Women as public property

Three separate things have happened to me in the last few weeks that have basically lead me to believe that I’m operating as a form of public property – you know, something that anyone can feel free to comment on. And, quite frankly, it pisses me off. Above and beyond the fact that everyone reading can probably say things along the lines of ‘BOO HOO’, and ‘welcome to the real world’, I’ve reached a point of absolute frustration with this shit. A point at which I’ve start side-eyeing random strangers, suspicious of that the fact that they may be poised to make some stupid, crude or idiotic remark to me when I DIDN’T EVEN ASK THEM.

Case number one: About a week ago, I ventured out for one of my standard morning runs. I’d just hit the 7km mark, and was sweating up a storm. Earlier, I had run past an older man. He had waved his hand at me, and said something – but as I was running past him and had my earphones in, I didn’t catch. I didn’t really think anything of it, because people often nod and say ‘good morning’ to me.

Anyway, at the 7km mark, I ran back past this man (I had turned around at this point, and so was running towards him). He waved at me again, and so I slowed down (I thought he might have been lost or confused).

The man carried on to tell me that he has “often seen me out running” (which is correct, I have seen him before, and he has similarly waved at me then) and that I “frighten him” because I am “so sweaty”.

At this point in time, the expression on my face was rather like this cat’s:

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My response to this guy was something along the lines of, “well, yes, I’m running, of course I’m sweaty”. I then turned around and kept running. The thing is, this isn’t the first time someone has felt the need to tell me how my body/my clothes/the books I’m carrying are “funny”, “frightening”, or “dirty”.

Case number two: Three days prior to the running incident, I’d swung by my local university coffee shop after visiting the library. I was loaded up academic-type books with titles such as “Feminism Methodologies” and “Qualitative-Based Methodologies for Feminists” – you know, standard fare for anyone doing a PhD in feminism (which, coincidentally, I am). I proceeded to dump these books on the counter next to me as I fished my wallet out of my bag, only to hear the young guy in front of me start laughing. I asked him what was funny (I had suspected it was something to do with the barista, who tends to come up with ridiculous nicknames for his customers. My nickname is usually Jessica Simpson or Jessica Alba, for example…). He then proceeded to tell me that those books looked very “interesting”, whilst, well, sniggering.

ewLook, I’d like to think that this guy had a genuine interest in feminist methodologies, but somehow, I suspect that this wasn’t the case. This guy’s main interest appeared to be commenting on how much ‘feminism’ I was literally carrying.

Case number three: Two to three weeks prior to this happening, I was walking to university to have a meeting with my supervisors about my PhD. I’d put on a brand new, pale pink dress for the occasion. On the way in, I walk past a guy in his mid to late 20′s, who says to me, “you’re looking good today, Miss”. To which I said, “What?”, because he-half mumbled it. He then says, “You’re showing your pink bits, you dirty bitch!”. Because you know, GET IT, I was wearing a pink dress.

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(Even Julia Gillard is unimpressed by this one).

Street harassment isn’t exactly uncommon. It happens all the time, everywhere, to woman (and men!) all around the globe. And whenever it happens to me, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m not just a ‘citizen of the world’ (so to speak) but I’m also a woman. Which of course, means I’m up for objectification and harassment. I don’t have a solution to street harassment – and if I did, I’d bottle it and distribute it to every woman on the planet. What I hope and wish for is some form of witty comeback for each situation. As it stands, I tend to be struck dumb by common sense, and end up replying with the obvious: “I’m sweating because I’m running”, “I have feminist books because I’m studying feminism”, or “I AM wearing a pink dress…”.

What I would LIKE, what I wish I COULD do, is completely lose my shit. I’d like to go completely and utterly bat-shit crazy on these men. I’d like to screech, scream, and holler at them. I’d like to tell them that their behaviour is disgusting, and that they don’t have the goddamn right to comment on me, my body, or even the bloody books that I am carrying around university. But then, of course, I’d just be conforming to the stereotype of the “crazy paranoid women”, when of course these men were just trying to “be polite”, or “make conversation” – except that they weren’t. And then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m too polite to confront men in this manner in public (even though I shouldn’t be).

See the bind that women are in?

Safety Tips For Ladies: A brief overview

Today, I participated in what could readily be described as one of the at times funniest, and at time most depressing, hash tag threads on Twitter this year. The #safetytipsforladies hash tag stemmed from a reaction to this article from The Punch, and the credit for starting the entire Twitter-based landslide goes to one @hilaryjfb.

