He meant no harm…

I slipped on a slab of wet wood in the dog park the other day and landed on my backside.

I was unhurt. I knew as soon I stood to brush myself off, but a few bystanders came to my rescue.

‘I’m all right,’ I said sweeping twigs and leaves from my clothes. ‘Only I’ve bruised my bum.’

‘I’d offer to rub it for you, but…’ from an older man among the three who came to help.

I laughed it off, but in my mind an instant discomfort.

He meant no harm, but I wanted to tell him it was an unnecessary comment, especially in the light of the current conversations in parliament and throughout the zeitgeist. No more gratuitous sexual references from men towards women however seemingly harmless. 

Was it demeaning? 

If I’d been a younger woman, it might have come across as sleezy. To me it was just inane. As if I’d accept such an offer from a complete stranger.

Did he really want to pat my bum or was it the so-called manly thing to say, to throw in a touch of sexual inuendo to re-settle the situation?  

It can’t be easy being a man these days. Not that it’s ever been easy to be a woman or any person on this earth, but some are more privileged than others, the so-called middle class dead white males and those who are soon to join them, seem to be at the top of the tree. But their hegemony is no longer guaranteed.

What a word, ‘hegemony’. I first heard it when I was at university and it took me an age to get my mind around it. Simply put, it means dominance, but it seems to hold more than power at its base.

As Jess Hill puts it: 

Capitalism with all its problems is rooted in centuries of patriarchy. Patriarchy positions all people on a scale of entitlement to power and control: men have power over women, some men have power over other men, white people have power over people of colour, heterosexuals have power over LGBTQI, rich have power over poor, adults have power over children, all people have power over nature, and so on. Within this system, it is not individual men who have the most value, but men (and some women) who embody patriarchal traits of maleness: control, logic, strength, competitiveness, decisiveness, rationality, autonomy, self-sufficiency, heterosexuality (and – critically – whiteness). Men who don’t embody these traits are assigned less value, and may be persecuted, attacked and shamed. That is how patriarchy polices men’s allegiance: through shame, violence and fear.

Folks might be sick of hearing the term ‘patriarchy’. As much as I might once have resented the notion that a woman’s place is in the home.

Where do we get these ideas and why do they hold so fast?

Power, I suspect. A wish to hold onto it and thereby not have to endure the discomfort of our vulnerability. That awful feeling we have when we fall, when we’re hurt or someone hurts us. When we can no longer stand tall, when our dignity fails us and we’re left feeling powerless or helpless.

Though not everyone becomes powerful or arrogant, at least not towards others.

Some people take it out against themselves. They become self-loathers ready to criticize their every move. Every step they take that is not in the realms of what the higher order critic calls ‘perfection’ is to be condemned.

I remember many years ago the words of Emily Dickinson’s poem, I’m nobody who are you. Are you nobody, too? Then there’s a pair of us. Don’t tell. How dreary to be somebody…

Dickinson goes on to sing the praises of being nobody. Little did she know fame would come her way after death. Huge fame as poet. A quirky and memorable one at that. I could not quite join her praise for the nobody state. I wanted to be somebody. 

As a fourteen-year-old when I pinned clothes to the Hills Hoist from a basket overladen with underpants and socks and shirts from my many sisters and brothers, my parents, I liked to sing full throttle.

I had the fantasy that some famous gentleman walked past our house on busy Warrigal Road in Cheltenham and heard my voice rise above the roof tops.

This gentleman could not then resist making his way down the side path of our house to offer me the opportunity to star in his latest musical.

I sang all the louder in the hope of a discovery that never happened. 

It’s a pleasure to be hidden, writes Donald Winnicott, about the fun for babies and small children with the game peek a boo. A pleasure to be hidden as in hide and seek, but devastation, never to be found. And the trouble with so many of our discoveries as we grow, so many of those hopes to be found especially when you’re a young woman wanting recognition, that it often takes the form of a sexualised recognition, not you the person, but your body that is wanted to give some gratification to the other.

