Thursday, 20 June 2013

secret: we need feminism because...

 The disclaimer here is that a feminist rant is way overdue.

We need feminism because an everyday part of a woman's life is monitoring for danger. Women are never quite safe. Not ever. 

Some of you may have been following Jill Meagher's story in the news as closely as I have. Some of you may have no idea who this woman is. Last year, Jill Meagher was having some Friday night drinks at my favourite bar in Melbourne, Bar Etiquette. She was probably a bit wobbly by the time she left the bar. She refused a friend's offer of a lift and started to walk home. She never made it home; instead she was brutally raped, then murdered and buried in a shallow bush grave, where her body was found a few days later.

The man who has been sentenced with life in prison for her rape and murder in the last week or so was previously found guilty of many other rapes. He had spent time in prison, but was on parole when he approached her in the street, dragged her into an alleyway and did his evil. 

The system failed Jill when it allowed her attacker free from his past crimes to roam the streets of Melbourne and rape again. It continues to fail all women, any woman who has to plan her evening around the assumption that she may be attacked if she does not follow agreed upon precautions. Don't walk home alone, don't drink enough to make yourself an easy target, don't wear anything to provoke unwanted male attention. Don't assume you have the same social guarantees men do, not ever. 

Why is it that we learn this as a basic fact? A part of growing up, as a woman, is being sat aside to have it explained to you that you're not safe in the world as a girl, as a grown woman. The most powerful moment is realising, as a daughter, that even your mother, the maker and giver of almost all that you know in the wide world, is not safe from the harm of men. 

It's wrong. The world is topsy turvy. Even me, who hates and despairs of the rules, even I follow them. 

The personal side of the tragedy that is Jill Meagher's rape and murder made me feel a sinking certainty that I will never ever feel completely safe, ever again. It hit home for millions of women, but me? Bar Etiquette is my bar, Brunswick is my suburb, those streets are my streets. I've walked home from that bar, further than she did, more often, drunker. 

And now, probably never again.

Parents teach their kids of stranger danger. They teach their daughters to beware; they teach them the rules about not drinking too much or wearing skirts too short or encouraging unwanted attention by accident or flirtation. They teach them not to walk home alone at night. 

They need to start teaching their sons that women are equal human beings. That women are never asking for it; that women own the space as much as men do; that even passed-out-drunk, women are never EVER asking for it. 

Jill Meagher died, and people have paid attention. There are a million degrees of harassment between friendliness and vicious, life-ending rape. Pay attention to them. Cut it out before someone's life is cut short. 

This is my life, and I'm a stubborn feminist: If I'm walking to the carpark after work alone I keep my head down and walk fast, with purpose. It's winter where I am, and starts to get dark around 5pm. I check who is in the parking lot when I get to my car; I hold my keys in my hand a lot of the time. I don't waste time or dawdle, I get in my car, shut the door and start the engine right away, even if I sit there idling to warm up old Maude the Mazda (she is delicate in the cold months). I do all this because I am aware that there's a percentage of attacks on women that happen in car parks. 

Nobody is harassing me and I'm acting harassed. It's not even me being crazy. Last weekend I went by a drive-through bottle shop to get an alcohol-based birthday present (when nothing else will do). I parked right out front, got in my car afterwards and as I drove away, a man walking through the car park beckoned to me as I drove past.  My window was down, I slowed, he leaned in my window and asked drunkenly what I was "up to" later. Way to make me feel like an idiot, asshole. What do I learn here? Don't even be friendly to strangers. Not even in a wholesome country town. 

The world has forced us into being polite even while we feel uncomfortable. That we must smile and agree when sexist things are being said; when comments are made in earshot about other women that make us cringe. Feminism is a dirty word, and we sacrifice standing up for ourselves in order not to ruin a good joke. The world has forced us to be polite to strangers; even when they're men; even when they're making us uncomfortable by manner of look, touch, talk. I have no doubt that Jill Meagher was merely being polite, as her mother taught her, when her rapist and killer stopped her in the street to ostensibly ask a harmless question. Power to you all, ladies. Don't be polite to anybody if you have a whiff of fear. Leave. Don't feel compelled to kiss the cheeks of creepy men at social events if it makes your stomach roll over. It makes you feel ill for good reason. Power to you all, to shake hands instead. 

Look, I know I can't change a lot of anything. I guess the men reading this already have sensitive sympathies, but really I ask you all to just be aware of this- women feel threatened by you. Fact. All of you. In a world where women can be and frequently are blamed for their own rapes (what they wear, what they do, what they say, what they drink), we are threatened by you. In a dark street, walking towards a woman, change sides of the road if you can. Don't walk so closely behind us. Watch out for other men with not-so-pure motives and stop them where and when you can. Speak up when other men judge women on what they wear, what they do, what they say, what they drink. 

Stop for a long cold minute and think of your sister, girlfriend, mother, grandmother, wife. If you ask them, and they're honest, they'll tell you they've been afraid before. Fathers, teach your sons about consent, about a humane version of right and wrong, no matter the "signals". Yes means yes. No means no. Teach your sons not to rape women, for women continue to teach their daughters how to avoid rape. 

I feel a little cold about the fact I haven't even scraped the surface of this. No mention of the deaths in third world countries which we all seem to feel more comfortable to discuss in an academic theoretical sense as though it's so different from our world, our lives. Think about the fact that Jill Meagher's rapist and killer had previously raped sex workers, and that merited parole instead of a full sentence. Think about how we decide the value and merit of a woman in society. 

Cold and heavy is my fury. No woman is ever safe. The attacks on our poor female prime minister, who may not be making the best decisions all of time (and who ever is?) but is battling rampant sexism at every corner. This is theoretically the most powerful woman in Australia, and look what she is reduced to on a daily basis. Whatever you think of her politics, and her party's politics, you have to see she's fighting an uphill battle. Doesn't it shock you? Doesn't it hurt you?  Doesn't it embarrass you???

I send a little sparkle of hope out there into the world- that women, who are one half of everything, might be treated some day like all of that half. A full half. My brothers and I used to fight over the "bigger half" of a treat; it was always a joke because halves are meant to be equal.

Halves are meant to be equal.

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