May 5, 2012
Earlier this week I went to the final performance of ‘A Memory, a monologue, a rant and a prayer’. It was sold out and the place was packed. The performances were amazing and the audience was moved and clapped and clapped. You can read some great reviews and descriptions, here, here and here.
I was moved during the performance. These stories were new to me, but the content they cover was not. I found myself swallowing hard during almost all of the performances.
The story of the young girls in the Congo hiding in barrels of fermenting banana beer, while rebels raped their mother was particularly haunting. But the one that struck a particular chord was the woman who made the wish; ‘May all your daughters’ first kiss be anticipated and wanted.’ Afterwards, I chatted polite chit-chat and then said my good-byes.
It was only once I left, that the tears came. Hot and salty and fierce.
My face twisted into that I’m-not-crying face as I walked down the street and I was pretty snotty by the time I got to my car.
All I could think about was my daughters.
I can’t protect them, I thought, completely overwhelmed.
My stories were suddenly irrelevant and all I could feel was rage. The rage I feel at the injustice of the assault, abuse and violence my daughters are going to be touched by.
My daughters, with their soft bodies, reaching for me, eyes and face wide open, love spilling out of them like over-ripe fruit. So quick to laugh and cry and love and live.
Life will be so cruel to them. It will hurt them. Forcing them to close their hearts and guard their souls. I’m sure most parents fear the day that their children experience true hurt and disappointment for the first time. But this fear, the fear of violation, abuse, violence and molestation is particularly awful.
My heart breaks for all the people who have had this experience thrust upon them.
I think that as a parent and having birthed these children, that I am unequivocally physically engaged in their wellbeing. I most certainly would take a bullet for them, without thinking even, I suspect.
But I rage when I think of how helpless I am to protect them from this reality. There are no words or actions which would adequately illustrate this feeling of frustration and helplessness, except perhaps pulling my hair completely out of my scalp.
Their innocence and trust and willingness to be kind and giving. It will shrivel away.
Maybe… that says more about me. About how I see the world, how I feel the world, how I move in the world and how I survive the world.
This left me feeling raw and I crawled into bed and distracted myself with old episodes of Mighty Boosh. Because most days and nights I have the strength to deal and to cope and to fight and support others. And other nights, I don’t.
That night, was just was one those nights.
But I realised this was not a good way to be, nor a good way to leave readers, so while I blogged this blog relatively soon, I waited to publish until I could add some resources.
February 13, 2012
I’ve been a bit intimidated to blog after the success of the last post. Now y’all will have high expectations and stuff. But I have a few more things to say about the last post.
I checked my blog stats tonight. See, I realised the other day that I should be counting the homepage hits as well as the direct hits on my latest post.
Sure those aren’t ‘unique visitors’ and a bunch of those were me, going back to check the post so I could ask myself what I wrote that struck a cord with so many people.
I almost didn’t publish that post. Filled with self-doubt, my finger hovered over the button for ages (ok, seconds) before hitting ‘publish’. But I’m glad I did. I lost count of how many of my friends linked to it (including a fabulous major feminist blog I follow).
Something about what I posted moved people. I think it was because many many women could relate. They could see their own stories and experiences in the post. They could feel the same frustration I have felt. They could see how this happens to us all. Perhaps they felt less alone for a moment. Perhaps they also felt some of that anger and so they shared/linked to the post so they could point somewhere else without exposing themselves and say ‘Look! Look at what we women have to live with. Look at how we spend our lives feeling slightly nervous all the time and downright scared some of the time. LOOK! IT’S NOT FAIR DAMMIT!!’ (Ok, maybe that last part was just me.)
Oh, the tragedy is that I could have kept writing. I could have included other examples of discrimination that women experience. It could have been endless….
Significantly, I was also aware that only my female friends shared the post* and I only spotted one male friend of mine ‘liking’ it on my facebook feed. (Somebody buy that man a beverage of his choice.) I lurked on my friends threads after they reposted it but same thing. Only women ‘liking’ and commenting.
And quite frankly, that’s not good enough.
I’m pissed off about that. Again, I’ll just say that I’m sure many men out there are good allies and abhor violence and call out other people on bad behaviour. But I really really hoped some more men would have recognised that they a) could have learned something from this post and b) could have helped educate others.
Maybe they read it and thought about it. That would be good. I’m just pointing out they could have taken some small action as well. Maybe they still will and I’ll never know about it. And I can live with that.
A second male friend of mine commented on the blog itself and this is what he said:
Karin. This is awesome. As a male, who works hard to not be one of the objectifiers, it has made me realise that men really don’t understand the harm they do just as racists can’t see the harm they do.at least those who have best of intentions. I take ownership that I have a way to go to act beyond society’s indoctrination of men into the role of abuser and objectifier.
Thank you so much.
Like I said. I’m still disappointed there weren’t more men actively supporting this post. But I was grateful to read this comment.
Men, many of you still have a long way to go in recognising the impact you have, the roles you play and the opportunities you miss to support women.
But this comment? It’s a good start.
*Disclaimer: I only ‘saw’ female friends of mine link the post. If any men did, please let me know.
And another disclaimer. Some people I know avoid this subject matter for personal and private reasons. I support that. I’m just saying that many people are just not interested, because they think this isn’t about them. But it is.
