The news is downright infuriating these days. A Hollywood sexual harassment scandal? Just a typical Monday. Another prominent man accused of rape? Add him to the list. Oh, a comic who admitted to masturbating in front of women without their consent is being booked in comedy clubs? I can't say I'm surprised.
Despite the bad news — or, more likely, because of it — rage is bubbling, in real life and in fiction. In Last Woman Standing, author Amy Gentry tackles the issues of the #MeToo movement through the story of stand-up comedian Dana Diaz. In this page-turning psychological thriller, Gentry asks readers to confront the magnitude of harassment women face on a daily basis and the difficulties of working in a male-dominated industry.
"In some ways, this book was years in the making,” Gentry tells Bustle. “I started it after the presidential election. That time was devastating, obviously, and I think set the tone for a lot of rage to come. When stories like those of R. Kelly, which had been floating around for 10 to 15 years, and Bill Cosby broke, we finally got in-depth coverage from the point-of-view of the victims.”
Dana deals with constant harassment in her work as a stand-up comedian. But one day, she experiences something she is unable to quantify: She is assaulted. Shortly after, she meets programmer Amanda Dorn, and in a refreshing twist on the classic revenge saga, Strangers on a Train, the two decide to get retribution on one another’s attackers through social media.
Gentry used her own experiences in the world of comedy as inspiration for the story. “Once you have a toe in that world and your ears are open, people just start talking about what happened to them,” she says.
In a recent survey by USA Today of 843 women in the entertainment industry, 94 percent reported they had experienced harassment or assault. And just last week, comedians Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the stars and creators of Broad City, revealed that the show’s fifth and final season will focus on sexual harassment in Hollywood.
But women are taking a stand. Wende Curtis, owner of Comedy Works club in Denver, recently made headlines when she declined to book Louis C.K., who in 2017 was accused of sexual misconduct by five women.
But the comedy world's harassment and assault problem isn't the only issue tackled in Gentry's novel. The author also asks readers to question their own notions of what qualifies as "assault." Her character, Diaz, knows something bad has been done to her, but she is unable to explain it. In the original draft of the novel, Gentry included a rape scene, but she eliminated it. Ultimately, she wanted to use her book as an opportunity to explore the nuances of consent.
“It’s this idea that something has happened but you are unsure whether it 'counts' or not,” Gentry says. “Dana knows she feels terrible, but she doesn’t know what to call it. If you can’t put words to something, it’s hard to describe, and I think assault can happen on a spectrum. For example, you may have experienced low-key harassment for a long time and become used to weathering it, but when it creeps into this other territory, it’s hard to know. I think women have been talking about this for a long time.”
Dana knows she feels terrible, but she doesn’t know what to call it.
Gentry knows the way society treat survivors and the narratives about sexual assault matter. That includes her book.
“The difference is that we are actually listening to [survivors],” Gentry says of the #MeToo movement. “I don’t know what the consequences will be, but in this moment, it’s about hearing women’s rage and becoming enraged ourselves. But, I also fear that we may look back and nothing will have changed.”