Safety for Girls and Women


This year, I have seen many glorious, smiling faces beaming at me from news sites. Young girls and women with children and careers, friends, family and pets. I have memorized the names underneath their pictures. They were killed strolling home from work or walking their dog on a beach. They were killed at a shopping centre and near their sleeping baby. I didn’t even get to fifteen before being exposed to male violence. I live with the consequences of having being treated as a thing, rather than an autonomous being, with the right to liberty. I was once asked on ABC National radio how I cope with having a girl of my own. I said it was a daily battle to not be a nervous wreck when she is out of my sight. I also said that I didn’t want what had happened to me to taint her future, and so I had to be brave every day of her life. I give her little pieces of freedom as she grows.

This year has seen me fret further. This graph presents the reasons why I am furious.

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We attended self-defence classes for mothers and daughters when she was six. They were run by a former homicide detective. My daughter knows where to scratch and kick for maximum effect, and to call out ‘fire!’ if she is scared, as people apparently look to see what is happening. I hated that my little girl had to be taught to be alert and aware of her surroundings, and I hate that it wasn’t enough for the women and girls I have grieved this year. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was regularly approached on the street by creeps. I have been harangued, denigrated and worse. Australia is in a deep crises and we need funding, now. Women stay with dangerous men because Centrelink makes it so difficult to fund an escape. There is a lack of refuges and assistance at every level. I know, as some of these women have been my friends, whom have died.

Our whole culture needs to change. We need to call out sexism when we hear it and see it. We need to stand together, women and men, to end this scourge. It has nothing to do with the environment a woman is in, nor what she wears. This is about power, and seeing girls and women as lesser than they. I have friends who have come from places where they tell me they were told never to stop at a red light. They were advised to floor it, to avoid car jackings, rape and murder.

I have done my bit to keep my girl safe. She is a confident young woman, who knows self-defence. I have tried my best to instil in her that she can do anything that she wants in life. I have made my scars my own, and not transferred them to her. Is it enough? How can it be, when there are some men who still hate women; have this unadulterated rage against them. The time for action was a century ago. We have to catch up, and change everything we have known. I believe intent is everything with alcohol. We can enjoy a glass of wine over dinner, or use it as a crutch to amplify our anger. I have known men who take drowning their sorrows to be their creed, effectively making them a danger to all who love them. Cars become a metal prison in which to terrify their families when they are angry. Bills don’t get paid when one partner sees all the money as being theirs to dish out as they please and when they want. It is insidious, and affects whole communities. It is our job to declare that we won’t stand for it. It means having hard conversations when somebody is behaving badly.

I want my daughter to be able to go to the shops, catch a train and walk along a beach, without fear. I demand that she and her contemporaries are able to enjoy simple pleasures. I want her to be able to turn down a boy when he asks her out, without fearing retribution. Can we please be the generation that states in voices that roar in unison, ‘This stops here!?’

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Eurydice, Safety and Heroes found Lacking


This past week, a 22 year old comedienne of extraordinary talent, was brutally murdered on her way home from a gig in Melbourne. Her name was Eurydice Dixon. We cried and grieved for a woman most of us had never met nor had the privilege to see perform. We mourned her and we realized that her death holds a mirror to society and our perceived safety. Every woman I know looks behind when they hear footsteps quickening as they walk. We keep our keys in our hands in case they need to be used as a weapon in carparks and when nearing home. We scan our surroundings and check in with friends after they leave our presence or we theirs. We tend to sit in the back of an Uber or taxi, and are hyper-vigilant at all times. Eurydice certainly was vigilant, and it still wasn’t enough, because the onus was on her accused to be a decent human being and not destroy her young life. We know what she was doing out at night; walking home from her work. Nobody has asked what the hell he was doing out.

Last weekend, I opened a Sydney paper and my eyes cast to a front page story. It detailed the abuse two sisters suffered at the hands of several high-profile visitors to her parent’s home in the 70’s. The parents happened to be well-known writers. I realized that I knew one of the men mentioned in the story, and immediately wanted to vomit. He is now deceased, but was one of Australia’s foremost pop artists amongst other titles. I knew him to be quiet and unassuming, and in his later years, professed a religious leaning. I had gone to his home in the Eastern Suburbs countless times, and had numerous conversations with this fellow. I never got the ‘creep vibe’ which women count on to assist in discerning who is to be feared and who isn’t. I recall on one occasion I asked him if he would consider donating some of his art for a charity auction I was involved in. The next day a courier came with signed shirts, prints and posters. I was touched by his generosity. I never saw the lecherous side to his character, but I have no doubt it existed. Repulsed, I gathered the books I had in my library by the girl’s parents. I also gathered up the biography and prints I had from the artist. I wanted nothing to do with either their art nor them, in any capacity.

