It’s been a shocking week in the news or, at least, that’s what a lot of people have said online. They are shocked and appalled by the news of a female Liberal Party staffer, Brittany Higgins, being raped in our nation’s Parliament (there is now a second report from another woman). They are shocked by the flood of sexual assault and rape reports from girls and women who were assaulted by boys from private schools in Sydney. The shock is compounded by the one-year anniversary of the horrific murder of Hannah and her three children at the hands of her estranged husband.
Everyone is shocked. Except we’re not really shocked because that word suggests an element of surprise, and I’m sure most women aren’t surprised at all. We’re not surprised when it’s reported the Prime Minister and his staff may have covered up Brittany’s rape or that the alleged perpetrator went on to a cushy job in the private sector. We’re not surprised that all those private school boys who assaulted their female peers have apparently gone on to live their lives without any repercussions whatsoever. We weren’t surprised when poor Hannah and her children paid the ultimate price in a society where women are still not safe from predatory men.
Perhaps a better word would be sad. Incredibly sad. A heartbreaking sadness that sits in your chest and never leaves because you feel so helpless, particularly as a woman who wants every woman to be safe no matter where she is or what she is wearing.
It was only when he thought about Brittany as a woman attached to him genetically that he could see her as a human. Anyone who knows this man is record was not surprised at his lack of empathy (remember the bushfires) or support for women,
Meanwhile, social media posts call for more teaching about consent in schools, starting with younger children than we do now. The calls seem to asks our schools and hard-working teachers to take on even more of the social responsibility for how our children turn out. Over-burdened teachers with heavy workloads reply, “Really? When will parents and the rest of society take on the load? How much more do you want us to do?”
Some mutter about porn being the cause and, yes, porn has negatively shaped expectations for many men and boys when it comes to what sex, and girls and women should look like and enjoy. But porn isn’t to blame for the ongoing violence towards girls and women. This violence happened to my generation and all the ones that came before. It continues even now.
There is a saying that rot starts from the top and in this case, I believe the change we need must also start there as well. Unfortunately, for women, this change is something men must initiate – the men who hold leadership roles in our government, schools and communities.
The perpetrators of this violence are male. Boys look to men for cues on how to be men so it is men who must speak up.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Prime Minister stood up and said loudly with no spin or prevarication: “Any man who has sex with a woman without her full, eager and willing consent is a rapist and a despicable human being as far as I am concerned. As such, I would expect them to be pursued and prosecuted within the full scope of the law, and if that didn’t happen, I would want to know why.”
Wouldn’t it be great if teenage boys were also told that by their male teachers and by men in their homes and communities?
Wouldn’t it be great if every man in a leadership role in a football code did the same?
Wouldn’t it be great if they said it, meant it and followed through so every woman or girl could feel safe and know that “good men” really do exist?
I am honoured to know a lot of incredible women – strong, resilient, highly-intelligent, well-organised, successful in their chosen fields or brilliant stay-at-home carers. But often they share a recurring theme that breaks my heart and causes feelings of profound sadness, frustration and yes, rage, to rise in my chest.
It is the lack of equality in their intimate partnerships and their continued acceptance of that situation as normal.
It is evident in common statements like:
I’ve done two hours of work before my husband has even got out of bed in the morning.
He really wants to have kids as soon as possible and both our Mums really want grandkids. I’m not sure if I’m ready but there is a lot of pressure. [a few months later she falls pregnant]
He really wants more kids…[later in the same conversation]…He didn’t realise he needed to take the nappy bag because he rarely looks after the children by himself.
I finally got a cleaner because I don’t have time to do it all and it doesn’t matter how many times I ask, he never helps out much.
He tries but, you know, he never does it properly.
He’s always happy to do things he enjoys like going to soccer with our son. But he’s not great with the other stuff like cleaning and cooking dinner.
He runs a large company but can’t cope with our three children for two hours without calling me.
Again and again I hear these statements uttered with an accompanying sigh of resignation. I wonder how we reached the point where women accept this behaviour as the standard. Why do we accept this is what love and relationships are supposed to look like?
Honestly, I know exactly how we got here. We arrived through the centuries of conditioning woman (and yes, men) have received, generation after generation. It’s been enforced through cultural norms, families, religious doctrine, film, television, books and our media.
Women accept this is what love looks like because we’ve been taught that it looks like this. We believe it because we see it everywhere. Yet we also wonder why we still don’t have equal rights in the workplace and why men still get off lightly in the courts for rape and other forms of sexual assault. We wonder why women working online receive vicious threats from men threatening to hunt them down, hurt or murder them. We wonder why the scourge of domestic violence continues to threaten women in relationships at every socio-economic level.
