Release of new book offers consideration of a larger issue

Author Ellen Bravo promoted her new book, Again and Again, through a discussion about women’s rights and sexual-assault awareness on Sept. 20.

The talk and reading, held at YWCA of Greater Portland, was hosted by the Portland State Women’s Resource Center, the American Association of University Women and the National Organization for Women.

Although Again and Again is Bravo’s first published jaunt into fiction, she has an impressive resume, including three books of nonfiction and positions as the executive director of Family Values at Work and the former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

“One of the things that made me write fiction rather than nonfiction is I think there are a lot of people who don’t read nonfiction who will read a novel,” Bravo said to a mixed-generation audience in a YWCA meeting room just a few blocks from PSU.

Her extensive experience was undoubtedly helpful as she crafted the novel’s protagonist, Deborah Borenstein, into a leading women’s rights advocate. The story’s central drama unfolds when Borenstein finds herself in a profoundly difficult and complicated situation: The man who raped her college roommate thirty years prior is now a pro-choice Republican, running for Senate with the support of major feminist groups.

She must decide whether or not to reveal his crime. The book asks this question: What happens when rapists become powerful men in society?

However, Bravo clearly stated that the novel is about more than rape.

“It’s about friendship, and love and marriage, and trust, and regret, and second chances,” Bravo said.

Bravo read from several chapters of the book with animation, explaining the complexities of her characters and their situations, feeding the novel’s suspense and the audience’s curiosity. More than being a well-written page-turner, Bravo’s work is a reminder of what has yet to be achieved for women’s rights and, more specifically, women’s safety on college campuses across the country.

Bravo referred to the recent survey from the Association of American Universities, which found that 20 percent of female undergraduates had experienced some kind of sexual violence. However, Events and Publicity Coordinator of the PSU Women’s Resource Center Kari Anne McDonald couched these figures differently.

“I think there’s this idea that if more assaults are being reported that it’s a more dangerous campus,” McDonald said. “I don’t necessarily believe that. If there are higher rates, that means people are reporting. And that means the issue is being talked about and taken care of.”

Fortunately, Bravo added that there are new efforts that bring attention to this issue, including Lady Gaga’s music video “Til It Happens to You,” President Obama’s “It’s On Us” campaign and new consent laws that require colleges and universities to adopt “Only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’” policies, instead of the previous “‘No’ means ‘no.’”

Nonetheless, during the reception that followed the reading, Bravo and women in attendance spoke to one another with an urgent determination to expand the conversation and continue pressing for progress.

With this aim, PSU’s Women’s Resource Center is screening The Hunting Ground, a documentary by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers that investigates these statistics of sexual violence on college campuses, on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. A panel discussion will follow the film.