Monday, November 5, 2012
I have not blogged for a few weeks. After the fallout from my inaugural blog post, I was momentarily reconsidering the wisdom of putting my life and my thoughts out there. The reaction to my first post was overwhelmingly positive. Most of my friends and family were wonderfully supportive, and some friends even shared their own stories with me. I am both amazed by, and grateful for, the truly lovely people I have in my life. People’s stories never fail to intrigue me and I feel blessed that some felt moved to share theirs with me. The take-home message I got from this experience is that I am lucky. Incredibly, happily, lucky.
However, not everyone in my life had that reaction. I agonised for a long time about whether I should show my parents a copy of my blog. Part of me didn’t want them to feel pain about the experiences outlined in the piece. The last thing I would want them to feel is sadness or pain or (misplaced) guilt or helplessness. I wanted to protect them. But the larger part of me kept returning to this thought: if these things happened to my child, I would want to know. I don’t have children, so I don’t know the complex emotions that parents have towards their children. I think I can imagine that the transition from knowing your child as a being dependent on you for its very survival, to them being a self-sufficient adult making their own way in the world, outside of your protection, is a difficult one. Some parents handle it better than others. I understand that for most parents, your child will always be your baby, no matter how old they are. I get that. But, if I was a parent, I would also want to know my child as an adult, what they think about things, what their experiences of life are, and to share things as equals. The bottom line for me was: I want the people closest to me to really know me. As I want to know them. Otherwise, what the fuck is the point of this life we have been given? Unless we connect with people on a real level, we are just shuffling around, going through the motions of our ultimately pointless existence.
So, anyway, I emailed Mum a link to my blog and warned her that she might find the contents difficult to read, that it involved some negative experiences with men that I had had many years ago. I told her that I would understand if she didn’t want to read it, and that I would leave it up to her judgement as to whether she showed it to my father. When I next spoke to my mother she was very supportive, if a bit shocked. She told me she was proud of me for having the courage to share my story. We cried a bit and then my Dad got on the phone.
My Dad told me he would rather have not known about it. Just writing this sentence, and remembering the difficult conversation we had, has brought me to tears again. When he said that, it was like a knife going through my heart. I had shared something incredibly personal and influential in my life and he would rather not have known. Then he aimed another dagger at my heart. He said, “Why did you let him get away with it? Why didn’t you go to the police? You let the team down”, in reference to the sexual assault in the pub bathroom. I was speechless for a moment, but then I found myself trying to defend my actions in not going to the police. “Um, Dad, I explained why I didn’t go to the police. Did you read it?” He just repeated that he would rather not have read it, said he loved me, and got off the phone. I was devastated.
Now, I don’t know what it’s like for a father to learn that his daughter has been sexually assaulted. I can imagine that it must be one of the toughest things for a father to deal with. My father has always been incredibly over-protective of me. I am his only daughter; his first-born child. To him I will always be the little red-haired toddler, impatient for him to assemble my Christmas presents early on Christmas morning. Dad and I have always been close, probably because we are very similar. When I was a teenager, that similarity led to many pitched battles, culminating one night in me leaving home and spending the night in a youth shelter, without my parents’ knowledge. The shame I felt at seeing my father’s ashen face the next morning, after he had spent many sleepless hours trying to find me, has never left me.
So, yes, Dad and I have a complex relationship. He is my rock, my one constant in the world, my idol and my protector. He is one half of the key to my identity. But no matter how I try, or how many years go by, he is unable to see me as anything but his little girl. To him, I am not a nearly-40-year-old woman who has a career, a marriage, who struggles with life’s occasional shitstorms, who sometimes triumphs but more often settles for good-enough. I am an almost middle-aged woman, like any other, just trying to make my way in the world.
His reaction felt like a denial of my personhood. I felt like I had to defend my actions, like I was the one who had done something heinous, rather than the men who attacked me. This is the latest in a long line of thoughtless and hurtful things Dad has said to me over the years, an addition to the list of topics we can’t discuss without ending up fighting. In some ways, he can’t help it, given his own extremely dysfunctional upbringing. I know my Dad didn’t mean to make me feel like shit. I know he loves me more than anything else in the world. I also know that, at almost 70, he is not likely to change any time soon. The thing that saddens me the most is that he and I will always be stuck in the father-child relationship, rather than relating to each other as equals, maybe even as friends. And that strikes me as a lost opportunity.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
The recent rape and murder of Jill Meagher has saddened me. Her death is a tragic loss for her family and friends. But her death has also stirred other emotions. It has also made me angry. How dare a man take the life of a beautiful young woman whose only crime was to walk home alone late one night? How dare he take away her inalienable right to walk freely, without interference, wherever and whenever she damn well pleases? No doubt some less enlightened types will start to look to the victim’s behaviour for explanations: why was she alone so late at night? What was she wearing? Was she intoxicated? In other words, how did Jill Meagher bring this misfortune on herself?
Well, fuck that shit, I say. Jill Meagher did nothing wrong. Jill Meagher’s only mistake was not to realise that some men still view women as prey, as playthings to use to live out their sick fantasies, to be discarded when their usefulness has ended.
