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? 

Sunday, May 18, 2014


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.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

The thirteenth fairy

In a kingdom far away a king and queen had been trying for years to have a baby but with no success.  Still they persevered.   They did not give up and the day finally arrived when the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter.  The royal couple were delighted.  They wanted to share their pleasure with the entire kingdom.  To this end they sent out their couriers far and wide to invite every person who ever lived in their lands to a celebration of the birth of their baby.
         Everyone was to be invited, from the lowly to the high.  Everyone.  The party was held in the great hall and those who came all brought some offering, however small, for the baby.  When it came time for the fairies to offer their gifts each took it in turn. The First Fairy waved her wand and wished the baby the gift of beauty; the second wished her intelligence; the third creativity and so it went on.  Each fairy wished the baby some attribute to live a good and fulfilled life.  But when the Twelfth Fairy stood to offer her gift there was a whoosh of wind.  The sky grew dark overhead and the Thirteenth Fairy appeared out of nowhere.  She was in a rage.

         ‘I wish this baby dead.’  She waved her wand and disappeared.

         The people were aghast, mouths open, hearts beating.  The queen rushed to the cradle and looked down onto her sleeping baby fearful that the Thirteenth’s Fairy’s power had already taken effect. But the baby slept on.  Her cheeks moved in rhythm with each breath. 

         ‘I cannot undo the power of the Thirteenth Fairy,’ the Twelfth Fairy said. ‘My power is not so great, but I can soften it.’
And so the story continues, the familiar story, the one you already know.  ‘The child will live a good life until she is sixteen years old and then she will prick her finger on a spindle and sleep for one hundred years, only to be awakened by a kiss.’

What a cow that Thirteenth Fairy.  She was angry you know because she had not been invited to the party.  She had felt left out and excluded.  But she was not invited because no one could find her.  The couriers knew of her existence.  They knew she lived in some dank cave somewhere on the other side of the mountain but they could not be sure in which dark cave she lived, because she moved caves regularly in order to avoid detection. 

         They would have invited her.  The king and queen told their couriers as much.  They were so full of the spirit of good will with the birth of their baby they had invited the local drunk, the street urchins, the paupers, the prostitutes, even the ones with leprosy, but the Thirteenth Fairy hid away, bitter and resentful.
         Typical, she thought.  They didn’t include me.  I’ll show them. 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Out of time and out of place

Something good will happen I tell myself again and again.  Something good, to counter the fear that I will not succeed.  

I must succeed to counter that feeling of failure when the analysts chucked me out; to counter the feelings I had as a ten year old when Mother Mary John told me I had failed mental arithmetic in grade six; and again in my first year at university when Delys Sargeant told me I had not answered the question in my mid term essay on social biology and unless I did well enough in the exam I would fail the subject.

I was home alone studying during swat vac when Delys Sargeant rang.  I had not overcome my earlier style of learning and so I pored over my lecture notes and tried to rote learn the lot. 

After the call, I was sure I would fail, so sure that when the exams were over and they pinned the results to the notice board in the quadrangle at the University of Melbourne, I could not find my number and so I decided I had indeed failed. 

I told myself it was okay then.  I was planning to live with my boyfriend and thought that I might be pregnant. I was not yet on the pill.  I could not know I was pregnant for sure because I had not had a period for over a year, not since I finished school and stopped eating. 

To my mind then unprotected sex did not matter much.  My mother had told me that women stopped menstruating during war time because they were starving.  It was nature’s way, she said, to prevent  more babies and conserve limited resources.

Still, I reasoned, I could get pregnant.  One of my university friends, Helen, who had starved herself even more than me, became pregnant.  She had already left her teacher training to become a mother.  I could become a mother, too. 

That would be something to do, some consolation for discontinuing at university.


See this tree, it reflects my feeling: a single blossom during autumn on a tree whose leaves have not yet fallen but were burned to a crisp during the hottest of summers.  A flower out of time, out of place.

Or is that a touch too melodramatic?