Saturday, May 31, 2014

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? 

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