No Direction. No Closure. No Bloody Idea.

It was always used against me, that I was so determined.  That I was a good student.  That I was so enthusiastic.  That I seemed so confident.  They pat you on the back with one hand and stab you with the other.

The passion I once had came from following my heart – I was born to be a teacher.  It’s as simple as that, really.  I was a mature age student, I’d travelled the world and worked in a variety of roles which seemed to naturally lead to this point.  I have (almost) always had the pleasure of being taught by teachers who were there for the same reason.  Students can tell!  Parents can tell!  Other like-minded educators can tell.  It has been such a crushing blow to discover the hard way how many school employees are there for other reasons – and they are usually in positions of power.  An accident?  I think not.

I can’t remember what I’ve called Him on this blog before but He explicitly said, “I’m a teacher now because I have a penis.  I’ll be principal before you’re an Accomplished teacher” (pay level after Graduate).

But graduates are always extra enthusiastic, you say, that’ll change.  Even if you allow for the fatigue of years in the role versus Brand New Enthusiasm, there is a genuine difference in motivations to teach that affect professional behaviour, values and workplace interactions.

In the early stages, they lapped it up from me, as they did the other graduates.  She wants to volunteer for that extra role?  Yes!  You’ve learnt about this new way of team teaching?  Great!  You can help lead the reluctant ones who just want to do it their way!  You bring new life to this school!  We are all better for it!

Until you speak up about something.

Until you say ‘too much’.

Even when what you’re talking about is criminal behaviour that everyone saw and commented on UNTIL you took it further, outside The Group.  It should have stayed Just Between Us.  You’ve just Ruined Everything.  How could YOU do that to US?

Then you’re trying too hard, cocky, speaking “above your station” and “talking about people (they’ve) worked with for years so you’d better watch out”.  But that’s just the beginning.  Warnings.  Subtle and blatant warnings that you don’t want to be A Troublemaker here…Mud Sticks…You’ll Never Work Again.

You always acted like a Slut.

Cocktease.

Over emotional.

Misunderstanding.  This is all just crossed wires, yeah?

Why was it such a fucking horrible, drawn out experience?  I can hardly choose one reason.

Because I was followed, touched, undressed, physically penetrated, cornered, bullied by a senior teacher?

Because it all happened around a primary school, on a camp with your young kids?

Because the children themselves witnessed so many inappropriate things that they voted to put a sign on the door of the classroom banning Him from entry?

That their parents approached me, saying that their kid was worried about ME and what He was like?

That I endured so much on my own because I loved my job so much?

That every single staff member in this small school found Him inappropriate, unprofessional or had questioned him before but when things became formal they vanished into thin air and lied during each level of investigation?

That the people; teachers of small children, that I eventually begged for help to be safe, that I’d cried and shared humiliating truths with; turned it back on me with the click of fingers?

That they used every clichéd slur and excuse in the worn out book?

That they bullied me and talked about me, told staff NOT TO SIT WITH ME AT LUNCH?

That the cumulative result of their actions was eventually to break me?

That despite my confidence, belief that I was meant to be a teacher, letters thanking me for the difference my efforts made with individual students…I wanted to be dead?

I said I was determined.  I moved to another school.  But information like that makes its way around, too.

He pled Guilty.  And I was the one disgusted with MYself.  I was revolting, a failure, a joke.  Everything I’d worked for.  Gone.

I thought I was in a different place.  That I had purged it all.  It’s 8 years this year since He started what he did to me.  I am still at home.  I still have no job.

I have had all the counselling, medication and researched every goddamn way to process and progress towards something.  Anything.  But this shit is like a cancer in your guts.  It’s toxic and it’s scary.  If you’re really unlucky, it’s wrapped around the core of who you are.  You can’t really get away from it, because you are it.  It has become you.

I have to live.  I have to earn money at some point soon.  And I can’t picture that woman in my head at all.  To be out there is to be extremely vulnerable again.

There’s obviously more I need to do yet.  What spurred me on until now was the idea that I could one day tell the story.  That they couldn’t gag me or threaten me then.  And I could shout it from the rooftop.  Mostly because they said ‘you can’t tell anyone’ so many times that I thought the only way to beat the shame was to tell – put it out there and it loses some power.  Or they lose some power.  Now I might have that opportunity and I’m frozen with fear/excitement.

Maybe one of the worst things they managed to do is make sure I never knew when to trust anything again, even myself.

Some Thoughts On Servility

This could also have been called ‘How gender roles conspire to keep women quiet’ or ‘Rambling thoughts of a woman tired of being told to be nice or be quiet’.

523474_452880208056235_892474148_n

Bitch.  Harpy.  Fishwife.  Nag.  Feisty.  Firey.  Troublemaker.  The gendered language we use when describing women who use their voice.  Clutch your pearls, you may.  Women refusing to shut up, who are angry or demanding attention – despite how worthy the cause – are still something to be avoided, by and large.  On twitter last week there was a hashtag #thatgirl about the sexism faced by women in tech.  As in, “Oh, you’re that girl”.  The one that calls out bad behaviour or simply shares ideas.  Dangerous, right?

I’ve always been that girl.  I aspire to be that woman and then some.  I am also quite shy and prefer to socialise in small numbers.  I am full of nerves and addicted to anxiety.  But I can think of so many examples of people who have judged my communication with them, professional or personal, based on the common stereotypes women are pitted against.  I can’t think of a time where this commentary was issued as complimentary.  I have on occasion been told that I am strong and determined, passionate and even “a breath of fresh air” because I was honest (like this was abnormal).  On many more occasions I have been told that I am intimidating (my favourite, as it happens), abrasive, rude, dismissive, cold and Not A Team Player.  Unprofessional.  Guess where I was told these things most frequently?

