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Why ‘On Reckoning’ is a must read this election season

Content Warning: This story discusses sexual assault and harassment

[IMG DESCRIPTION] A copy of 'On Reckoning' by Amy Remeikis surrounded by newspapers. The cover of the book is black with a lightning bolt coursing over the page. Her name is in white type face, followed by the title of the book in red. Below, there is a quote from Julia Baird which reads "Visceral, forensic, fierce: this book is a lit fuse."

On the cusp of a federal election, it’s easy to get swept up in the many policy updates, promises, and scandals that have shaped this tumultuous election period.

One of these is Parliament’s turbulent history with sexual assault and harassment. The desperate need for systemic change – highlighted by the likes of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, cannot be ignored.  

Amy Remeikis’ On Reckoning is an integral read for this election season – and a powerful one at that. Women are angry. We were angry during 2021, when sexual assault and harassment allegations rocked Parliament to its core, and that anger has not dissipated.

And in the wake of a revolving door of policies and political upsets, it’s crucial that the core issues surrounding actioning on sexual harassment and assault do not get lost in the noise.

This is the collective fury that Remeikis captures. More than a retroactive read, On Reckoning is pointed, guiding you through a journey of outrage, of a shared pain that you cannot help but similarly feel.

Remeikis herself is a survivor. When reading On Reckoning, I shrank with horror on her raw account of sexual trauma. The shame felt like my own, I was sometimes overwhelmed by it, and it drew me into a shared rage. On trauma she writes,

A quote written on a grey box and framed in red. It reads: … your body keeps remembering. Remembering what kept you alive. It catalogues the pain, the stimuli and your environment and it weaves it through your DNA.”
Amy Remeikis, On Reckoning

This distinct understanding of trauma, and of the rage that follows, is definitive of the 100 or so pages that make up the book, and something Remeikis elaborated on in a Q&A with my colleague Lara Stimpson.

Remeikis’ writing is liberating, detailing the distinct and unique feeling that I was never able to shake during the turmoil of reports on sexual assault and harassment in Parliament House, and fiercely articulating it a way I haven’t been able to.

Remeikis doesn’t hold back her criticisms on how the Government handled – or rather, how they didn’t handle the wake of sexual assault and harassment allegations Parliament was riddled with in 2021.

One of which, was how Scott Morrison addressed Brittany Higgins historical allegations of sexual assault in Parliament.

A quote written on a yellow box and framed in blue. It reads: Jenny and I spoke last night and she said to me, you have to think about this as a father. What would you want to happen if it were our girls? Jenny has a way of clarifying things. Always has. And so, as I’ve reflected on that overnight and listened to Brittany and what she had to say.“
Scott Morrison, on reflecting on Brittany Higgins alleged sexual assault

Similarly, in her review of the Canberra launch of On Reckoning, Lara Stimpson described how Remeikis deconstructs political information by expertly weaving in her own experiences throughout the book, to create powerful commentary about Parliament.

Giving voice to the one in three women over the age of 15 who have experienced sexual assault, Remeikis highlights how Brittany Higgins assault allegations were reduced as a political “problem.”

This made sexual assault a political issue, rather than the human symptom of a system that prioritises the feelings of men, rather than the lived experience of people who have been harassed and assaulted.

The correlation is powerful, and it forced me to reframe my thinking on sexual assault. An example Remeikis gives is the familiar statistic of 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, could also be reported as 1 in 3 men will sexually assault a woman in their lifetime.

Remeikis’ writing is as filled with passionate rage as it is anguish. But according to her, “an angry woman is a shrew, unattractive, unlovable, and in need of taming.” Remeikis defies this, and it is this contempt against the social protocol that makes this book so powerful.

I often despair over people who write and scribble in their books, but here I found myself snatching for my highlighters, pouring over so many powerful and enlightening passages.

Two pages from Remeikis book. One page is highlighted, quotes underlined in blue and green highlighter. The quotes read as follows: We can sympathise with robbery victims without needing to be robbed ourselves … I didn’t believe in ‘monsters’ … the men who had attacked me weren’t monsters, they were people … as a woman, I was more likely to be attacked by the person I shared a bed with than someone hiding under it.
A passage from the book, highlighted.

On Reckoning demands change, and Remeikis outlines clearly what must happen for that to occur. We need to be proactive, rather than passive. Recognise and focus on the men who (by and large) assault, not the women who are being assaulted.

Remeikis demonstrates this, redirecting the language she uses, and the language we all use, onto the action of the assaulter, not the reaction of the person who was assaulted.

Seeing women through the guise of someone else’s daughter, or sister, or mother, or friend, robs us of our own stories.

Two pages from Remeikis book. One page is highlighted, quotes underlined in blue and green highlighter. The quotes read as follows: What if it were our daughter? … way of connecting with other humans, of putting a familiar face on an unfamiliar situation … What it it were our daughter? … So many daughters have to wear someone else’s face in order for something to happen.
A passage from the book, highlighted.

This is more than a political problem; it is a human one. One that requires compassion from our politicians to change, because if we can’t change these issues at the top, how can we begin to do so anywhere else?

Original images by Celeste Gibbs

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