So deeply rooted in the male gaze. So deeply rooted in women’s place in the world as the inferior group there for the gratification of the superior group. 

Sorry to go on about this, but I find myself thinking about war. The stupidity of war. The way young men become cannon fodder. Young men die, but the women get raped as a sign of the opposition’s power. As if women are the chattels of the men. it’s not enough to kill men. The women have to be defiled too. To make the point someone else holds the power.

A rant if ever there was one, this little paean to pain but I can’t stop my angry fingers racing across the keyboard in despair at how subtle and deep-set these notions are.

The man in the dog park, who meant no harm to me, still participated in a centuries old tradition of objectifying and sexualising a woman’s body, as if there is nothing more to her than a bruised bum, that needs his soothing hand. 

Pills too bitter to swallow

My mother had a fall three weeks ago and broke her
I did not realize that a broken arm could result in such
bruising but my mother’s arm is still purple with spilled blood.  She has been in hospital since the
fall, and despite early concerns about internal bleeding she’s doing well and
will soon be transferred to a place where they offer transitional care, not so
much rehabilitation but care that’s aimed at getting her back onto her feet
before she can return to her retirement village.
Without two good arms, my mother cannot push her walker
and without a walker it’s not safe for her to walk. 
When I was fifteen years old my mother asked the priest at
our local church, Our Lady of the Assumption, to offer suggestions about how
she might best help her daughters to adjust to the difficulties of our life at home with our drunk father. 
The priest suggested visits to the elderly as an
Every weekend I visited Mrs White at the old people’s
White-haired Mrs White who
smelled of age and lavender sat beside her bed in bedclothes covered by a
matinee jacket of pale pink nylon. 
She was a gruff old thing but mellowed over the time of my visits into
someone who seemed to look forward to them.
She never said as much but I knew I had broken through
when she asked me one day to buy her something for her indigestion.
‘Terrible, dear. 
It puts me off my food.’
Mrs White gave me a handful of coins and full instructions.   She wanted De Witte’s antacid in
a blue roll, each piece shaped like a lolly, or preferably in powder form which
was easier to swallow.
My mother now has a terrible time swallowing the multiple
pills the nurses feed her every day. 
To watch the struggle is agony. 
My mother cannot get the pills past her throat without a battle.  She swishes them around her mouth and
sometimes chews on them to make them smaller.  She barely grimaces but it’s easy to see she does not enjoy
them.  I can only imagine the
If the nurses are not careful my mother has developed a
strategy whereby she tucks a pill into the side of her mouth and waits till the
nurse is out of sight then spits it onto the ground. 
My older sister finds these pills on the floor.  My older sister is attentive to these
things and complains to the staff. 
I reckon my mother does not realize that these pills help to keep her
alive.  She sees them as a nuisance,
only to be tolerated in the presence of others.
Similarly with food. 
The nurses have told my mother she ought to cut down on her sugar.  She takes at least two spoons in every
cup of tea and coffee.
‘At my age,’ my mother says. ‘I don’t care.  Why should I?’
The nurse explains to my mother that the sugar gives her a
quick energy hit that does not leave room for  any hunger for the more sustaining
nutrients, the protein and vitamins from meat and vegetables.
At the moment my mother prefers anything sweet, small tubs
of ice cream, stewed fruit, custard, but for the rest she cannot be
 ‘I’m 94,’ she
says.  ‘I can do as I please.’
If only her body would let her.  And her mind.
There is something willful about my mother in her old age,
something that is a contrast to the strictures of the past, her concern about sin
and the need to do good, which brings me back to my do-gooding days of visiting
Mrs White at the old people’s home.
In the end I arrived one day and Mrs White was gone.  She had died, quietly just like that, and
I could not bring myself to form another relationship with another old person,
knowing that there was such a likelihood of death.
Those were the days when I had decided I would like to die
at sixty; sixty seemed a decent age to go. 
Then two days ago I played ball with my six year old
grandson in our backyard and rejoiced at my stamina despite reaching
Once with the arrogance of my youth I could be cavalier
about the notion that there is a good age at which to die, but not any more.