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? 

Watch out for the undertow

This morning someone used the towel which hangs
in the bathroom, the one I claim for myself.  I’m not so much critical of the fact that someone else used
my towel – these things happen – but more the fact that when I went to dry myself,
the cold wet of an already damp towel jarred and left me in ill spirits on an
otherwise perfectly fine morning. 
Or is it a perfectly fine morning? 
Today I have promised one of
daughters that I will help her with an essay on the topic of fear and anxiety.  
We all know fear : that cliff
you’re about to drive over, that near miss on the road, that accidental slip of
the knife.  Fear, actual and
intense that sets off your adrenaline big time and leaves your underarms prickling with
sweat and a racing heart. 
But anxiety is worse.  Anxiety is insidious.  Something out there, sometimes you know
not what, sets your heart racing, your pulse soaring and all you know is that
you feel a deep sense of dread. 
The old fight/flight response to fear kicks in but it doesn’t budge.  It hangs around.  
When I feel anxious there’s nothing clear cut to
fight.  There’s nothing obvious to
flee and so I’m stuck, bathed in these hormones with a vague sense of what
might be troubling me but an inability to shift it because it is not what
might be called real. 
Even now I can feel it.  I try to attach it to something: that
talk I’m to give to a group of post grad students at the end of the week,
rehearsal anxiety, free-floating fear of the unknown, but is that enough? 
I’ve prepared for the talk.  It should be okay.  Is that enough? 
For me sometimes even thinking about
anxiety can make me anxious.  And
anxiety is contagious.  I pick it
up from other people, quick smart, especially from those who are near and dear
to me. 
It’s also the stuff of terrorism, the
ways in which certain people play on our fears to divide and conquer. 
In Thomas Keneally’s novel, Flying
Hero Class
, the narrator anticipates the
hijacking of a plane and makes a plea for solidarity among the passengers.
What they will do these hijackers,
he says, is to select a few of us for special treatment – cruel treatment.  Those selected will be chosen for some
fault of their history, culture or some such thing.  They will be isolated and punished.  Basically they will be punished in
order to split up the rest of the group. 
It’s an old technique.  Those not selected will gradually find
themselves withdrawing from these victims.  Gradually those not selected will feel a sense of blame
towards these others, a sense of their badness.  And all of this will emerge out of a sense of not having
been chosen. 
We must avoid the process at all
cost, the narrator argues.  Solidarity will help
us.  Black and white, Jew and
gentile must come together to avoid the divisiveness of the hijackers. 
‘I’ve seen hesitant people
bludgeoned by an appeal to solidarity,’ she writes.  ‘Solidarity can be used to mock genuine doubt, to blur a
fatal skid in reasoning.  Run the
flag up the pole and see who salutes. 
Whenever I feel in myself the warm emotional rush of righteousness of
belonging, that accompanies the word solidarity, I try to remember to stop and
wait till the rush subsides so I can have a harder look at what has provoked
it.’
I too can feel the clash of anxiety,
alongside my wish to belong when I press the send button to make a comment on
that controversial blog, No Place for Sheep, where people can be very generous and thoughtful and yet a other times they might brawl on line
about important topics and some actually abuse one another. 
But I am drawn to this anxiety, too, like
a toddler to an open socket.  I’m
drawn to the excitement of it, the kick-in of hormones that can leave me
feeling more alive.  
Without
anxiety life might become too drab and ordinary.   But watch out for the underto, or the ‘under toad’ as the young Walt, a character in John Irving’s novel, The world According to Garp, calls it.  
Anxiety needs to be optimal to inspire and fire you up.  But too much anxiety and you wind up paralysed.