Many of us would be able to give anecdotes of times where what we considered an obligatory friendly smile has somehow been scrambled in translation to mean Come At Me Bad Boy to some random dude on the street.  On the train.  At your workplace.  If you make no particular effort, you are a Bitch.  If you endeavour to appear polite and civil, as the Femininity Code requires of women, you are Inviting Advances.  New guy at your workplace tells a joke in the staff room.  You laugh…more like a sympathy giggle.  Because you’re trained to be polite.  Don’t want him to feel awkward!  Then one day you find yourself making a formal complaint including serious sexual assaults and your manager says, “Well, you did laugh at his jokes”.  It can happen.  Trust me.

If a man, (say the man they hired to work in a position senior to mine at this school who would soon became a criminal and sexual offender), came to a team meeting with ideas and eager to contribute – he is a Team Player, Leadership Material.  We can excuse his boorish, innuendo-laden diatribe because, you know, men are like that and besides, he Gets Things Done. Lighten up!  Ignore it! Be Professional! Just shut up and take it.

An aspect of my experience I have found interesting on a sociological level is the differing expectations and boundaries of communication.  How we were ‘allowed’ to use our voices (me, not much.  And when I did, I was mistaken or unprofessional).  The workspace and its containment (me, no doors can be shut, no privacy, no personal boundaries. You must be accessible and visible at all times).  Even our physical selves (me, not allowed to laugh and fake friendliness but also not allowed to distance myself or appear like I’m Not A Team Player even after they did what they did).  I carried a lot of gender stereotypes with me in terms of ‘good behaviour’ and tried to politely keep everyone happy all of the time.  Until I couldn’t anymore.  I had to put a stop to it.  And when I stopped killing myself trying to play the servile young woman, the knives were sharpened and all heading directly for me.  It was fascinating.  Morbidly, desperately fascinating.

The all-accommodating woman should seek to appease everyone, keep the peace and at all times promote inclusivity and union.  *cue flowers and soothing music*  Men may start wars and discriminate.  Women are to embrace all.  Women shouldn’t leave anyone out.  Women shouldn’t Say No.  I find this notion particularly insulting when juxtaposed with another who will not be constrained by these petty concerns (my ‘mentor’ teacher who was in fact hostile and concealing crimes), the Principal agreed she was not going to change and asked that I be The Bigger Person and do it anyway.  She might learn from your example, he said.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAno.  I’ve seen it recently in twitter discussions on feminism.  There are all kinds of silencing and other bullshit going on there.  There will always be ‘robust discussion’ and dissent in any large cohort – and we are talking about a group encompassing more than half of the population – but amongst the expected variety of values and political persuasions I find one comeback the most offensive.

You can’t say that. 

Feminism is INCLUSIVE, not exclusive. (So women…you can’t tell anyone that they are not included…?)

The insinuation being that you cannot seek to focus discussion on issues which inherently involve only women, amongst yourselves.  You cannot do this because men and trans women ‘feel left out’.  You shouldn’t talk about menstruation because it excludes people from the conversation for whom menstruation does not occur.  This was actually A Thing.  This is as ridiculous as decrying testicular cancer awareness because women aren’t included.  Except that wouldn’t happen, would it?  Firstly, we’d all be awarding extra points to men for talking about their health concerns at all when we all know men struggle with feelings and addressing personal health concerns.  Secondly, women wouldn’t demand to be included in a conversation about testicles.  And men would not be shamed by forces so ingrained in us all that so many women don’t even question it – you must not say no.  You have to make sure everyone feels included and everyone is happy.  Don’t rock the boat.  Just let it go.  Stop what you were doing.  No.  Because we only expect this of women.  Of ourselves.

If you don’t hang out on the Internet too much, you may not have been privy to the…discussion…about vaginas recently.  Well, not about vaginas which could have been useful, but whether women are Allowed to Use The Term Vagina At All.  That’s right.  A feminist tv star was organising ‘Night of A Thousand Vaginas’, a comedy event to raise money for reproductive rights of women in America.  And rather than lament the fact that women have to hold fundraisers to access reproductive health options in a free country in 2014, some people decided that the real tragedy was the word ‘vagina’.

Talking about women with vaginas is, apparently, cissexist/heteronormative/cisnormative/shaming/exclusionary/ essentialist and some other bulldust.  I didn’t see anybody say directly to these people: Stop It. This is not about you.  With a few exceptions (they know who they are) most people either AGREED that talking about vaginas was unfair to People Without Vaginas…and they presumably meant it.  A few women subtweeted (tweeted their thoughts without directing it at anyone in particular) on the sly, avoiding ‘rocking the boat’ or causing ‘further offence’.

This is what I heard:  YOU can’t mention vaginas in case someone doesn’t like it.

This is what I said next:  VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA PICTURE OF VAGINA VAGINA (you get the point)

Then someone directly accused me of ‘taunting’ people by saying ‘vagina’.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Then I started to burn inside.

You know what counts as using the word vagina to ‘taunt’, to hurt and shame?  When the defence barrister in your cross examination in Court says it.  Asks you about “the lips of your vagina”.  Repeats it in different tones of voice, louder, trying to make the description of your most intimate parts being touched against your will sound like a joke.

THAT is the wrong way to say vagina.

So I will say the word and reference my own vagina any fucking time I feel comfortable to do so.  I will encourage other women and girls to look after and protect their vaginas, and break the taboos around discussion of parts most would prefer we saved for porn movies and ‘lad mags’ any fucking time I feel comfortable to do so.

Up against every stereotype and socially constructed pressure on female behaviour conformity I will make my own decisions, thanks, about my body parts, my biology, my safety and my value.  I will decide the boundaries I choose to construct around important dialogue I need to have and I will decide whom it is with.

