A Kiss With a Fist

Contrary to what some of my posts may make you think, I don’t live in a bubble.

Although most of the posts on this blog may paint a picture of me as an air-headed creature who floats around thinking about nothing more compelling than Air Supply, moustaches, and how much I hate milk, long-time readers would be aware that there is a thinking, feeling person behind the posts, who gets stressed out at work, suffers from insomnia at regular intervals, and experienced grief at the loss of her brother a few years ago, a topic that filled up this blog for some months. Sometimes, that person feels angry and depressed when reading or watching media coverage of certain local social and political issues, and occasionally she will exercise her perogative to vent her thoughts and feelings on those issues on this here blog.

So I’ll let you decide whether you care to read further, because this particular post is not a fun post. This weekend I feel as if something has to be said, by anyone who has the ability to draw attention to this issue, on any public platform, about a crisis in Australia at the moment. It’s a crisis in violence against women.

The reason I’m motivated to write about this topic is because of a family in country New South Wales who should have been celebrating their daughter’s wedding yesterday. Instead they held a memorial picnic commemorating her life and mourning her death one week prior.

The young woman in question went into her workplace on Easter Sunday, to finalise handover notes in preparation for taking leave for her honeymoon. A normal-enough activity that any of us might do. She was never seen again. Since then a male person, known to her through her work, has been arrested and charged with her murder.

There is a lot of media coverage of this case at the moment and, just as when I was moved to write about another horrible case of violence against a woman that caught the public’s attention in Melbourne and beyond 2 years ago, I’m not interested in trying to capitalise on all the attention currently focussed on this case, so I won’t name this latest victim or say too much about her case here. If you want to find more information online I’m sure it won’t be hard.

Since the tragic death of Jill Meagher, the woman I did not name when writing that other post 2 years ago, there has been increased media attention, and, I think, increased realisation by the general public in Australia, myself included, of the unacceptable level of injuries and death of women from violence in this country. (It’s perhaps important to note that in both of the cases that have motivated me to write a post, the woman was killed by someone other than a partner or former partner. These are in fact the more unusual cases – a higher proportion of deaths by violence are at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.)

A few years ago, a feminist group in Australia, Destroy The Joint* began to address the silence around violence against women as an issue, by keeping an annual count of women killed by violence. When they started this count, I think DTJ may have been responding to the fact that a widely-discussed topic in the Australian media at that time was the issue of random drunken violence against young men – specifically, a spate of tragic, senseless deaths caused by drunken “king-hits” at parties, hotels or nightclubs. A report in 2013 stated that 90 young men had died in the past 13 years from “one-punch” hits fuelled by alcohol. There was talk of toughening up the laws around hotel closing times and introducing tougher penalties to those supplying alcohol, and some changes to those laws have been passed since then.

Without lessening the tragedy of those lives senselessly lost, I think DTJ wanted to address the imbalance in the lack of attention given to a similar issue. Women were being killed by violent attacks but there was no count being reported, no overarching “issue” of violence against women being discussed in the media. So they started the grim task of keeping an annual count of women killed by violence. Their count so far is 31 women killed by violence in Australia in 2015 thus far. As we enter week 15, that makes an average of over 2 women per week, or potentially 104 by the end of the year if the rate does not decline. I have no intention of belittling the aforementioned issue of deaths by king-hits, but have included that article to illustrate that if 90 deaths over 13 years constitutes an issue that requires changes to legislation, then violence against women is an epidemic.

As someone noted in the past week on social media, when a woman is killed by her violent partner, a common, and misinformed response is, “well why didn’t she leave him?” When a woman is killed walking home alone from the pub at night a common question is “why was she out walking alone at 3am – particularly after she’d been drinking?” Even recently, when a young Melbourne girl was randomly stabbed to death while walking in a park near her home at 7pm, while it was still light, the response from the Victorian Police and others was that women should not walk in parks alone.

Well, if we follow the line of thought that says that in order to be safe, women must narrow down what they do, what does this latest incident tell us? That women should not go into their workplace on the weekend unaccompanied? Or basically, that women are not safe anywhere they go, unless they have a chaperone? That being a woman is not safe. That women should live in a state of fear when they are out in public, and also, in way too many cases, in their own homes.