We don’t like to think that there are men out there like that. Of course, it is only a tiny minority of men who make the leap from violent fantasy to actualisation. But one can’t forget that this type of behaviour is only one end of the spectrum of violence targeted towards women. Women everywhere are subjected to all kinds of abuse: the unwanted sexual advance, the “accidental” boob grope on a crowded train, the pressure to “put out” after a man has paid for dinner. These abuses range from subtle hints whispered into your ear, to egregious public exhortations to “show us yer tits”, to sexual assault and rape.
The Women’s Safety Survey of 1995, carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found that an estimated 1.2 million women in Australia aged 18 and over had experienced sexual violence, or the threat of sexual violence, since the age of 15. One in 10 women had disclosed an incident of sexual violence by an intimate partner. And before men start bleating, “but men are the victims of rape and sexual assault too and no one ever talks about that”, the survey found that 99% of the perpetrators of sexual violence incidents experienced in the 12 months prior to the study were men. I’m not suggesting that sexual violence against men should not be taken seriously. Sexual violence against anyone is wrong. However, the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence in our society are women.
I am one of these women. I am a sexual assault survivor. When I was 20 years old I was in a relationship with an abusive man. Four months into our relationship he started using me as a punching bag. One night in my flat he became particularly enraged over some imagined infraction of the relationship “rules”. He threw me down on my bed, wrapped a football sock around my neck and started choking me. He then raped me. Shortly after the rape, my boyfriend assaulted me in public and the police became involved. The police sergeant who took my statement accused me of giving myself a black eye and pressured me into not charging my boyfriend. I left the police station in tears. At 20 I was quite a naïve girl who’d led quite a sheltered life up until that point. I had only moved away from my family to the live in the city, by myself, a few months prior to the assault. If I had not had the support of my father, who travelled to Sydney to be with me when I returned to the police station to give my statement, and who made it very clear to the sergeant that he expected them to investigate my complaint and charge the offender, it is possible I could have been dissuaded from going ahead with the matter. In any case, my now ex-boyfriend only received a fine and probation, while I had to change the locks on my flat, park my car in a different street far away from my flat every day, change my phone number and constantly look over my shoulder because he continued to harass me even after he was charged and had an AVO served on him. Is it any wonder that women often do not report domestic assault or sexual assaults to the police?
My next experience of sexual assault occurred while out drinking with a group of friends. One of the men in the group had only been introduced to me that night. He was a friend of one of my female friends. In fact, she had the hots for him and had been trying to bed him for months, without success. We were having a good time at our favourite pub, choosing songs on the jukebox and playing pool. I was drinking cider. I’d say I was mildly intoxicated. Nature was calling, so I went to the ladies bathroom. I stepped inside the cubicle and before I’d had a chance to lock the door, this guy was wrenching the door open and pushing me inside the cubicle. He didn’t say a word. He sexually assaulted me and then left the bathroom. The whole incident lasted no longer than a couple of minutes. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. I cleaned myself up as best I could, left the bathroom, and rejoined my friends in the pub. He was sitting there, drinking, like nothing had happened. I tried to tell my friend what had happened, but she had seen him follow me into the bathroom and had assumed it was consensual. She was pissed off at me for “stealing her man” and gave me the cold shoulder. I left the pub and went home.
I didn’t go to the police. I had been drinking. Based on my previous experience with the police, in all likelihood they would have told me I was partially responsible because I was intoxicated. I didn’t particularly feel like being denigrated all over again so I went home and tried to forget about it. But here’s the thing: you can’t forget. Each instance of sexual harassment or sexual abuse makes something inside you change a little bit. It also makes you angry that the threat of sexual abuse is held over your head every time you face the world. You may think that sounds overly dramatic. Think again: at any time, just by virtue of your gender, you could be the target of sexual abuse. Does that sound fair? Should a woman not enjoy a few drinks when she goes out so she can be more vigilant about possible risks to her safety? Should women have to modify what they wear so as not to entice men to sexually assault her? Should women be the ones who constantly have to police their own behaviour to ensure they are not at risk of being victimised by men? The answer to these questions should be a resounding NO. Where is male responsibility in these scenarios? The vast majority of men are decent human beings who find violence towards women abhorrent and are equally outraged by the behaviour of some of their brethren. They are equally disgusted by men who think women are “asking for it” by dressing “provocatively” or being intoxicated in public. Because here’s the awful truth: men who sexually abuse women give other men a bad name. They reduce men to victims of their biology. “Her tits were on display”, “she was flirting with me”, “she was dressed like a slut”, “she was turning me on, what was I supposed to do?” are all justifications some men use to excuse sexual violence. It assumes that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges, that men, once their lust has been aroused, are incapable of knowing right from wrong. And that, frankly, is bullshit. Women shouldn’t have to fear that they are unwittingly awakening a lust monster that cannot be contained, and men should be offended that they aren’t credited with any agency regarding their sexual behaviour.
Lest any less enlightened types out there want to accuse me of being anti-male, I hereby declare that I love men. I am lucky to have many wonderful men in my life: my husband, my father, my brother, and numerous beautiful male friends who also find violence against women unconscionable. I refuse to let my small number of bad experiences with violent men colour my feelings about other men. I’m not permanently damaged because I’m a sexual abuse survivor. I’m not about hating on men. I’m about promoting a society where women can live without fear of sexual violence, and where men can be free of the suspicion that they are all potential rapists and sexual abusers, unable to control their sexual urges. In my eyes, this is a win-win situation.