January 28, 2012
This post is personal. But just don’t make any assumptions ok? That’s kinda what this post is about. Don’t think about what I’m not saying, because what I am saying is enough. Don’t ask yourself which of these stories are mine, because that doesn’t matter either. Some are and some aren’t but they all could be. That’s the point.
The purpose of this post is to show how people can be subtly (and not so subtly) have their autonomy stripped away. How we are conditioned by many to accept things we don’t want.
She is six or so, sleeping over at a friend of her mom’s house with her. Sharing a room with the son, same age, different expectations. He thought she should be his girlfriend and be in his bed with him so he could kiss her. She didn’t want to. She didn’t know how to say no.
She is 8 or so. A young male family member pushes her head in his lap. She doesn’t know what to do. He lets her go, calling her stupid. She feels guilty, like she did something wrong.
She is 12 or so. All the boys at school huddle and laugh, pointing at her. They nominate one of them who makes a comment about her breasts. She feels small and exposed. She swears at them. They laugh. She is alone.
She is 14 or so, at camp, an older boy, much older boy, shows her lots of attention. She is flattered, tries to be cool, to pretend she could handle it. Shares his jumper as they stand in the cold, but she doesn’t like how he is touching her. She doesn’t trust him. Years later people still talk about (not in a good way) like she had a relationship with him or something.
She 15 or so, get asked out by a guy, bit older than her. She doesn’t like him, turns him down, saying she doesn’t want a boyfriend. A couple of days later she starts a quasi-relationship with someone she does like and the first guy sits her down, demanding to know why she said no to him. She feels cornered, intimidated and didn’t know why she has to justify herself to him. She didn’t understand why he feels any sense of entitlement over her decisions and actions.
She is 16 or so, on the bus, some guy is sitting behind her, fondling her hair. She tells him to stop, he doesn’t. She stands, upset, yelling again telling him to stop. He stands and grabs his sack, saying rude things to her. Nobody on the bus does anything. Another time she is standing on the bus and an old man walks up to her and pushes his crotch against her and she feels like vomiting.
That same year, she is at a party with all her good friends. Everyone has been drinking and most are asleep. A guy she thought was her friend rolls on top of her. She tells him to stop, he doesn’t. She can’t tell anyone because everyone loves him.
She is 17 or so. She and her boyfriend fight because she has male friends and sits next to them and talks to them and stuff. He comes to her house, takes back his gifts to her, breaks them, because he love s her so much. Drives off in a rage. She pleads with him not to leave, she worries he’ll have an accident.
She is 18 or so, a male family member says something which completely objectifies her. She goes from feeling safe and innocent to feeling self-conscious and wary. She feels looked at.
She is 20 or so, a guy she had sex with wants a relationship, she doesn’t. He follows her and her friends to the bar, kicks in the bathroom cabinet and leaves. She feels scared to see him again.
She is 21 or so, at University, out with her friends, drinking. Drinking too much. She ends up in a bedroom with a guy. She can’t remember any of it. Everyone knows they had sex, but he was hot, so they think she’s lucky. It’s all a big joke. She can’t remember any of it. Seeing him makes her skin crawl.
She is 22 or so, gets asked out by a guy who clearly just wants a fling. She turns him down, he asks why. She says she isn’t interested. He asks why again, implying she should be interested, cajoling. She says she no. He is a big guy, former military, he if physically intimidating. He keeps persisting, she says she has a boyfriend, he backs down. She leaves furious that her saying no wasn’t enough, that she had to bring another man into the equation for him to give up.
She is 25 or so, at work, in a room with three male colleagues. They start talking about the female coworkers, which ones they would fuck and which they wouldn’t. They turn their attention to her. She practically snarls at them. They laugh, oblivious. She pulls one aside and despite her nerves she tells him, educates him, why that was wrong.
She is 26 or so, walking alone in the dark. She hears footsteps behind her and feels vulnerable. She stops and waits for the man to pass. She feels silly but better for doing it.
She is 27 or so, home alone. She worries about intruders, her heart pounds and she tries to block out sounds from the street. She resolves to sign up for self-defense classes.
She is 29 or so. At her new job, she gets a call from an ex-colleague. He calls her at every new job she goes to. She hangs up on him. She doesn’t know he always finds out where she is. She hopes he doesn’t come around and pretend to be her boyfriend like last time. She considers if she should call the police.
She is 30 or so, everyday she checks the internet, watches TV and movies and sees images of women in pleasing-to-men positions. Ads selling food making obvious references to women sucking dicks. Articles listing the hottest ‘fans in the stands’ (always women) at athletic events. Headlines denigrating intelligent women with status, vilifying ordinary women and mothers. Reports of violence committed against women and she is all too aware; That could be me or maybe; That was me.
To be a woman in this society means being a warrior, not only do you have to be prepared to fight all of your life for your own safety and dignity but for other members of your gender. And you have to learn this early.
These could be my stories, they could be yours or someone you know. Some of them, on their own, might seem innocuous enough, but they are never experienced in isolation. This is effectively, systematic. And these are just a few examples. I wonder if women reading this will be nodding along, able to relate to the stories as things they or someone they know has experienced. I wonder more, what men reading this will think.
I feel that I should remind my readers that I am aware that boys and men have similar experiences. I write from my perspective which is female. I write with the knowledge that women are more likely to be subjected to abuse than men but with the compassion that men are also damaged by abuse. I don’t believe that many men would experience all of the above stories but I bet my bottom dollar that many women do and more.