May 2014 archive

To be wolf whistled is not about you.

On the radio this morning I heard the news that two
young girls in New Delhi, one fourteen years old and the other fifteen, were
found in their village hanged from a tree after they had been gang raped. 
It’s hard to understand the minds of men who could do such a thing to two young girls.  
I refuse simply to dismiss it as a function of the culture of New Delhi with its high incidence of sexual assault on women, in a place where women are considered inferior, and of no intrinsic value in the
eyes of men, except as commodities. 
It puts me in mind of an article I read recently where a
young woman in America, Estelle Tang describes her experience of being wolf whistled and
worse still of having her bottom slapped as she ran through a park during one
of her exercise routines.  
Her first
impulse was to run back home and hide herself away. 
Here in Australia, one of my daughters reports a similar
experience.  She was jogging along
a shared cyclist/pedestrian path when a man came up behind her on his
bicycle.  Before she could register
what was happening, as he overtook her, he leaned down from his bike and slapped
her hard on the bum.  He then looked
back at her with a leer as he rode away. 
She was left mortified, ashamed and enraged all rolled into one.  
Her impulse, too, was to hide.  She stopped jogging and took herself
home.
What is it then with these men, that they see fit to
invade another’s personal space with such careless disregard.
Before I heard the news of the two girls in New Delhi, I
had a conversation with my youngest daughter.  We had talked about these things before, about how strange it is that
when I was young, some forty years ago, I considered a man’s wolf whistle to be a
compliment, however uncomfortable it made me feel.
‘How can that be a compliment,’ my daughter said.  ‘To be wolf whistled is not about
you.  It’s not even about
your body.  It’s about the fact
that you’re a woman.  A woman walks down the street and certain men believe it’s fine to pass judgment on her without so
much as an invitation.’
I’ve begun to re-think my reading of The First Stone,
Helen Garner’s book about two young women at Ormond College at the University of
Melbourne who went to the police after one of the masters at the college
had fondled the breasts of one of the girls.  
In the book, Helen Garner in her usual
brilliant writing style, ponders her own reaction to these two women’s response
to what had happened. 
After I readit, I was left with a sense that
Garner believed the two young women had over reacted.  And I was then inclined to agree with her.  They should have taken it less
seriously, brushed it aside perhaps.  
I cannot do justice to the book here, but I recognise my own
re-think.  
We must not brush these
things aside.  They are the tip of
the iceberg, the thin edge of the edge. 
I wonder whether Helen Garner is re-thinking it, too. 
These events, the brutal murder of two school age girls in
New Delhi – though whether they were at school, able to get an education, I do
not know –  and the assaults on
young women in Melbourne, Australia, in America and elsewhere, are on a
continuum. 
And then I worry for the men who live in a world in which
such behavior is almost expected. 
How are they to rise against it?
Once again I find myself wishing I were a man.  I’d start up a campaign to get the men
thinking. 
I recognize there are many men who respect and love women and
who are appalled at all this domestic violence and sexual assault.  What can they do to stop this? 

Underwear

I went to the Freud conference yesterday and my professional life
clashed yet again with the personal.
Several times I talked to people, most of whom seemed pleased to see me,
but I felt myself gush. Now I grow hot with shame. 
I should have kept myself to myself.  I fear I become one of those crazy women whom people
tolerate but behind the windows of their eyes they judge. 
We wear our underwear on the inside, I hear them
thinking.  We keep our failures to
ourselves. We put our best foot forward and we do not tell others about our
criticisms of colleagues nor of our colleague’s criticisms of us. 
I wear my underwear on the outside.  I make sure it is clean and there are
no holes, but the very fact of having underwear is another one of those things
that is best kept secret.  
We wear our underwear in order to keep the outer layer clean given what comes out of our
bodies, the sweat and other messes. 
Men have less of a problem down below, I imagine,
unless of course they’ve reached that dreadful late aged stage of incontinence, but at conferences like the one I attended yesterday, most people have not yet
reached this. 
Yesterday, the speakers talked about the difficulties of
working with Gender Identity Dysphoria, (GID) in children and adolescents.  Dysphoria means distress, the distress
of  some of us who decide they are
not their assigned gender, but its opposite. 
It’s a tricky one and apparently it’s on the rise. 
I’ve always felt reasonably confident about my
gender.  A girl from the start, and
still a girl, which is not to say there have not been many times when I wished
I were a boy, not for the bodily show of it but for the social power.  For the sense, as my fantasy has it,
that the world is masculine. 
As women we are always on the edge of the divide, though
not as sharply on the edge as those who do not accept the gender their body
assigns them at birth.
I sit in conferences like this and can feel the weight of
all those other bodies behind me.  I sit
in the front, to see and to hear better. 
Goodie goodies and the elderly tend to sit in the front.  I marvel at those who hide up the back
or those who do not care where they sit. 
To me it matters. 
So much matters to me.  I sometimes wonder whether my internal world is
not a mess of self consciousness.  
My daughter tells me that she too suffers, not so much at conferences,
or at lectures at her university, but on FaceBook, the younger person’s arena
for self presentation. 
On FaceBook some folks wear their underwear in multiple layers, to
give the illusion it’s not there. Their underwear itself is part of the
performance and their bodies underneath must be polished and
primped in perfect proportion to the image they want to create.
It puts my daughter off.  It makes her feel inadequate.  She can never measure up to those pouting, beauties, both men and women, who peer out from their FaceBook pages.
 
I am relieved that I was not born into the FaceBook
generation; that I might use FaceBook as a place to stream my political views
or to share the occasional item of interest, but I do not use it as my personal
platform. 
My blog can be my place to open out and explore these
things but every time I write I shudder inside at the thought, what will people
make of it? 
Among a small group of people to whom I spoke
at the conference yesterday during afternoon tea , I noticed the face of a woman who had joined our
group late and whose eyes suggested deep disapproval of me. 
Whenever I imagine someone dislikes or disapproves of me I
examine my conscience.  Now wait a
minute I say to myself, Isn’t it you who dislikes her? 
But then I reconsider, and in this instance I know the
feeling is mutual.  And I cannot put
my finger on the why?  Perhaps it has something to do with our underwear.  

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