Looking back I believe that I was spared hell from this artist for the fact that I had already been through hell. My body was damaged and scarred, and I had lost my youthful naiveté by the time we met. We were also always within crowds of people at art openings and parties. I had prided myself on being able to spot a predator at ten paces, and yet in the past few years, a GP I had seen was incarcerated for rape, and I heard that others from my past had been accused of such horror. The link between them was that they all looked normal. They were all educated, charming and seemingly decent. Somehow, it makes the horror worse. They were able to have access to young people, unabated. To be honest, it turns my perceptions on whom is to be trusted upside down and inside out. I feel pressure on a daily basis to keep my daughter safe, whilst she craves liberty of movement the older she gets.

I recall when I was a little girl and would play in the park around the corner, leading onto a dead-end street. There was a vacant block next to the park, overgrown with weeds. I saw a man hiding within the tall grass and was informed by a friend that he had called out to her, beckoning her to come over. I saw him watching me, feeling his gaze before I saw his eyes. I took it upon myself to knock on every door on the street and notify the residence that there was a bad person about. The police were called and it was found that he was a sex offender, with a long history. I didn’t think for one moment that it would have been my fault if anything had happened to me. I was simply at the park for the purpose of playing with friends. As we grow, we are taught that it is up to us to be vigilant, to not take public transport nor walk at night. We must be alert and alarmed at all times. Too bad if we are without a car or need to be out for work or any other reason. The onus goes from the creep in the long grass watching us to the fault of a woman walking by with a purpose.

We start to doubt our own impressions of situations and people as we grow. We worry about making a fuss, about being impolite to the stranger attempting to strike up a conversation, for instance. You know what, girls and boys and grownups have the right to move through their lives and our streets unabated. Eurydice had the right to safely walk home from her gig. The blame is entirely with her killer. The blame lies with the parents of the girl’s whom they didn’t protect in their family home. The blame is with the artist whom I had once admired. I now can’t even bear looking at his face nor hearing his name. The blame is with the creep watching the kids from the long grass, not with the kids playing in the park. I have gathered up the artist and writer’s works; people whom I once looked up to, and have thrown them in the recycling. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the paper came back as cardboard, holding cartons of inspired work by decent men and women?

White Ribbon Day, 2014.


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Today is White Ribbon Day. I was planning on going to a function today, but instead I am in bed, in agony. I took my daughter to a Katy Perry concert last night, and the only tickets I could get were in General Admission. I stood for several hours, yet it was necessary. This lady leant my daughter the encouragement to find her voice, not only as a singer but as a little girl. I had to take her. There was no option.I am not in agony because of the concert. I am in agony because I was thrown off a building at fifteen. I have known violence. I have a scar running the length of my left index finger. I have never had (nor will I), a knife block in my kitchen. These were weapons, not cooking implements. As a matter of fact,  I have no sharp knives.

Katy Perry's Prism Tour
Katy Perry’s Prism Tour

Today I raise a toast to all the beautiful girls and women I have known. Here’s to those who rapped on my door, children in tow. Here’s to those who bravely let me photograph their bruises and cuts. Here’s to those who released  the contents of the fetid garbage they were trying to contain behind closed doors. Here’s to those too ashamed to let anyone know what was going on. I understand. Here’s to those who did. I think of those who tried to defend their abuser, as the truth at that time was too horrible to bear. I commend you on facing the agonizing truth; that he wouldn’t change and you had to leave. I am honoured to have my story told in White Ribbon Writing 2014, under the title, A Scarred Butterfly. This e-book is available from Amazon and all proceeds go to the White Ribbon Foundation. I am so proud of the White Ribbon Foundation. Their sponsors, Suzanne Grae, dressed me for my book launch, an ambassador spoke with heartfelt passion in front of the guests, and more people are taking the pledge to stamp out violence against women each day. There is no more hiding. No more excuses. It has to stop, and we are the one’s to do it.

White Ribbon Writing, 2014
White Ribbon Writing, 2014

 

 

Why I am a Feminist.


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I have been alarmed (more like horrified), at how many young women dismiss feminism. “We don’t need it anymore!” Some give reference to the early 70’s and are convinced that things are different now. Really? Really?! Off the top of my head, here are some reasons why I am a feminist. I grew up in Sydney, in a little town (now quite big), about thirty minutes from the city. I grew up around folks you would find gathered in any town. I am in my thirties. Now here is why I am a feminist.  My appearance was commented on from the time I was tiny. I don’t mean as in “you are a beautiful little girl.”  Rather, “you will be a heartbreaker. Sexy little thing…You will be daddy’s secretary one day.” My appearance as a girl wasn’t part of the package of who I was as an entity. Rather it was isolated as being the sum of me. There was no “you have lovely blue eyes, the hue of the ocean,” the commentary was obscene and made me feel ashamed. All this before starting kindergarten!