We wonder why we don’t have equality in society yet we don’t realise we don’t have it in our homes. If we don’t have it in our intimate lives how can it ever be created or sustained outside our front door?
The truth is, it can’t. But if we continue to accept inequality in our intimate lives, to shrug and say that’s just the way it is and “I love him”, nothing will ever change within our homes or outside them.
Love without equality is love with an unhealthy serve of disrespect. I am so very tired of seeing women disrespected. I can also see they are exhausted from it too. They are exhausted from the accommodating, navigating and negotiating. Yet they believe this is what love looks like so they make trade-offs in their own minds and it all continues.
If we truly want equality in society, we must first achieve it in our homes. And men who support equality in their workplaces need to do the same in their relationships. If they don’t, they are simply mouthing meaningless platitudes in an attempt to publicly look good to their female colleagues and the rest of the world.
Intimate relationships and love can be complicated. There will always be give and take throughout the twists and turns of life, and compromises to be made. But let’s get real about equality.
If you’re in a relationship, sit down and map out how much time you both spend doing paid and unpaid work to sustain life and the home. Include all the hours spent getting up to feed babies in the middle of the night, caregiving, doing the school run, shopping for groceries, cleaning, looking after relatives – although it is unpaid it is still work and if you had to pay someone to do those things (actually, let’s face it, you would need to pay several people), the bill would be huge. Tally it all up and compare notes. See who is spending more time and go from there. Perhaps you are both equally pulling your weight. If so, that is fantastic – keep going! If not, it’s time for an honest conversation.
Every woman deserves to have equality in her intimate partnership. It should be a right rather than something we need to negotiate. A given not an exception to the rule.
Love without equality is not good enough for any woman, or a good enough reason to stay with any man.
A heavy sadness has been growing in my heart for some days now. It arrived when I opened Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women and read about the vicious and violent threats she has received from men throughout her career, simply for voicing her opinions.
My heart grew heavier still as I watched Promising Young Woman at the cinema last night.
A book and a film both released in the past 12 months. Both cover the abuse of women. Both shining a blinding spotlight on what women know to be true – we are not safe.
The fact I need to put a trigger warning at the start of this post demonstrates just how unsafe we are – almost every woman I know has experienced some kind of abuse at the hands of man. And when many of us write about women standing up for themselves, we also include the words – if it’s safe for you to do so. We write this because for many women, it’s not safe to speak up.
I had to put Laura’s book down after reading the first 20 pages. I will pick it up again but I need to steel myself to proceed (and I haven’t even got to the really confronting parts yet).
However, I did watch the entirety of Promising Young Woman and I would describe it as brilliantly written, incredibly confronting and disturbingly accurate. It shows what women know to be true and also how men and some women dismiss, cover it up and justify it to themselves.
The film centres on Cassie, a young woman who dropped out of medical school to care for her best friend, Nina. Nina was raped while drunk during college and her rapist got away with it.
Cassie is on a mission to seek retribution.
Promising Young Woman could only have been written and directed by a woman. Its realness is unavoidable. I also feel it should be compulsory viewing for every girl, woman, boy and man over the age of 16.
The frequent refrain of “but I’m a nice guy” provided many teachable moments. Male characters knowingly took advantage of a woman who was drunk yet, when caught out, excused themselves with “but I’m a nice guy” and somehow reasoned away their culpability. Men and women dismissed rape as no big deal with comments about how the victim was drunk and asking for it.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
It reminded me of when I was at my post-formal party. It was the end of high school and my whole year went to a school mates’ property to get drunk and celebrate. I was a fairly naïve 17-year-old but even so, for some reason, I asked a trusted male friend if he would look out for me. I knew he would be sober but I wouldn’t be. Later that night, I remember one of the guys from my year (a seemingly nice guy) with his hands all over my breasts and the rest of my body. If it wasn’t for intervention of my sober male friend, things could have got out of hand very quickly.
Interestingly, back then, it didn’t register as an invasion of my physical space or assault. I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone and I certainly didn’t confront the perpetrator when I was sober at school the next day. Instead, I felt like it was just one of those things that could happen and you lived with it – having a guy put his hands all over you, intimately, when you were drunk was something that could happen and you lived with it. There was also an underlying theme that, somehow, you should feel good if a guy noticed you in that way – like you should be grateful for their attention.
