Today, along with my partner and my two year old son, I will march at SlutWalk Melbourne. Last year they walked without me as I was presenting a panel discussion for National Young Writers’ Month, but I heard the march go past and I was proud to know that the two most important men in my life were participating, even if I couldn’t.
This year participating is even more important to me, because as well as walking in solidarity with women I know – and many I don’t – who have been sexually assaulted or raped, I will be walking alongside women I know who have been sexually assaulted or raped. In the lead up to SlutWalk two women I know and admire greatly have discussed publicly for the first time their own experiences of sexual assault. SlutWalk organiser Karen Pickering, and one of the speakers for Melbourne SlutWalk 2013, Amy Gray, both wrote heart-wrenchingly honest accounts of how sexual assault has changed their lives.
Being able to walk with them today is a privilege. Being able to stand next to them and say what happened to you matters, it shouldn’t have happened, and you are not to blame, is important. I hope the connection to these women matters for other people, too. That their bravery in speaking out means we stop thinking of statistics as an amorphous group of ‘other people’ and start to acknowledge the difficult truth that all women of all ages, all backgrounds, all socio-economic strata (though obviously some women are more vulnerable, and are therefore more heavily represented statistically) and all kinds are victims of sexual assault and harassment.
Look around next time you sit in a café. That table of five women having lunch? Statistics show that one of them has experienced sexual violence. Look around your crowded train. Those three women sitting together? Statistics tell us that one of them was sexually assaulted before the age of 16. In every class of 30 young people, if half of them are women then three of them have been sexually assaulted. This is not an aberration. It doesn’t happen elsewhere, to other people. It happens to the women who surround you every day. They might not have told you yet, but don’t imagine you don’t know women who have been sexually assaulted. You do.
Lefa Singleton Norton
These last few weeks I’ve been pretty upset. It seems like everywhere I look, women are being attacked, and while there are plenty of beautiful strong feminists (men and women) crying out in anger and sadness, the attacks keep coming.
I think a lot of it has to do with the GOP convention. It seems like every uterus-regulating, woman-shaming nutter has come crawling out of the woodwork to tell American women that their rights are not important. And the level of ignorance on display when middle class white men like Todd Akin decide whether rape is ‘legitimate’ or not is just too much to take all at once.
I’m frequently told that I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about what’s happening to women in the US; it doesn’t affect me. But it does, and not just because misinformation and ignorance when it comes to women seem to be contagious – here in Australia I see female politicians and journalists and political commentators criticised solely on the basis of their gender every day.
When I look at the GOP’s arch-conservatives, it’s not just vitriolic words directed at some other women somewhere, it directly affects me and how my friends, family, colleagues and all of society perceives me as a woman.
It’s personal and it hurts.
When they attack the rights of any woman I feel it too. When they call a woman a slut, bitch, whore, or indeed cow, they’re calling me a slut, bitch, whore or cow. When they dismiss a woman’s opinions because she’s a woman I think, well, what’s the point of talking, and that makes me feel angry and sad and helpless.
That’s why I support Slutwalk. Because women I know have been hurt by a culture that still blames women for getting raped. Because people like Todd Akin still exist. Because I don’t want to feel sad for the future of my entire gender every time I turn on the TV.
Because the only way to drown out the voices still trying to take away our rights is to be louder than they are.
When I was 12 I was admonished by my teacher for correcting him. He was asking students what their fathers did for a living. I answered that my mother owned and operated a restaurant. I didn’t live with my dad.
Some boys in the class, already accustomed to thinking in such ways, made assertions that my mother must only have been able to succeed in that world because she was sleeping with one or more important men.
I was reminded of it years later when I heard that her ‘contemporaries’ were making the same ‘jokes’.
No child should have to hear that said about their mother. No woman should have to hear that said about herself. And no person should live in a world where those attitudes are normal.
I like to think today marks one step forward in that evolution. I would proudly be there marching, as I did last year, if I could.
This week I think my brain snapped. I wanted to scream “enough” but really I was feeling “this is all too much”. I’m tired of fighting the same battle over and over. I’m pained to see brilliant young women dealing with the same issues I was at their age. I felt emotionally empty.
It’s hard to pinpoint the trigger for this latest snap. I don’t snap often, but from time to time it happens and I bounce back quickly. But the intervals are becoming disturbingly shorter because the incidents are becoming more frequent.
I know an ad for lingerie contributed to this snap. As is usual in this type of advertising some Photoshop was to be expected to place the ‘perfect’ woman in a setting of luxury. However, this was more photochopped. The ads won Argentina’s highest advertising prize and, while hardly showing any lingerie, they do show a woman in explicit, provocative poses with all the sexual organs of Barbie. Literally. Anything which would identify this body as a woman was missing.
Then there was a female journalist being called a ‘cow’, which was followed by an apology that wouldn’t have passed the test of the board game Sorry.
Oh, and broadcaster Alan Jones accused women of ‘destroying the joint’. This is Alan broadening his usual attack on the prime minister to embrace other female public figures. According to media reports, Alan Jones dismissed critics, saying “There’s no chaff bag big enough for these people”.
Nothing has been specifically addressed to me, but as a woman, when people insult, misrepresent or discriminate against women, they are insulting, misrepresenting and discriminating against me. I am under attack.
I am a woman, I have rights, I am equal to a man and I try to live my life by encouraging others and doing no harm. So why do people hate me?
In case you think I’m just having a bit of a bitch, because, you know, I am a woman, there was a landmark win for women’s health and choice this week too. The abortion drug RU486 became available on the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s register, meaning it will be more widely available to Australian women who choose to use it.
Prior to 2006, it belonged to the class of drugs subject to veto by health ministers before being allowed to be assessed by the TGA, and it was effectively banned because of deals done in parliament to gain the support of pro-life senator, Brian Harradine. This was overturned by the first private senators’ bill in the names of four senators from four different parties, all of whom were women.
That was a long battle, which shows me that I must, if only as an example to the young women in my family, show persistence and resilience, and keep bouncing back from the snaps.
Frankly, most men simply don’t understand what it is like to feel threatened walking home alone at night. What it’s like to wonder if the person behind you is on their way home or wants to do something unspeakable to you. Rape culture exists for the most part because a great deal of men simply don’t understand rape. Hell, when we live in a society where a thread on reddit asks rapists to justify why they did what they did, we truly do not understand the massive power imbalance women face every single day. A common and recurring point made by many of the participants in that thread said bald-faced, ‘she didn’t say “no”‘ or “she wasn’t really forceful when she said “no”’ – as if not getting clear consent from a woman is somehow carte blanche for their very own indulgence in the form of droit du seigneur.
(excerpt from I am not a uterus scientist, first published on Limited News August 22, 2012)
Why not head over to our interactive sexism article, where Courteney Hocking asks you to put yourself directly into the shoes of a woman, to see just how endemic our culture of misogyny can be.
Image by Phil King via Creative Commons Licence