Who Runs the World?: Virginia Bergin's Author Note

Today on the blog, Virginia Bergin talks all things gender related in her inspiration post for Who Runs the World?


Dear Reader,

I thought I couldn’t write this book.

The idea came about when a teen friend told me she was studying Tess of the d’Urbervilles in school. (‘I hate Tess,’ she said. ‘She’s such a sap.’) I studied the same book – over thirty years ago. It made my heart sink to think of generations of young people reading a story in which women are oppressed victims and men are the oppressors, no matter how much they might be encouraged to analyse it. I wondered whether it would be possible to tell a completely different kind of story.

And that’s when I got stuck.

Although I might have had a lot of fun writing it – and exorcised a few of my own demons along the way – I decided I did not want to create a simple ‘reversal’ of the way so much of the world is in terms of relations between the sexes. It felt, paradoxically, reactionary. It felt counterproductive. It felt like such a story would only serve to reinforce binary notions of gender – notions that cause so much difficulty, and pain, for so many of us. Notions that, in my opinion, hold us all back. And . . . I realised that I had no idea what a world run by women would be like . . . because I do not know what a woman is.

That was my shock. Biology is biology – nuts and bolts, bits and pieces – but gender? What is it? What does it mean?

The more I thought about what gender is, and the ways in which our ideas about it are created and transmitted – through family and intergenerational influence, through education and other forms of social and cultural transmission – the more I saw gender as an entirely arbitrary construct. I support anyone who challenges that construct in any way . . . and I also wondered what the world would be like without it.

So this story is told to you by River, a fourteen-year old girl who lives in a world of women but who has never really had to think about gender until the arrival of a boy changes everything.

I had no idea how River’s story would take shape – and I found the journey of writing it deeply challenging and surprising. Her story made me think about family and society, democracy and power, expectation and prejudice – and it became, for me, a tale about identifying oppression and finding the courage to speak up.

And it left me with a question: Who Runs the World?

I wonder what your answer would be . . .

Virginia Bergin, March 2017