Probably the most ‘dangerous’ of these ideas is that I will say NO when I want to, when I need to and when I have to.  I am not here to create world peace.  I am not here to make every single living thing feel At One in my presence.  I am not here to make everybody else happyI don’t have to fulfil other peoples’ ideals of ‘inclusive enough to be feminist’.  I cannot understand why anyone who thought feminist values were important would feel compelled to tell me or any other woman how I’m Doing Feminism Wrong.  Or that my vagina, under any circumstances, is not my own to discuss or otherwise.

I reiterate, these are seemingly bizarre expectations (AKA judgements) which would not be demanded of a man.  The spoons it takes to pounce on women talking about their lived experiences which are not even in dispute as fact…instead of addressing actual instances of discrimination or threat which are mostly propagated by traditional masculine social standards and behaviour.  Might there be a reason that women with a voice (which, historically speaking, they’ve only just found) are targeted in this way?  Discussing vaginas is a threat to no one…ever.  But whether we name it or not, everybody knows women are raised as softer targets, primed to be shamed, blamed and Be Nice.

All I hear is:  Don’t make trouble.  Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t start anything.  Don’t be a bitch.  Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.  Don’t make anything awkward.  Just smile.  Just shut up.

Servility.  Sycophantcy.  Fawning.  Ignoring my own reality and truth. That can all fuck right off.

BONUS ROUND

As if to round off my gender stereotype rant with a nice sexist full stop, here is a little etymological factoid for you:

“First attested in 1537. From Latin sȳcophanta (“informer, trickster”), from Ancient Greek συκοφάντης (sukophantēs), itself from σῦκον (sukon, “fig”) + φαίνω (phainō, “I show, demonstrate”). The gesture of “showing the fig” was a vulgar one, which was made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, which is itself symbolic of a σῦκον (sukon), which also meant vulva. The story behind this etymology is that politicians in ancient Greece steered clear of displaying that vulgar gesture, but urged their followers sub rosa to taunt their opponents by using it”  from here.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Harassment

There is untold power and relief to be found in sharing your story.  There are some popular sites like Everyday Victim Blaming and Hollaback! which invite readers to share and support each other.  Reading another’s words which describe YOUR feelings about being harassed, assaulted or violated in any way can have an enormous impact on your sense of self – and create connections which help to strengthen us all.  The Power of Harassment is a site with a difference.  Make the time to go and have a look.  

The Blogging Year In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Seven Years

It is almost seven years exactly.

Seven years since I walked into that school and felt all of the pride and excitement that comes with starting the job of your dreams.  Especially after returning to university to get there.  Giving up a professional income to study for this because THIS is where your heart is.  Where all of the best things can happen.  The classroom.  And it was mine.

Seven years since I moved into my first real home on my own.  Not a granny flat or weirdo share house.  Mine.   Two bedroom unit I would pay for with my dream job in the school I had chosen, in the beautiful small suburb on the edge of town.

I was in a relationship.  I had my home.  I was happy.  All my ducks were in a row.

Seven years since the school year started but I see now that by that day, I was on his radar.  He was a predator from very early on, if he has ever been any other way, I couldn’t say.  Certainly the gossip from those on his interviewing panel were that his references were questionable.  Inappropriate relations with staff, in general, were part of his MO.  But hey, they knew him.  He was a Nice Guy.  Further complicating my experience, the power plays and existing alliances amongst such a small, long term staff list would ensure I would not get any of the support that was rightfully mine when the time came; ethically, morally, legally or as the profession standard.

Seven years I have tortured myself.  First with denial – This revolting creature could not possibly be serious?  But I will never forget how he asked for a ‘team photo’ on school photo day and as they took the shots his hand slid down my back and squeezed my buttock.  But I look so happy in the photos.  My hair was shiny, my eyes bright.  My belief that I was in the right place with important work to do with students as a caring, empathic teacher was at peak level then.  And I fought it’s demise every step of the way.  Then I tortured myself with the guilt and shame spiral that I’d come to know well working in welfare with child survivors of sexual abuse.  No amount of reasoning and research means a thing when you feel so stupid and trapped in your own skin.  That theoretical knowledge probably makes it worse in some ways.  Another thing to beat yourself with.  How could I miss the signs?  How could I be fooled?  How did I get to this?  I am an educated adult in a fair country in 2007.  I am a Union member who knows my rights by heart.  I can talk.  I know who to tell.  How the hell can you have all of that and still sit at the bottom of your running shower every night and wail?  How?

It really has been seven years of screaming into people’s faces as they stare blankly ahead and pretend they can’t hear me.  I did it that first night.  We had the children on a school camp, you see.  While you wondered how your kids were on their first big camp away, they were tucked up in bed but the most senior teachers were both in a dark room with me.  One trying to remove my pyjamas, one joking about how I was young and “probably giving HIM an erection” as I fought him off and yelled about how much trouble he would be in.  She was awake.  She did hear me.  I fucking told her I was upset about it when he left the room and she said, “He’s just an affectionate guy” – hard to say in your sleep.

I just had to stop for a bit.  Seven years and it still hurts.  It is still hard to believe that two primary school teachers acted in that way with kids asleep in the cabins beside us.  He was supposed to be in a cabin on the other side of the camp.  With the fathers who had volunteered to assist.  On this camp so far away from home.  No car.  Only HIS car.