As Twitter is wont to do, the hash tag took off before you could say “angry women fed up with the patriarchy” three times in a row. I, like many other people, jumped on board and contributed my own insights into how women could keep themselves safe in public:

And again, as Twitter is wont to do, things got misinterpreted. At this point in time, it’s worthwhile noting that I speak only for me here. The idea for contributing to these tweets was not to ‘poke fun’ at real, lived experiences of rape or assault. Nor was it to try to say that methods of preventation against these crimes are utterly useless. And for anyone who was triggered or offended by my tweets (or retweets through me) I am sorry. That was never the intention, and the tweets were made in good faith.

What the tweets were (and still are!) all about is the opportunity to highlight the ridiculous, sometimes seemingly insane measures women take in their day-to-day life to prevent assault or rape. Women actually are told to practice jumping under cars in case they need to hide. They are told to never go jogging alone. They are told to not tie their hair in a pony tail, or to have long hair at all. They are told to always “be aware of their surroundings” and to “shout ‘fire!’ not ‘help!’ if they are attacked” (presumably because people care more about a fire than an attack on a woman?). We are told all of these things in order to ‘protect’ us. And yet, when these (sometimes ridiculous) methods fail, we are then told that it is STILL our fault.

If you ask a woman (any woman!) what her preventative measures are to protect herself from harm whilst she is out alone are, she could tell you in an instant. Here are mine:

  • Never wear heels when alone, always wear or carry flats so you can switch into them to run away
  • Carry keys ready in your hand, always check the back seat as you get into the car, and lock the doors straight away
  • Never check your phone or listen to music when you’re walking down a street at night
  • Make eye contact with anyone who walks past you
  • Always ask for identification before opening the front door to a delivery or service person
  • Always have an escape route. Know precisely where the nearest safe, well-lit place is, and know that you can run to it.
  • ‘Follow your instincts’ (whatever that means)

There are many more, but these are just the ones I personally have and use in my day-to-day life. As many women have noted before me, if I tried to list them all we could be here for hours.

As a side note, one of the truly ironic undertones to these sort of ‘safety tips’ (which I still follow, regardless!) is the fact that many crimes against women such as assault and rape are committed by people known to them. And hence, these tips are largely rendered useless in the majority of actual crimes.

And yet another solution presents itself. One in which we switch the focus from the victims (who are, after all, blameless) to the perpetrators.  Quite simply, the solution is partly resolved by society forcing the actual perpetrators to take responsibility for crime they committed. The courts, the media, and society at large don’t excuse the perpetrator’s behaviour on the woman’s level of intoxication, or the fact that she was wearing ‘slutty’ clothing, or that she must have been asking for it because she was out late, walking through an abandoned car park. Additionally, another large chunk of the solution is, as always, telling men not to rape. Of course, ‘telling’ is different to actually achieving. But  one of the most important methods to addressing this ‘telling men not to rape’ criteria is, I believe, education programs on consent.

And finally, by not simply ‘telling’ men not rape (because, as I’ve just said, ‘telling’ often isn’t good enough). But by giving the crime of rape the attention, and severity, it deserves. By not claiming that being convicted of rape will ruin the perpetrator’s future. By not blaming the victim, but instead giving her the support she needs. By not wasting time on telling women what to do or what not to do, but by instead focusing on the perpetrators of the crime.

I’m sick of being told how to keep myself safe. When do we stop focusing on me, and start focusing on the actual criminals?

When is enough enough?

Today, the veteran Liberal Party strategist Grahame Morris called ABC journalist, and ’7:30 Report’ presenter Leigh Sales, a “cow”. On national radio.

In addition to this, in May Grahame Morris suggested on Sky News that Australians “ought to be kicking [Julia Gillard] to death”.

Last week, a 52-year-old man threatened to kill Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and state Labor MP Hill Hennessy at a public function.

Last year, the prominent talkback radio host Alan Jones suggested on no less than 5 occasions that Julia Gillard should be “put in a chaff bag” and dumped at sea.

These are just the latest in a string of misogynistic comments directed towards prominent Australian women. And my question is, as the title of this blog suggests, when is enough enough? When do we, as a nation, stop and acknowledge that things have gone too far, and that the vitriolic comments directed towards these women (amongst others) is threatening, dangerous, and incredibly inappropriate?

It is, quite frankly, unacceptable. Whatever your personal opinion of a certain journalist, or a certain politician is, you do not – repeat, you do NOT – call for them to be thrown in ocean, or threaten to kill them.

