What if Women Were Free?

A couple of months ago I had a distinctly new, foreign though pop into my head. What would the world be like if women were free to live their lives exactly as they wished? And I mean exactly as they wished. Not within the current frameworks and the limitations that these frameworks place upon us as women. And not by accepting the pseudo freedom sold to us. It is a lie. What I mean is starting over from scratch. Imagining a new world for women. Without any historical precedents in place, without societal, cultural or political pressures. Without gender conditioning. Without misogyny.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a world in which women define themselves? Read More

Mother’s Day Slam

And so on this most feel-good of tributary days, on the day of the deification of The Mother and all that is maternal, loving, warm, caring, nurturing, selfless, giving and kind, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

To those who were unmothered, who were ignored, abandoned, abused, subsumed, repressed, oppressed, used, treated as a friend, or a play-thing or a no-thing.

To those who grew up without role models, so that a mother means mean and selfish and distracted and childish and foolish and unpredictable and explosive.

To those who mothered and continue to mother themselves, though without the guidance of role models do an imperfect job, alternately indulging the self ‘s every whim and punishing it with endless barrages of internal criticism.

To those who mother others, but not necessarily themselves. To those who had the mother-child role reversed, and learned to play carer, nurturer, listener, genie-in-a-bottle-granter-of-wishes, not just to their own mothers, who couldn’t mother them, but to everyone, stranger or friend, who needed a mother, at any time of day, or night, in any place, or any space, appropriate or not.

To those women who cannot or will not have children, you are not less of a woman for it.

To those of you who find today hard because of any or all of these things. To those who feel left out.

I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day.

Writing a Life: About Me & Feminist Confessional

 

Starting at age four
My experience with writing is vast and wide
First: my name scrawled in Dick Bruna books, some letters backwards, some capitalised
Then: learning to write neatly, on lines, in thick blue pencil or Chinagraph on transparent sheets; lead pencil on tracing paper too
Later: coloured perfumed pens, textas, an Apple II word processor
Pencil on music manuscript: dots on lines, minims and rests and clefs and keys and a whole new language
And ballpoint pens, tested for their speed and flow in the shop, before purchase
They need to be able to write really fast during exams
Fantastical stories, cutely rhyming poems, diaries and love letters
Essays, and blog posts, critical reviews
Technical writing, so difficult, so very precise
Grant applications: begging for money, acquitting it at the end
Emails and texts and forums and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram
Magazine articles and book extracts, written for nary a sum
Notes passed in class, writing on foggy mirrors, misty windows, dusty windscreens
English, so much English
Italian and French and German too
Theses and manuscripts and folios and contents and indices and footnotes and bibliographies and lecture notes and
Programme notes and assignments and graphic scores and graffiti and birthday cards and eulogies and rants and complaints and requests and forms and contracts and lists
So many lists
Just like this one Read More

Brava

Key

Brava. Is this the key to everything? Will this change my life? I found this key on the top step of a tiny staircase, just below a door. I didn’t dare try it. I think it was trying to tell me something.

Why My Teeth Clench and My Shoulders Seize Up: Sexual Abuse and Coming to Terms with Trauma in the #MeToo Era.

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When I think about writing this piece, I notice that my teeth are clenched and my shoulders are raised. I also feel that familiar, pleasant, slightly floaty feeling as if I’m not really here. I stare out the window vaguely without focus. It’s called dissociation, and I’ve only recently learned to label it as such. It’s pleasant, because it allows me to leave a painful situation, mentally, to check out, even if my body isn’t coping.

I’ve been encouraged for a few years by well-meaning medical folk to deal with the underlying trauma that is a contributing factor in my chronic illness; and I’ve tried hard to identify and move through it. I have had debilitating symptoms for over a decade now, most of which seem untreatable. I won’t delve into the full story of my health problems right now: suffice to say these symptoms and my pain levels are bad enough to stop me from leading a normal life.

My osteopath is currently working on trying to get my shoulders to relax and resume their normal position, back and down. Instead, they sit upwards and forwards, and are chronically knotted; so tightly that my nerves are affected and my arms go numb when I sleep every night. When I first returned to him last year, he said to me “What’s going on? It’s like you’re bracing for someone who’s coming at you.” We’ve talked about the Fight or Flight response, and also the Freeze response, in which your body freezes, but your mind takes a holiday in order to protect itself. In other words, dissociation. It seems I’m freezing up in anticipation of a threat, most likely a threat long gone.

It’s slow progress trying to deal with the trauma, and the illness I have. I’m not really getting anywhere fast, however, I think I have finally realised that the bulk of my underlying trauma has been caused by decades of sexual abuse, in one form or another. It was difficult for me to arrive at this conclusion. I had a troubled upbringing complete with emotional abuse and unhealthy primary relationships, three near-drowning experiences, and my father died after a horrible, protracted illness during my 30s, which I had to deal with and grieve with almost no support. It was easy for me to focus on these things as the cause of my trauma, and indeed, I’m certain they all contribute and are significant. But, the trauma wasn’t shifting, even after almost 15 years of therapy. Daily meditations were not calming my system, nor were significant dietary changes or regular exercise.

However, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last year, it forced me to re-evaluate my life extensively, particularly in terms of my relationships with men and boys, and I came up with some startling conclusions: almost all of my relationships with men and boys have involved some form of sexual abuse, assault, misconduct, or (at a minimum) coercion. In varying degrees, of course, but there has, much more often than not, been something inherently disrespectful and harmful in these relationships. Or, these relationships were inappropriate in other ways: for example, abuses of power and authority by those of advanced age and status that left me feeling used and that wasted precious years of my youth. Add to this inappropriate behaviour on casual dates, decades of street harassment, sexualised images of women on screen and in print, inappropriately sexualised behaviour by teachers, and from men in society in general and being molested as a child by a male babysitter, and you have a pretty overwhelming picture. In short: I think I found my trauma, the behemoth, the ogre-lurking-in-the-shadows, the overwhelming pile of steaming feculence that has derailed my life and my health. Read More

Married At First Sight’s Dean and Tracey: When Traditional Gender Expectations Mean “I Love You”.

As women we are sold so many lies about our gender, about what constitutes a good life for us, about what we should aim for and want for ourselves. About what we can and can’t do, and what we’re capable and incapable of. How we should look, act and feel. One of the grandest lies we are sold pertains to marriage, and that it should assume a crowning centrality in our lives. Marriage is the glittering pinnacle towards which all women should climb, and along with motherhood, should be the Holy Grail of our existence. Being marriageable is a measure of a woman’s worth. I know that I personally have, and continue to fall into the pitfall of feeling unworthy and unloveable because I am unmarried. There is a deep yearning (seemingly in my psyche) to have my loveability validated by a man declaring his undying, unconditional love for me, that, even as a card-carrying feminist, I cannot shake. Being marriageable is a measure of a woman’s worth. I repeat that statement because until quite recently in the West, what a woman could bring to a marriage financially (her dowry) was of the utmost importance. Also, her youth, her health, her ability to be impregnated were assets traded, sold even, from one family to another. Thankfully these days, in the West most people adopt a model of marriage as a love match, but residues and remnants of a woman’s literal worth and its trading are still apparent in the majority of wedding ceremonies, even those claiming to be non-traditional. The giving of an engagement ring is a deposit on your bride to be; the bigger the deposit, the more she is worth to you. The giving away of the bride, from one man (the bride’s father, usually) to another (the groom), as if she is a possession, merely chattels. The highly decorative way the woman is dressed, as if she is a wrapped present, often complete with bows, sparkles, vast swathes of cloth for the man to untie and unwrap at the end of the day. It surprises and saddens me how many of these ceremonial traditions are upheld (along with many others), as if a marriage ceremony couldn’t be reconfigured to truly respect women, to reflect the progress that has been made in recent decades; as if, somehow, a wedding is not a wedding without these elements. As a feminist, unmarried woman, I’ve thought about this a lot, as a way to assuage my own somewhat embarrassing yearning to be married, and maybe more to justify to myself why, in fact I wouldn’t want it. But a marriage is not the same thing as a wedding, and with a partner of 13 years, I’ve surely experienced – by now – something quite similar to what a marriage is; and yet there’s a niggling part of me that still desires that our relationship have public recognition, complete with declarations of love, a ceremony, a wedding, even if most of the traditions and trappings would be abandoned in what would be a truly feminist celebration. Weird isn’t it? Yes, but no. Read More

I Dodged a Bullet: Big Little Lies, Male Aggression and MeToo

I’ve just finished watching Big Little Lies, a TV miniseries that doesn’t shy away from the topics of domestic and sexual violence, the patriarchal control of women and emotional abuse. The overwhelming feeling I have about the show is one of immense sadness at some of the characters’ suffering at the hands of violent and controlling men. I am also grateful that these issues are being explored openly, no matter how sad they make me, because they need to be discussed, confronted head on, and hopefully eradicated from society. The recent paradigm shift that is the MeToo Movement also deals with similar themes: women sharing accounts of sexual violence, abuse, and misconduct, and refusing to stay silent about what is happening to them any longer. Read More

Not Quite Here Yet: Living in the Aftermath of Child Molestation

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When I think about it I feel like I am made up of a billowy, wavy outline, that I am a container or a vessel with delineated edges but hollow inside. When I think about it I feel the electric heat of pain in this space, a shimmering, wobbly centre of self that fragments and becomes disoriented, incoherent. Pieces of a put-together-puzzle come apart and float about. I am not in my body. It hurts to breathe, I feel a pressure outside of my ribs behind me, as if there is a monkey on my back. I am frozen. I breathe shallowly and quickly and wish to flee. I rock gently.

This is how the story goes:

When I was 4 years old I was molested by a male babysitter. He was 16 or 17. I say “I was molested” but the truth is that both my brother and I were. My brother Michael*, who was 7 at the time, remembers what happened that day, but I do not. Or, rather, I have memories of that day, memories of the babysitter, clear ones even, but I don’t remember being molested.

I found out that I had been molested when I was 19.

A few days before finding out, I was talking to my brother’s (now ex) wife Jane* about the sexual and physical abuse in her family and in her own childhood. I wondered out loud whether I had also been sexually abused. It was an odd thing to say – I had no memories or reason to think this, it was more of a feeling, a gut response. Nevertheless, I said it. The question floated on the air.

Read More