Thursday, 12 October 2017 14:14

Raise your Eyes and Wave your Hands

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Raise your eyes and wave your hands.
Every woman I’ve ever met has her own Harvey Weinstein(s) and we know that the only regret he has is that someone told and he got caught. I view his going to rehab as an act of aggression towards all the women he abused, as though he couldn’t help himself. As though this is about sex and not about power. Of course, he is only one piece of filth that has floated to the surface. Now the pond has been stirred, he won’t be the last.
I remember when I sat in women’s groups in the 1980’s, someone would inevitably bring up the subject of sexual abuse. There would be a wave of upset and lowered eyes. I wondered, in my naivete, if the degree of upset was corelated with the ‘degree’ of abuse. I didn’t know, but what I did know was that when the question was asked “how many women here have suffered abuse at the hands of men” there was always 90%-100% of raised hands.
I was 20 years old and had moved to the city from a country town and had arrived at the women’s groups by accident rather than by design. I was so ignorant that I once declared that I didn’t need to be a feminist because all the men I knew treated me with respect. The friend who had brought me along was mortified.
Hailing from a family of 5 girls and a matriarchal mother, I observed that men were treated simultaneously as kings and as nuisances. It was an amazing balance that was perpetrated non-verbally. The men were sent to the sitting room with the newspaper and the Saturday sport on tv, so that the women could hang out in the kitchen. Occasional cups of tea, sandwiches and freshly baked cakes would be delivered to the captive males on their comfortable thrones. My father was a reserved, catholic man, who was embarrassed if we saw him in his pyjamas. Whilst my mother and her sisters, and later her daughters, spent that time in the kitchen, cackling at raucous jokes about men and sex. They were very funny! But as a child I was confused. Men were to be pacified, like children, given toys and told to play in the other room. But they were ultimately the ones who were in charge, served by their women. Where did the power lie?
I guess it’s inevitable that in a family of girls, physical beauty becomes a value. I must emphasise that academic success was equally high on the list of values! But, in my experience there was the underlying message that beauty could bring danger in the form of unwanted attention from men. “They all only want the one thing.” I don’t think they knew then that that “one thing” wasn’t actually sex but was purely power.
 My first memory of inappropriate attention was when I was forced to kiss a male cousin who had cornered me in the hallway. The adults didn’t save me, they laughed at how cute it was, ignored my crying and told me to give him a little kiss. I was about 4 years old and that was the message I was given. I must kiss him to get approval and no one would protect me. Take a moment to think of the message HE was given.
It seems that in every neighbourhood there were men who were to be avoided. They were ordinary men, our neighbourhood’s husbands and fathers. They weren’t like my aunt’s flasher. ( My aunt was famous for telling a flasher to “put that dirty thing away”). I didn’t understand why the women in the neighbourhood were to be careful around them but I was warned not to be alone with them. It must never be spoken about. A secret. Their wives may have known. We don’t know.
When I was 12, my friend’s brother brought me into a room and exposed himself to me. I returned to the sitting room and sat watching tv with his family.
Because I was pretty and if I told them, they’d blame me. Maybe I’d led him on.
Soon after that I had my first kiss. A boy I fancied sat on me and said, “I could rape you now”. I replied, “I’d scream”. He laughed “Not if I was kissing you. You couldn’t”. At the time it seemed romantic.
As a teenager, I had no idea how to deal with unwanted advances.
 It was flattering to be desired. It was as easy to give them what they wanted. They only wanted one thing. And I had it. Having sex with men was how to get them to like you, to show them how sophisticated you were. I wasn’t a child, I was a woman. I could get approval.
Later in my teenage years, I devised a method whereby if a man was harassing me I would ‘accidentally’ burn him with a cigarette. I am frightened now that I felt that was a valid and safe action to take. Unfortunately, the instances I’ve given here are a drop in the ocean and this was me taking back what power I could.
When I was 16, a friend’s father harassed me so much that I had sex with him. He continued to habitually harass me when I stayed with them. I couldn’t stop staying there or people would want to know why and I couldn’t tell. I eventually threatened to tell my friend and he stopped.
But I never told.
It was my fault and it wasn’t “really abuse”. It wasn’t really rape. I must have wanted it or I would have stopped him earlier.
Recently, 50 years later, I got drunk and told his sister which I deeply regret. I’m still 16 and terrified she’ll feel she must tell. He’s her brother and I want to protect her and my friend and, of course, I’m still protecting him.
I don’t think I’m unusual when I say that I believed that my abusewasn’t as serious as the other women in those women’s groups in the 1980s. Their abuse was terrible, awful, unforgivable. Me? I had just ended up having sex with my friend’s father. We were only at the beginning of understanding the nature of rape.
But we understand more now. Don’t we? We instil feminist principals in our daughters. Don’t we? We raise sons who understand feminism, whilst maintaining confidence in their masculinity. Don’t we? We raise daughters who see value in themselves beyond their physical beauty. Don’t we? We raise sons, who don’t need power over women to feel themselves empowered. Don’t we? We raise daughters who are empowered. Don’t we?
At 56 I’m only now learning that in those women’s groups in the 1980’s my eyes should have been raised and my hand should have been waving high in the air.
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