I have been guilty, in my time, of calling quite a few people and advertising agencies ‘idiots’ and ‘dick heads’. Mostly on this blog. But the current discourse surrounding national politics is disturbing. The hateful, idiotic comments being made both by journalists and politicians leaves very little room for intelligent, meaningful dialogue. I am sick of the mindless tit-for-tat, ‘he said, she said’ reactionary articles being published in every single mainstream media outlet I read.

So therefore, I promise to do my part. I shall stop calling Tony Abbott and his cronies ‘idiots’. Now if only someone could stop calling every single powerful woman in this country ‘cows’, we’d be quits. Then we can sit down over a cup of tea and get to the bottom of what this carbon tax actually means for everyday citizens.

Cheating, and the Opinions of Bettina Arndt

On Sunday, Bettina Arndt stirred the relationship and gender stereotypes pot. Albeit, she’s been stirring that particular pot for quite some time, and her articles usually read along the same, relatively simple, line: “Woe is men”. This one was no exception.

It was a cracker. Arndt claimed that rugby league star Andrew Ettinghausen’s decision to go public with his affair was ‘brave’ (as a sidenote: who IS this man? I live in Melbourne. I have no idea what rugby league even is).

Far be it from me to agree with Sam de Brito, but, well, yes, I do – Ettinghausen’s decision was not ‘brave’. Nor was it, as Arndt claimed a “decision [the couple made] to try to put this issue behind them and remain committed to the marriage”.

If they actually HAD put it behind them, they would not have had the story run in the Australian Women’s Weekly. Nay, or yay?

Andrew Ettinghausen ... breaks his silence in The Australian Women's Weekly.What bothers me the most about Arndt’s article was her defense of the men who cheat:

“We shouldn’t forget there are many who resist – politicians, sportsmen, public figures – who manage to stay on the straight and narrow. The determination of such men to resist such temptation is rarely discussed nor given any credit. But inevitably some of these high-flying men do succumb.”

Allow me to take the time to discuss this issue, and give men the credit Ardnt says they deserve:

Men! Congratulations on keeping it in your pants! Props to you, for “resisting” the urge to cheat, and staying on the “straight and narrow”. You have my utmost sympathies – I understand it must be truly TERRIBLE for you, trying to tame your tiger. As Ardnt says, the “determination” you have must be formidable! Why, every time an attractive lady walks past, you must consciously think, “straight and narrow, straight and narrow”, whilst all the time that manly testosterone courses through your veins. How incredibly AWFUL for you.

Additionally, as Arndt points out, it is clear that the cheating men-folk “just want to feel wanted”. These men weren’t getting sex at home,and they did not have a “regular, harmonious sex life”! Of course! All these men wanted was a CUDDLE. And their wives weren’t even doing this! It was not that they were, as Ardnt says, “sexually voracious gluttons” – it was just that their wives and themselves had not reached “sexual harmony”. Let us feel sorry for the men, the poor darlings! It was not their fault that they were not sexually satisfied, and then had to seek out this satisfaction elsewhere.

I find it exceedingly hard to empathise with people who cheat. Perhaps that is because I have been the victim of a cheater myself, or perhaps it is just because my logical conclusion to being sexually frustrated would be to TALK IT OUT WITH MY PARTNER. You know, as opposed to seeking satisfaction elsewhere. Regardless, I do not see the statement  “I just wanted to feel wanted” as an adequate justification for one’s behaviour. An explanation, yes – but as far as excuses go, this one does not suffice.

To me, Arndt’s column reeks of excuses: “Men are doomed to live out their lives in a state of chronic frustration”; “We are dealing with sex-starved men..[and] married men simply tempted by some gorgeous option”; “Sexual frustration is thus almost inevitable for the majority of men and not just occasionally either” – these are just some of the statements thrown at the reader in an attempt to prove that cheating can be justified.

And, quite frankly, it can’t. The act itself cannot be justified. If there are agreements made between a couple, then fine, great, wonderful – and it is no one else’s business. But cheating – no holds barred, caught with your pants down cheating – cannot be excused. I don’t mean excused in the sense that a woman needs to get rid of a partner that has cheated (this is another whole discussion) – I mean that the act itself cannot be excused on ‘sexual frustration’, or ‘not being able to resist temptation’. Because funnily enough, men and women are both equipped with this thing. It’s called a mouth, and you open it and words come out. You can do this thing called ‘communication’ with it. And then you can communicate openly and honestly with your partner about your desires and needs in a relationship. Which is what every person who has cheated should have done in the first place, before they actually committed the act.