I am in awe of the human mind, how it worked to get me through that camp.  That whole year with HIM, in the office next to my classroom, only windows between us. Six months later, after he was sent home and the Police became involved.  As the Principal held a staff meeting to tell everyone that HE was suspended due to accusations by a staff member.  And the room fell in on top of me.  (Protocol that can be found on a Google search clearly states that this meeting should not have taken place, staff should NOT have been told but apparently the Principal should not be reprimanded because “he was new to the job”.)  I printed out the guidelines for him, you know.  Highlighted what he had to do next and the ‘chain of command’, if you will.  I spoon fed it. I knew enough to have little faith in either his abilities or interest.  And he pretended I hadn’t. Because they went to school together as kids.  He knew HIS wife.  HE was immature but harmless, couldn’t I see that?  They were both just NICE GUYS.

For seven years I have heard that.  From every level of the hierarchy.  I have been questioned, cross examined, shamed, blamed and talked about.  I worked for another two years (because I’m stubborn, and I truly believed in Right and Wrong) but this followed me.  Like they told me it would.  When I sat in her office, broken down, desperate, and asked the Principal for help as HIS frightening behaviour was breaking all kinds of LAWS (I thought that would scare him into action HAHAHAHAHA) and he stated very simply, “If you make this known outside these walls, your career will be ruined.  Mud.  Sticks.” I still thought he was being dramatic, or referring to other difficulties.  I did not realise that what he actually meant was that the three of them together would almost kill me from the inside out.  That he would laugh when a temp agency called to ask if I had worked there before.  That I would become unemployable because someone with authority over me in the workplace decided that he would have me, body and mind, whether I wanted that or not.  Every time I got the guts (or pissed off enough) to say something I was “being unprofessional” and “should reconsider whether I am suitable for the job”.  Said the ‘new to the job’ principal.  Was he also new to planet Earth and Australian Law?

For seven years I have known that the only option for me was to fight.  At times I had nothing left.  I considered how I could stop the insanity…only one way that I could see.  Then I would decide again that they couldn’t have all of me, the pricks.  I didn’t try to wipe myself out in defiance because that would be too much of a gift to them.  All gone.  Nothing for them to worry about.  I wanted them to have something to worry about.

For seven years I imagined bloody revenge.  Fiery vengeance.  Sometimes violent retribution.  What else can you do?  I did take myself to a counselor then and ask if I was becoming a psychopath, had I crossed the line?  What had I become?  (It’s particularly disconcerting when the targets inhabit primary schools, really makes you feel fucked up)  Just a normal person after trauma, apparently.  Using anything that my brilliant mind could dig up to release some of that pain.  I don’t think you can ever be the same though, after a mind shift like that.  My tolerance for hearing about other people’s trauma is much lower.  I am enraged.  Angry.  Sick to fucking death of sexual violence and manipulation and victim blaming bullshit.

It has been less than seven years since I first called my union representative and put this scenario to them.  Probably about three years since I saw a lawyer.  The union works with this law firm to aid employees financially and legally in a way I cannot emphasise strongly enough to you.  Join your goddamn union and investigate your rights at work.  That wasn’t enough to help me, true, but I have utilized those venues in the only way they are available to some of us – with the impending threat of a public hearing.  Seeking some financial compensation.  Not to get rich.  Hahahaha you don’t choose Workcover to get rich, kids.  Turns out you have to be a bit of a sadist, or one tough mother.  It’s brutal.  For bringing Rape and Stalking charges against your boss…faaaaark.

Even with all of the evidence that I had, the Police and Court documents, countless psychiatric examinations by strangers and sharp legal representation to face their scary lawyers…seven years to come to an end.  Three years of constant legal action.  He pled guilty, right?  Still three years for that to be recognised.  To prove that I was damaged by what we agree he did.  Prove damage enough that I might get some recognition in the eyes of…well…anyone.  I wasn’t fussy by now.  Only one option.  I had to fight for it.  I knew I couldn’t go on any other way.

Yesterday, I got the call.  My lawyer.  Her voice happy and light.  It IS over.  I’ve taken it to the limit and the other side has made an offer that indicates I was indeed the victim of some hellish wrongdoing.  There was a tussle, mind.  Some initial offers which were insulting to the person reading them out and all of us.  This kind of settlement could’ve meant a much higher one should I have been forced into  jury trial to prove employer negligence.  It could also have meant the same, or less.  Depends on the jury.  It would have meant more public knowledge and opportunities for more abuse and pain for me.  I was willing because I wanted to prove a point but I’m pretty bloody glad that I don’t have to, as I’m sure anyone would be.  Seven years is enough.

Turns out that there is no precedent for this scenario in workplace/employer law to get this far.  Has a boss sexually assaulted an employee?  Well, yes.  Was it like this?  Did everyone involved lie, bully and blacklist the victim?  Was that person able to fight this long?  Nope.  When I first called the union they did say, “Um, I don’t know where to start.  This is a new one for us!”

I wanted to make a mark on the world, you know.  And I hope I do it in other ways, too.  But in these circumstances, I have had a big win.

What I am hoping for is that this seven years and yesterday’s outcome serve as a warning to employers and other staff (especially THIS employer) that rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and gossip ARE WRONG, EVEN IN YOUR ISOLATED WORKPLACE!  A Duty of Care exists even if you choose to think that young women are “dick teases” who “bring it upon themselves”.  (Yes, direct quotes).  If an employer in the future only acts out of fear for his own hide rather than being a lawful and ethical professional, so be it.  As long as someone’s silent suffering is minimised or prevented.  The moral revolution necessary and thorough smashing of the patriarchy that enables this shit must come also but that’s work far beyond the capacity of the utter bastards in my story.  It was of course their strongest weapon.

