this together.

In this week’s Big Issue we celebrate 100 years of suffrage, speaking to women young and old, and on the margins of society about what equality means to them.