I’m motivated to write about this today, through empathy for the shock and grief felt by the family of this latest victim, and her grieving fiance, and her whole small-town community. I’m also motivated because I am a woman myself, and mother of a daughter. I am angry that so many of these incidents occur that it causes me to worry, particularly about my daughter, who has a whole life ahead of her. If my own life is anything to go by, it seems likely that hers will involve walking in a park on her own, walking up a street late at night in the dark on more than one occasion, probably after having a few drinks, and even, going into her workplace on the weekend when no-one else is in, to finish up some work.

According to Vic Health, Australia has reached a point where the largest single contributor to the ill-health and death of women between the age of 15 – 44 is violence.

People have different ideas about the way to tackle this problem. I think that it goes back to deeply-rooted sexism and misogynistic attitudes – which can be held by women as well as by men. I don’t think there is any quick fix to that – I think it would take generations to change sexist and misogynistic attitudes, the same as it would to change racist attitudes, because we learn these things most profoundly at home, from parents and other elders. Kids learn most profoundly by example, and that’s where little, insidious, allegedly “harmless” sexist jokes and misogynistic attitudes will undermine any attempts to “teach” the “right” attitudes. I think more support services are needed for families having difficulties, and desperately needed for men who are separated/divorced and feeling as though they have no rights. Otherwise lots of young boys will continue to observe angry, bitter, disempowered fathers, and learn from them how to think about, and treat, women.

In  the past few weeks, we’ve seen the beginnings of some action around this problem. One State government has announced a Royal Commission into Domestic Violence and another has introduced a Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. It’s too late for all the women who’ve already died but I hope this is the beginning of some significant changes.

When my brother died (not violently) I recall thinking to myself how horrible it was, to feel so shocked, grief-stricken and numb. It occurred to me to wonder then, how much more could a loved-one bear? It struck me that some people have to deal with a loved one dying suddenly, but also violently. And for some, there is more to deal with than merely violence – how do families of women who are sexually assaulted and killed, or murdered by a partner, deal with the knowledge that in their last moments, their loved-one was being brutalised and terrorised? I thought to myself, back then, that there must be someone dealing with this knowledge for the first time, somewhere, every day. I had a brief insight, at that time when I was in shock and grieving myself, that the world must be overflowing with people who will be forever damaged by the violent death of someone they loved. And I wondered how on earth they go on.

So I guess this post is my little attempt to help to raise awareness – as there is nothing else I can dedicate to the woman who died in NSW last week.

 *

 

Destroy The Joint: formed some time in 2012, in response to a growing weariness with the sexist attitudes that were coming to the forefront in Australia back when Julia Gillard was our first female Prime Minister. The name of the group was supplied by an obnoxious shock-jock radio personality who publicly (and rather hysterically) stated, in relation to the Prime Minister and other females in leadership roles in Australia at that time – that women were “destroying the joint!”

For non-native speakers of Oztraylian, a “joint” is, in this context, a “place” – ie, Australia. In other words, women in leadership roles were destroying Australia.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Your post covers the ground comprehensively and in an admirably balanced way. I would say that you are correct in all your assertions. While you write from the Australian perspective, I believe the problem is well nigh universal and that while a nationwide initiative is good, a global initiative is what is needed.

    I believe that a woman should not have to curtail her activities or choose how she dresses or how she behaves in order to avoid violence. I believe that if a woman is subject to violence, then the entire blame for the violence rests with the perpetrator, not with the woman. To blame the woman for somehow inviting the violence is contemptible.

    There is indeed male-on-male violence (and a small amount of female-on-male violence) but I think male-on-female violence is a specific problem with specific causes and that it needs to be addressed and dealt with on its own terms.

    The number of deaths you cite shocked me as I did not know that it was so high. It should shock everyone who is not a psychopath or a moron. It should shock national governments into taking action. I can only hope that my scepticism about that is unfounded.

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  2. Beautifully expressed, and every word is right on point. Your commentary reminded me of Martin Luther King’s response to those protesting civil rights activism: “In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? ….Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.”

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