We’re excited to have chatted with Rachel Hills, author of The Sex Myth– her book challenging the shame surrounding sex– about bringing her movement to life (literally) and onto the stage:
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
I’m a New York-based (by way of Sydney, Australia) writer and activist whose work spans books, journalism, theatre and live events. I’m the author of a non-fiction book called The Sex Myth, which examines the social and cultural sources of the shame and anxiety so many of us feel when it comes to sex – whether that shame is based on a fear that we are “too” sexual, or that we are not sexual “enough.”
I’m now taking The Sex Myth to the stage, with a professional theatre production scheduled for New York City at the end of the summer, and a set of tools for people to put on their own plays in their own schools, campuses, and communities.
Why did you decide to turn The Sex Myth into a live production?
The play came really organically out of the activism I’ve been doing since The Sex Myth was published in 2015. I spend a lot of time speaking on university campuses, and one of the students I met, Hanne Larsen, approached me with the idea of turning the book into a devised theatre production – that is to say, a play based not on a script by a single author, but written collaboratively by the whole cast. The play debuted at Northeastern University last summer, and I thought it was incredible. I immediately became committed to growing and sharing it.
As an author, I’m obviously a big fan of books, but I think that theatre – and a play like this one in particular – is a particularly powerful medium to explore the ideas in The Sex Myth. In our show, the script is rewritten each time the play is performed by a new cast, with actors telling their own authentic stories about how the ideas I write about in The Sex Myth have impacted their lives, and using the book as source material to create connecting scenes about how sexual politics plays out in their communities more generally.
For the performers, this kind of deep dive collaboration means that creating the show is a kind of ultimate consciousness-raising experience. And for audiences, it makes the performances more powerful, unique and “real” than a traditionally scripted show might be.
How do you define feminism and how does that play a part in what you do?
I agree with the standard definition that feminism means “political, economic, and social equality between the sexes,” but it also means a lot more to me as well. Feminism is about recognizing the impact that both gender and biological sex have on the way we are treated and the opportunities we are afforded, and questioning and challenging that impact to create a fairer and more equal society. Feminism shows that our experiences are not just individual to us, but part of a bigger cultural and political framework.
I do the work I do because I believe that understanding how our experiences fit into that broader framework can be an intensely powerful and transformative experience. That through hearing other people’s stories and telling our own in an authentic way, we can experience a form of psychological freedom.
If you had to give one piece of advice to other female writers, what would that be?
Particularly in the early part of my career, I credit a lot of my success simply to the fact that I “showed up.” I was a good writer when I was an undergrad, but I wasn’t the very BEST in my course. But I got to be an editor of the monthly student magazine simply because I applied for the job. I published my first piece in a major Australian newspaper two months before my 23rd birthday because I submitted it for consideration. I got published in magazines because I stayed up late writing pitches. Not everything you submit is going to be accepted, and not every editor you write to is going to reply to your email, but you need to be submitting and sending those emails in order to be in the game.
The same principles apply to writing a book, too – albeit in a different way. Selling The Sex Myth to a major US publisher as then relatively unknown writer (and foreigner to boot) was hard work, and I’ve written about the experience here. But you know what was so much harder? Writing and revising (and revising some more) a 70,000 word manuscript – especially in an era that increasingly demands that writers be constantly visible. At my publisher, the typical amount of time between landing a book deal and seeing your book on the shelves seems to be about 3 1/2 to 4 years, and that doesn’t include the years you spend researching your book before you sell it to the publisher. If you have an idea that keeps calling you and that you believe will make a difference to other people, be prepared to put in the hours – and the years – to make it a reality.
How can we follow and support your work?
We’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign on StartSomeGood.com to raise money to fund the New York show, and put the people in place to spread the movement around the US and globally – our aim is to get the play produced in at least twenty communities between mid-2017 and mid-2018. We’ve got a great set of rewards ranging from swag like stickers and t-shirts, to a beautiful art-prints, coaching calls for aspiring writers, and the opportunity to bring The Sex Myth to your community. If the project speaks to you, you can learn more at www.startsomegood.com/the-sex-myth
For more information on The Sex Myth book, talks, and play, head to www.thesexmyth.com. And to stay in touch with me, you can sign up to my Tinyletter here for approximately monthly heartfelt missives and reflections on life as a feminist writer and activist.