If there happens to be another asshole out there preying on a Bright Young Thing who dreams of Making A Difference (and I think we know there is), and she has to call her union rep or a lawyer one day, I want to make sure they know there is a precedent in this area.  You are not lost in the woods entirely.  Because I tried my best to slash my way through and I think I left a trail with a little light.  It’s yours if you need it and I’ll be here somewhere if you need directions.  Funnily enough, in about seven weeks I don’t have to be an anonymous shell anymore.

Persistence

Educating Mia: On Preventing Rape and Other Fairytales

SlutWalk Sydney

SlutWalk Sydney (Photo credit: creatrixtiara)

I don’t really know how to start this time.  I wrote this out, walked away to refresh my brain and took foolish a peek at twitter.  This is still the topic de jour and while I’m glad people are expressing views, perhaps which may even make people think, there is an article which declares the author of what I am about to deconstruct ‘unrepentant’ and it is an unfortunate thing indeed.  For the sake of brevity (and it avoids linking you to the website itself, no ‘views’ for you from my corner of the Internet, thanks!) you can see the latest article here.  That should get you up to speed if you don’t know what I’m on about yet.

I put it to you tonight that there is ample reason to be upset by the article I am referring to; it’s written in a sensationalist style with emotive language but fails to support any claims with real evidence, that it insensitively claims there are ways to avoid rape and sexual assault which any loving mother must teach her daughters and that anyone who asks ‘but what about..?’ to dig deeper into the issues involved lives in an alternate utopian dreamland.  According to this article, you cannot be a good mother and also demand that the discussions we have around sexual assault and rape are framed around the perpetrators rather than how victims can avoid their own doom.  I am by no means an expert on everything and do not represent all women who have been hurt by the perpetration of sexual violence.  I am a mother, I know how to look for evidence and I implore you to look more critically at articles like Freedman’s and not take the implied message at face value.  It is because I am a mother, to a son, that I take this (or any) opportunity to pull apart the public discourse on this highly emotive topic.  Freedman’s article is broken up from here on and highlighted in coloured text, my thoughts underneath.

This isn’t victim blaming; this is common sense   (Her title, not my claim by any means)

The entire premise of Freedman’s article is based on two personal articles written about college/university on-campus experiences.  Which might pass muster if the piece she wrote was entitled “I will warn my daughters about binge drinking if they live on campus at university because of the ingrained rape culture that still permeates” but she didn’t.

And let’s say there was something you could tell her that would dramatically reduce the likelihood of her being sexually assaulted during her lifetime.  Would you tell her?

A statement like this would require some evidence to back it up.  What proof does Freedman posit to show that either a vast majority of sexual assault victims were drunk when assaulted, or, that sober victims of attack more often than not can avoid/fight off/escape an attack from a sexual predator?  It’s emotive and dramatic but without any evidential basis whatsoever.

This hurts victims.

This encourages the myth that alcohol causes and/or contributes to rape.  This thinking validates pointing the finger at the victim.  For a claimed feminist, Freedman looks like she’d make a pretty good criminal defence lawyer in a rape trial.

I’ll tell her that getting drunk when she goes out puts her at a greater risk of danger. All kinds of danger. I’ll tell her that being drunk impairs your judgement, slows your reflexes and dramatically reduces your ability to asses risks and escape from harm.

This is still coming from the false assumption that sexual assault and rape are inherently linked with alcohol consumption.  I’m going to let this one through to the keeper for examination even though the statement applies much more to why drink driving is illegal and dangerous rather than demonstrating any measurable impact upon ‘avoiding rape’.  Many people, myself included, have hypothesised about what they would do if someone attempted to touch their body or assault them in any way.  That is the link Freedman makes, that if drunk, you could not react the way you hypothesise you might.  The way you hope you would.  Being sober is no guarantee of anything.  And makes it sound as though a woman with a wine glass is a sitting duck.  Doesn’t that message bother you?

May I take this opportunity to introduce some science.  Brace yourselves.

You may have heard of the Fight-or-Flight Response common to the animal kingdom.  There is a nice technical description from the Genetics Department of the University of Utah here; pictures and even a video.

The phrase “fight or flight” was “coined by Cannon (1927, 1929) in the 1920s to describe key behaviours that occur in the context of perceived threat. This term has not only been influential in later conceptual and empirical work on anxiety and its disorders, but the phrase also has become relatively well-known in popular culture” (Schmidt, Norman B; Richey, J. Anthony; Zvolensky, Michael J. and Maner, Jon K.  2007).  Put simply, when the body perceives a threat or is suitably ‘alarmed’, adrenaline pumps through your body placing you in a biological hyper-alert state. Heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and blood sugar increase while blood is diverted from your limbs to your head and trunk.  This response is activated what is referred to as the Reptilian Brain – here there is no room for thought (Mamilian/Limbic) or emotional reasoning (Primate/Neocortex).

This is what we imagine when we say, “If someone touched me like that I’d just kick him in the balls”.  It is the ideal reaction and wouldn’t that be great if Fight or Flight guaranteed that?  I will never forgive myself for not kicking my attacker in the testicles, I can tell you!  I have that guilt despite knowing that there is peer reviewed psychological research which explains that there is a recognised third reaction in the human body – caused by chemical release at the time – not my failure to be prepared and certainly not anything to do with alcohol impairment.

The independent biological response system that kicks in also includes the Freeze Response.

The Freeze Response is “believed to have adaptive value. In the context of predatory attack, some animals will freeze or “play dead.” This response, often referred to as tonic immobility includes motor and vocal inhibition with an abrupt initiation and cessation. Ethologists have documented non-volitional freeze responses in several animal species” (Schmidt et al 2007).

This type of response to threat has apparently received little scientific exploration in humans, the one exception, according to Schmidt et al, being PTSD/rape literature wherein “several studies have described a rape-induced paralysis that appears to share many of the features of tonic immobility. This literature suggests that a relatively high percentage of rape victims feel paralyzed and unable to act despite no loss of consciousness during the assault. Since fear, predation, contact, and restraint are common to both rape and the induction of tonic immobility in animals, it has been concluded that these phenomena are essentially isomorphic”.