No one had ever talked to me about how vulnerable women can be in those situations, what could happen and what my rights were to protect my own body. Clearly I knew enough to ask a friend to look out of me but that wasn’t from any direct conversation. I guess it was a more innate understanding of what kind of world I lived in as a young woman. It was just what we lived with.
But I’m sick of living with it and I’m tired of hearing people say that a woman asked for trouble because of what she was wearing or because she drank too much. Equally, I know that just because some guy shows you attention doesn’t mean you should be grateful for it. I’m also so sick of perpetrators getting away with their crimes because everyone thinks they are “nice guys” and “women often lie about these things”.
Women don’t often lie about these things. Why would we when, by making a formal police report, we open ourselves up to condemnation for being a slut and somehow asking for it? Or worse, victims are dismissed by police because a perpetrator “comes across as decent guy” when interviewed. Yes, it happens. Still.
There’s no doubt Promising Young Woman rips the scab off and exposes the darkness beneath. It’s a darkness we all know is there. Some of us try to ignore it, some of us feel powerless to stop it, many of us have been victims of it. But. We. All. Know. It. Is. There.
So please, take your brother, husband, boyfriend, father and male friends to see this film. Have the difficult conversations that arise afterwards. And for God’s sakes, all you men out there who sincerely want to help women: start listening to the experiences of the women you are supposed to care about, believe them and step up. Because women are still being raped and assaulted by “nice guys” and we need your help to stop it.
And as for you “nice guy” perpetrators out there. I hope you meet a woman like Cassie very soon.
World, we have a problem and I am sick to death of it. Sexual assault of women and girls is rife in our community and it’s got to stop.
Almost every woman I speak to has been sexually assaulted and/or physically abused by a boy or man. The incidents may have happened when they were a child or an adult but the stories are appallingly and insidiously common. Strangers at parties, boyfriends and husbands, older men when they were kids, on and on and on the stories go. They are everywhere and they are never-ending.
If you’re reading my words and thinking, “Lucretia is exaggerating, it’s not that common,” I want to invite you to do the following.
If you are a man reading this, put down your device and go talk to the women in your life – the women you care about. Ask them about their experiences of assault in the workplace, at home, on nights out. I dare you to ask and I dare you to listen and accept what you hear about their experiences. If a woman has escaped sexual assault and abuse, she is a lucky exception.
Then I suggest you take walk through the comments sections on posts by women like Clementine Ford who speak out about abusive male behaviour, feminism and women demanding better treatment. As you scroll, I want you do look out for the misogynistic commentary that some men still think is acceptable – comments like, “I’m going to rape you if you don’t shut your hole” or “No man will ever have sex with you because you’re an ugly pig.” This type of commentary is remarkably common and even more interestingly, when women shine a spotlight on these ugly comments that men send to their DMs, people (men and women) defend the abusive pricks who sent them in the first place. Women are still expected to play nicely and smile politely even in the face of abuse – we mustn’t cause waves or be disruptive.
Well, I am sick of this shi!
I’m sick of hearing of young women who are assaulted yet, when they tell adults, police and others, they are disbelieved and met with words like, “He comes across as a really genuine guy” or “Maybe he didn’t know that you weren’t into it.”
I’m sick of reading about how, even if a woman bravely and tenaciously, goes to court to tell her story, juries are still more likely to believe the man’s story even when evidence shows that women are unlikely to lie about this stuff. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend you read the words of Bri Lee in her book, Eggshell Skull.
I’m also completely devastated when I hear women and girls describe their assaults and in the next breath they doubt themselves and ask, “Was that wrong? Am I over-reacting? Was it my fault?”
If you are a girl or a woman and you feel like you have been sexually assaulted, then it’s highly, highly likely you have been. It wasn’t your fault.
If you said no and then he coerced you, didn’t listen, forced himself on you, you have been assaulted.
If he touched you sexually without your consent, then you have been assaulted.
If he pushed himself on you and you froze (which sadly, many women do in these situations because we are terrified), then you were assaulted.
If you have had any of these or related experiences, I want to say this directly to you:
“Sweetheart, none of that was your fault. When things happen and they feel wrong, they are wrong – trust yourself. It’s not your job to teach men and boys how to treat you respectfully – they know the difference between right and wrong.
“You are a courageous and beautiful person who deserves so much more than this. I believe you can find your way out – sometimes it’s just about finding the right person to help you.
“Don’t give up. I believe you.”
As for those of you who continue to say, “It’s not that common”, “She shouldn’t have worn that dress/gone to that place/been with that guy” or “He just misunderstood and thought she consented”, my response is “Do better”.