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I was exposed to pornography, chilled that this was what women were worth to some men. What a thing to look forward to as I grew! I was made to feel ashamed by being in swimmers or shorts in an Australian summer. If a man made a lurid comment at the local pools, I was to blame, not he. I was threatened at my local shopping centre, on more than one occasion. Walking back from the toilets, a local boy and his gang pinned me against the wall and I hit out wildly to escape. I was threatened walking down the street, and became used to being in a hyper-vigilant state.
Girls were referred to as hoes or bitches, and treated as such. Some were sadly immune and accepted the labelling. My first surgeon said that I could still be a wife and mother after sustaining injuries from male violence, not something I wanted to hear at fifteen after so much trauma. Even now, it makes me livid hearing children referred to as looking ‘cheap’ because they wear certain clothing. Children are never cheap, nor are young women. They are seeking identity and a sense of individual style. The manufacturers and those that demean them are cheap.There wasn’t a time when I didn’t feel threatened. I was a young girl on the train, going on an adventure with friends. A young guy (sometimes older), would often press up to me, stand over me, grope me. I felt rage every day at my pruning. It happened with makeup or without and was independent of what I happened to be wearing. It happened because I was a girl, and they were seeking control. I had to be ready to fight as the threat of harassment and worse accompanied me every day of my life.

I was sent to a private clinic at 14 years of age, as way of punishment by my father. The men wasted no time. I endured listening to them bet on who would “get me” as they sipped their coffee in the café. I was fodder, not a person. On one occasion, I slapped a male nurse, who sidled up and pinched me, whilst whispering a lurid suggestion. Contrary to popular belief, I was a person, not a thing. I had a wide vocabulary and love of science and the arts, and was a voracious reader. I was reduced to being a “little blonde.” When the man who later threw me off the building disobeyed his restraining order, he scoffed, “I showed my lawyer a picture of you, and he told me to go for it.” Told him to go for it. This wasn’t in another era. This was recent history! The court case eventuated, and I was treated as a slut. I was degraded yet again. My being on the pill for severe endometriosis was questioned. Everything was questioned. My mother was more devastated at the ravages surgery inflicted on my body-the scars seared into my flesh- than at the psychic wounds I carried.

If one survives the teenage years, there is more pressure to be found in your twenties. Pressure to look the part at work, pressure to have a family. I discovered that women with fertility problems have to fight a bloody battle to get to see the right doctors and then embark on a brutal drug regime. Every person and their dog sees fit to enquire as to when you plan to have children, as though one isn’t a whole woman without a child. The most personal and sensitive of questions is brought up on a daily basis. I had my daughter, but then the probing into having more kids started. The pressure and judgements were felt continually. Pressure to be a certain weight, dress appropriately, women judging women, whilst men look on. I am angry. Angry that our government doesn’t adequately assist women who have a child get back into the workforce. Angry at the condescending attitudes. Angry that working mums are judged, stay at home mums are judged, single mums are judged and single women are judged. Women in general are judged.
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I am determined that my cheeky, impudent, artistic child can be anything she wants. I took her to see an elaborate display last Christmas. A church had crafted a village to represent old Jerusalem, complete with shepherds, bakers and craftsmen. On the way out, a Roman Soldier stood at the gateway, and demanded my daughter give a gold coin, or he wouldn’t let her pass. He had an arm over the exit, blocking her. “Then what will you do?” this burly man mocked. I was taken aback. She had gone ahead, so was alone at the exit and he was standing over her, close. I don’t believe he had any idea how intimidating it appeared. My seven year old looked up, smiled sweetly, and replied in a strong voice, “I will kick you between your legs if you don’t let me through.” I took her little hand and made a quick getaway. I had always been told to be polite to adults, especially men, and never make waves. Here was my seven year old, feeling able to stand up for herself, knowing she was safe to do so, knowing that this grown man was out of line. I thought about her quick response, and felt immense pride. She thought on her feet, standing her ground against a man. Immense pride. We need to watch what we say to our young girls. Enough with the commentary on their build, their hair, their appearance. Let’s hear more “your eyes carry the depth of the ocean, and your mind holds a library of wisdom.” Being a feminist doesn’t entail hating men, not at all. It means holding yourself in esteem. As long as there is a disparity in pay, the extraordinary emphasis on appearance, the condescending attitudes and violence, feminism must be a revered state.
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