The entire premise of warning females (indeed, males also) not to drink because they’ll be unable to fight off what according to Freedman’s piece is almost certainly imminent predatory behaviour, thus preventing their own sexual violation, is a misnomer.  A possibly well-intentioned but ultimately misplaced suggestion.  As it is not based in fact, this ‘warning’ more likely serves another purpose.  A more sinister one.  It encourages victims of sexual violence to blame themselves even more than they already will.  It perpetuates the myth that drunk girls are easy targets.  That boys can’t help themselves.  That one is leaving the keys in the ignition of one’s car…in a bad part of town.  What else could happen?  If only she’d locked up.  Been in a better area.  Hadn’t dropped the ball and let a rapist have their way.  Made it easier for someone to act criminally.

Would you say that about the heavily pregnant lady recently held up at knife point in Melbourne?  Did she ‘fail to prevent’ her own mugging by being visibly pregnant and making herself ‘an easier target’?  No, we just think whoever did that is really low to target her.

Would you say that about the pensioner walking back from the shops recently who was brutally bashed and had his head stomped on though he didn’t fight his attackers?  Clearly a bit slow on his feet, perhaps he should have stayed at home and not made it easier for someone to bash him?  No, we just think whoever did that is incredibly low and cowardly.

What is this acceptance of rape and sexual assault as an inevitability that forces women to police their own behavior at a level unprecedented for men?  Why is the language around sexual assault so incredibly skewed against the victim?  We have judges ruling that children encouraged their own abuse by ‘acting older’ (I’ve read accounts from pedophiles claiming 2 year olds ‘came on to’ them).  Steubenville. #justicefordaisy.  We have people like Freedman and ‘feminist’ Caitlin Moran discussing the cons of women wearing heels and using the ‘keys in the car’ example frivolously in the direct aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Australia.  I was incredulous and wrote something at the time.  As did countless others.  It is this reason that I find it about Freedman’s choice to grandstand “as a mother” on this topic again particularly upsetting.

No one has suggested that parents won’t, or shouldn’t, say, “Hey, be careful.  I love you”.  That is not the conversation we need to be having, especially in the public domain.  It’s a no-brainer.  What does need attention is the language we use in the public discourse, popular culture and especially via influential media sites like Freedman’s.  There is a seemingly perfect, powerful chance to start a conversation about the insidious culture that means we feel we have to warn our daughters about becoming someone’s prey.

I’ll tell her that there is a crystal clear connection between alcohol and sexual assault, both for the victim and the perpetrator.

Please, can I see the evidence upon which this is based?  Why has Freedman also taken the time to insist that alcohol is a part of how rape happens (that the perpetrator is drunk, too)?  More on this idea below.

So what’s the problem? Some people are angry at the idea of highlighting the link between drinking and sexual assault.

No, they are not.  They may be looking for more evidence than pointing to ‘frat boy culture’ (which I find repugnant but two articles from the internet does not explain How Rape Happens And How To Avoid It).  They may be annoyed that you chose to focus on the alcohol consumed by females rather than the binge drinking, mob mentality of adolescent males – but again, this focuses on such a minority of sexual assault and rape realities.  I’d suggest people like me aren’t angry at what you’ve highlighted so much as what you’ve chosen to ignore.

Some people insist that when we mention the connection, we are victim blaming.

These ‘some people’ are the women Freedman claims to speak to, and speak for, via her site, on television and radio.  They are the women she markets to, very well, and makes a living off the back of.  It is fairly well understood by now that around one third of these women will have experienced some kind of sexual harassment or assault, possibly rape, in their lifetime.  They will certainly include women who have, or are currently experiencing, violence in their own homes.  I know from my own interaction on social media that the ‘some people’ also includes men, members of the legal system and experienced journalists and despite the slight Freedman handed out about the upset coming from only those without children, many mothers and fathers are amongst ‘these people’.  What is the impetus for dismissing such a large cross-section of the community like this?  With each eye rolling tweet from Freedman including the link to her original article.  Oh…

Seriously, though, this needs addressing.  What constitutes victim blaming surely rests in the hearts and minds of the said victims, does it not?  Freedman’s proposition is as flimsy (and downright offensive) as ‘I’m not a racist but…’ and perhaps she could peruse some educational material on the matter given her interest in issues for women.  Or even simply acknowledge that some hurt has been caused.  It was good enough for Serena Williams, it should be good enough for Mia.

Finally, ‘the connection’ between sexual assault and alcohol is as logical as the connection between rape and all of the other alleged causal factors.  Like these:

  • Being a woman
  • Being a child
  • Wearing a dress
  • Laughing at his jokes
  • Walking home
  • Being at work
  • Being visible
  • Like, just BEING

There is ONE connection between a victim and a rapist.  This is that the rapist chose to rape.

Somehow, in some quarters, the right to get wasted has become a feminist issue and this troubles me greatly.

The “right to get wasted”?  “Feminist issue”?  Troubles you, does it?

I can’t really address this as it is just so preposterous!  Emotive twisting of the issue to make it appear that the nay-sayers are just drunk bitches.  Feminist THAT.

But teaching girls how to reduce their risk of sexual assault is not the same thing as victim blaming. It’s not. And we must stop confusing the two.

You cannot reduce your risk of being sexually assaulted or raped with any surety in ANY environment.  I did not think it was news that rapists rape young people, sober people, strangers, people they know, people they claim to love and people who make a living in the sex industry.  Rape is not ‘Oopsie Sex’.  If you beat your chest about girls’ responsibility to prevent their own rape, packaged in parental love, you help make this victim blaming echo louder.  I am even more disappointed that Freedman did not as yet show one ounce of understanding or empathy for the individuals who have contacted her or shared their stories in a brutally brave way to help her understand where the alleged ‘anger’ is coming from.  It’s a little bit of anger but it is also patently obvious that it is mostly human pain and suffering that she is scoffing at.

According to a study into sexual asssault by the Australia Bureau of Statisics: “Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%).

Let us just take this one sentence from all of the research on sexual violence and rape available and consider it.  The victims were ‘more likely’ to believe alcohol or drugs ‘contributed’ to the most recent incident ‘if the offender was a friend’.  This is somewhat higher than victims of physical assault – say being bashed. 

I put the following question to you, given the extremely limited information Freedman offers her readers about the context and/or methodology of the ABS study.  I would also ask you, as someone with a previous career in social research, to question the conclusions that can be drawn from a document which appears to rely on the victims themselves to evaluate the circumstances of their own trauma.  Ask yourself, why might a victim of sexual assault believe that alcohol played a part in their assault?  Because we tell them it does.

“I was raped last night”

“Were you drinking?”

Why might a victim tick that box?  Because even the victims of rape and sexual violence are conditioned to lay blame anywhere except on the perpetrator.  First, it is the victim’s fault.  Second, it’s the influence of alcohol and drugs because Johnny is a really nice guy normally, you know?  Third, mixed signals or blurred fucking lines, if you will.   Your fault, your fault, your fault.

Myself, I was raped whilst at work, at a primary school, and the first question asked by the Police was ‘was alcohol involved?’  When I answered that I was an on duty teacher of small children so NO, the detective replied, “I’m sorry.  It’s the first thing we have to ask.”

Did you notice that victims of physical assault attributed less of the blame on the perpetrator being under the influence of something?  Why might that be?  Could it possibly be because when someone is assaulted after leaving a nightclub, or as they walk home from the shops on Pension day, we are horrified at the brutality of physical violence but far less likely to blame the ones who took the blows?

I was drunk and I bashed a dude – You got drunk and then hurt someone.  Poor guy is in hospital.  You thug!

I was drunk and I got mugged – Jesus!  Druggies will do anything to get money, won’t they?  The pricks!  Are you ok? 

I was drunk and this girl says I raped her – Woah, was she drinking, too?  I mean, did she try to stop it?  She was sitting at our table all night.  Everyone could see she wanted you…what a slut!

At the time (of Jill Meagher’s rape and murder), some prominent feminist commentators tried to shut down those conversations because they insisted it was every woman’s right to walk the streets at any time in any condition and expect to be safe. To suggest anything else was victim-blaming, they said.

What actually happened was that people expressed their unimaginable fear and terror as we literally watched our ‘worst nightmare’ crimes unfold through the CCTV footage that helped catch Jill’s killer.  The said commentators responded to the inevitable aftermath of clichés about women staying in after dark, wearing heels, having alcohol and not having a male escort you home – these were framed, as they so often are, with ‘That’s what happens when…’ and ‘What did she think would happen..?’ which is indeed Victim Blaming 101.  Some also wrote about the very real notion that had Ms Meagher not subsequently been killed, her attack and brutal rape may have in all likelihood received a more frosty public response.  Thankfully, it’s considered slightly more uncouth to attack the behaviour of someone who doesn’t survive their horrific experience.  But not by everyone.  People still did it.  I consider the way Freedman and Moran scoffed at Ways To Avoid Being Raped to be on par with describing What Jill Did Wrong.  That hurt other victims.  That upset women who thought, Hang on, if this happened to me, you’d be discussing my footwear?!  That is scary.  And again, not the conversation that needs to be had.  Women are raised from Day One to be alert for male danger.

Freedman is suggesting that she initiated a new social dialogue and Utopian Femmos stifled her.  What she actually published about her talk with Moran was appalling to many and focused on Freedman herself as the person needing a voice.  This is silly.  And are we really supposed to believe that anyone was attempting to shut her down?  Freedman is the only one with a website named after here in this story.

The point these women, myself include, tried to make at the time was that Women Acting Safely (whatever the hell that actually means) was not the topic that so badly needed a public forum.  Male violence WAS.  All the comparisons to leaving keys in the ignition of a car remain extremely simplistic and dangerously so.

Is it wrong to want to steer the public discourse towards the right of every human to be safe from harm?  To beseech upon the media outlets (of which Freedman is one) to challenge the language we frame these horrible events in?  If it is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right.  I can only seek to compare it to tackling racism or other harmful social ills.  Excuse me if my attempt to compare is clumsy.

If someone talks about the harm racism causes (which, for my money, is to be decided and called out by the people who are harmed by it – people of colour – not for the perpetrators or individuals seated high upon thy privilege to determine) are they not able to say, “An Indigenous woman should be free to live her life free from racist abuse and discrimination”?  What the fuck are we trying to do if not work towards that ‘utopian’ end?  I am not someone who has ever been humiliated by, or discriminated against, based on my ethnicity but I don’t need to be to say, “Hell yes!  That is your right!  You should be respected!  And I will call out shaming language and media when I see it”.

Am I so weird for thinking that way?  Media shapes culture, influences perceptions and Makes A Difference.  One way or the other.  I am very happy to be on the side that speaks up for an ‘ideal’ whilst acknowledging some shitty realities.  I’m quite clever like that, trying to walk and talk.  Freedman’s choice of language suggests that I can’t do that and neither can you.  Or your daughters.  Especially in heels.

She (Moran) told me about lying in bed at night with her husband and listening to women wearing high heels click clacking down the street on their way home at 2am and what a terrible idea she thought that was. Not only did it alert a potential predator to their presence, it meant they couldn’t run if they had to escape danger.  When the interview was published, some feminist bloggers expressed outrage at both me and Caitlin for what they saw as victim-blaming. Many confused the observation about shoes with the thankfully outdated idea that so-called provocative clothing – like short skirts – could increase your chance of being raped. But we weren’t talking about ‘leading a man on’. We were talking about running away.

Honestly, I’m pissed off to even keep cutting out excerpts.  But I need to point out some things here.   I read and re read the post she is referring to.  I’m not linking to it here.  If you want to set fire to your own eyeballs, google away!

High heels as a Sexual Predator Alert Signal:  Just NO.  This would suggest that perpetrators sit in peoples’ front gardens waiting for the sound of heels.  No.  Accepting this bulldust would negate any rape of say, a jogger, wearing their trainers, in broad daylight.  How insulting.

You can’t escape an attack in heels:  Sigh.  See above about Fight, Flight or Freeze responses.

It’s very easy – I’ve come to understand – to have idealistic views about how the world should work. But those views mostly exist in the theoretical realm. Apply them to real life and real people, people you know and love and fear for and they evaporate.

No, but ignore desperately needed examination of rape culture, male entitlement and the judicial system and you help to guarantee that nothing will ever change.  Complain about wacky idealists who are giving a voice to the voiceless, offering a new perspective on the matter and you do the cause great harm.  Freedman appears to be deliberately obtuse here when she could have chosen to also give a broader platform to calls for positive change for females everywhere.  Disheartening in the extreme when this message is pummeled home by another woman, I am sorry to say.

But theories can’t always withstand the conditions of real life. Which is why I believe it’s crucial to educate girls about the link between alcohol and sexual assault and warn them about the increased risk to their safety that comes with getting wasted.

This statement again presumes a link which at best is only relevant to a subsection of sexual assaults and rape.  The only research offered as evidence of this link was self evaluations by victims after the fact, without knowledge of the scope of the study or the sample group.  This is important information if anyone is to draw conclusions about definite links.  And I repeat, this is not a ‘new’ conversation.  Under what premise is this article written?  It seems a bit strange that it was published immediately after Freedman’s piece with the catchy title “Are you a mother or a porn star?” which was a nice reinforcement of the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy so loved by patriarchal forces.  The Angel/Slut, Good Girl/Bad Girl idea that fits SO NICELY into rape culture and victim blaming.  The response on social media and in personal conversations was disgust and a fair amount of confusion.  What on Earth was the driving force behind that piece?  What was Freedman trying to do?  Don’t read it.  Or don’t yell at me if you have to now.  It was trash journalism and the antithesis of the feminism Freedman claims to fancy.  Crap like this compounds the issues which affect the safety and respect of girls everywhere.  Which is it, Mia?  When you cheaply take down another mother for her clothes, presentation and sexual history one day do you expect that your credibility stands up the next day when you deny judgemental and damaging language?  Humbug.

This is not an issue of morality. If you want to have casual sex, go for it. Safely. Just make sure it’s your decision and one you’re still comfortable with the next day.

Um…what?  The final line in an article about sexual assault and rape is this?  Apropos of nothing?  What can be extrapolated from this statement except that Freedman is in some way linking criminal acts of sexual violence with Sex You Regret Tomorrow?  If I didn’t have a problem before, I sure do now!

So I hope that clears it up.  Rape AVOIDED.  Mother of the year!

I hope that this self-serving opportunity taken by a click-driven blogger with her own website has not hurt too many others.  Again.  It has hurt me more than I thought.  I’m pissed off at that because who is she to me?  No one.  But the hurtful angle is in the number of people who read this stuff and nod, without asking questions.  And in Freedman’s needless framing of the responses from some people (I saw plenty that supported her and NO evidence of abuse at all on twitter, as it happens) as disposable because “they’re obviously not mothers” and “women in their 20s” who “want to get wasted”.  And her assertions are just those used by the colleague who was in the room when he tried to rape me.  Who joked about it.  Who warned me against “getting her into deep shit” and “ruining his marriage” if I told anyone.  And the Principal.  And other teachers.  And THAT, Mia Freedman, is where you do the most damage.  Whether you knew it before (you did, we’ve done this before) or only realise now as people try to appeal to your sense of reason.  Or something.

I could not prevent or avoid my rape.  I didn’t have heels on.  I was sober.  And my mother was indeed a Freedman, always warning of the dangers of being a visible woman.  I took care.  I lived on the edge of fear.  Then he got me metres away from little kids.

The acts of the perpetrator, I can work on healing from.  What fucks with your head and triggers off PTSD like errant fireworks of doom is the direction of this public conversation.  The same shit coming up again and again.  The people who get a voice.  The people who actually seek to silence others, perhaps by lying and claiming to have been bullied, Mia?  Abused?  Abuse is something you have no idea about. What a wonderful thing it would be if somewhere down the line you could open your mind and put the ego/clicks/righteousness aside and just hear us speak.  That’s my utopian dream.

PS  I just found myself quoted here in an article in The Australian newspaper.  Ha!  I am Little Lion (@thelionwhoroars)

Other voices you should hear on this topic:

Clementine Ford

Lauren Ingram

News With Nipples

Blue Milk 

Bianca Wordley

Everyone, including Mia Freedman, should go to nomore.org

Reference cited 

Schmidt, Norman B; Richey, J. Anthony; Zvolensky, Michael J. and Maner, Jon K.  2007,  Human Freeze Responses to a Threat Stressor, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, Published online 2007 August 12    Accessed online at US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health on 22nd October 2013 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2489204/