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Feminism, Observations

An invitation to a Rising

When my youngest daughter the Little Chef stood up to an example of Everyday Sexism, she soon discovered she wasn’t alone. Sometimes all you need is an invitation.

I was admiring my new First Dog on the Moon t-shirt when my youngest daughter the Little Chef came home with a tale that simultaneously chilled and thrilled me.

She was out with her friends in Brisbane’s party precinct Fortitude Valley when she saw a young woman cowering against a wall while a large man, presumably her boyfriend, leaned over her shouting abuse.

He had one hand on the wall next to her head and was leaning in close over her as he shouted into her face.

It wasn’t a quiet back street or a remote corner of a bar but out in the middle of the Friday night melee, with people all around going about their business as if nothing untoward was occurring.

As my daughter walked past she caught the woman’s terrified eye. “I don’t know why I did it really, but I just held out my hand to her,” said the Little Chef who stands shorter than I do at 5ft nothing.

Turns out the woman needed nothing more than an invitation.

She took my daughter’s hand and went with her, leaving the enraged boyfriend standing speechless as the Little Chef guided her to a taxi and made sure she had enough money to get home.

As they walked away, my daughter heard someone, a man, say, “Thank God, that girl’s rescued her.”

Let me tell you, the urge to berate my tiny daughter for putting herself at risk was a difficult one to suppress but I did it, and quietly gave my own thanks that the abuser didn’t hurt her.

The next morning on the bus she witnessed another example of men behaving badly.

An older man, in his 60s she guessed, boarded the bus and sat down next to a young woman, one seat in front of Chef.

He leaned in close and touched the woman’s shoulder and asked her what sort of day she’d been having and how old she was. Clearly flustered and embarrassed, she told him she was 17.

Then he asked her if she’d shaved her legs that morning.

Fresh from her earlier rescue effort, my daughter said she was ready to jump in at the next inappropriate remark.

She didn’t have to. At that moment they reached the next stop and a middle-aged man got up from the rear of the bus. As he passed the older man he leaned in close and grabbed his shoulder.

“How you doing, mate?” he asked loudly.

“What sort of a day have you been having? How does it feel when someone invades your space and touches you without permission?”

As he left the bus the man turned to the driver and said, “There’s a bloke back there causing trouble. You might want to think about throwing him off.”

The old boy sat quiet as a mouse for the rest of the journey, said Chef, in the classic pose of the chastened male, hunched over with his hands protectively over his crotch.

As the young woman left the bus a few stops later another passenger, a woman who was also alighting, paused to make sure she was ok before going on her way.

How does a mum respond when her 20-year-old baby girl comes home with two such tales? Luckily, First Dog was at hand. I showed her my new t-shirt which depicts one of my favourite cartoonist’s best works.

You can see it at Crikey here (definitely NOT safe for work) and I’ve linked to it before. It’s called ‘Walking down the street’ and graphically depicts the verbal abuse that women universally seem to experience with depressing frequency.

She’d seen it before too but she read it again all the way through and she was crying when she finished.

“I always cry when I read that cartoon,” she said.

Me too. That’s why I wanted it on a t-shirt.

Little Chef and I are in agreement. First Dog’s cartoon moves us to tears because it’s a man pointing out these things which all women know but too few men acknowledge.

Neither she nor I is in need of a hero. We’re not waiting for a Knight in Shining Armour to leap to the rescue. But it’s important to both of us, young and not-quite-so-young, to know that there are men standing with us, prepared to lend their arms in the struggle for simple and straightforward respect.

This Valentine’s Day Eve Ensler, she of the Vagina Monologues and the annual V-Day, is organising a Rising.

One Billion Rising – representing the one billion women in the world who are estimated to be survivors of abuse – is calling for women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence.”

What does One Billion Rising look like? To me, it looks a lot like a Little Chef reaching out her hand to a woman in need. And a lot like a man on a bus calling out everyday sexism when he sees it.

It looks a lot like women and the men who love them standing together against a culture which demeans and damages us all, while destroying far too many of us.

Sometimes all you need is an invitation.

Here’s one, written by the wonderful Ensler, a Man Prayer, which also has the power to make a woman cry.

© Sally Baxter 2013
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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

Discussion

13 thoughts on “An invitation to a Rising

  1. Proud parent moment Sally. As the British statesman Edmund Burke said: Evil flourishes when good men do nothing. You’ve raised her well.

    Like

    Posted by nanasgirl | February 10, 2013, 7:42 am
  2. Yes, often all it takes from those witnessing such incidents, is the acknowledgement they are aware of what is occurring, and understand.

    It may sound funny, but when one is in those situations as a woman, one has the feeling that to ask for help, you, yourself will be judged.

    It is often the victim that feels ashamed and wants to hide, not to draw attention.

    Your daughter done well. So did that gentleman that intervened. It is a male problem, and sometimes I believe, only the male can solve it.

    Like

    Posted by Catching up | February 10, 2013, 1:17 pm
    • I think you’re absolutely right about feeling ashamed to ask for help in those situations. The most powerful thing for me about my daughter’s story was that all she did was hold out her hand. She didn’t grab her and pull her away or make any kind of judgment. She just offered an alternative. I’m very proud of her for her actions but, like you, I believe men need to speak out when they see unacceptable behaviour too. So a tip of the hat to that man on the bus too. He made a real difference that day. S

      Like

      Posted by Sally Baxter | February 10, 2013, 4:19 pm
      • Sally. I am a 71 year old that spent to long in that young woman’s position. Yes, the need not to publicise how badly you are being treated, over rides the fear for your own safety,

        Society, especially men, have to let these people know the behaviour is not acceptable.

        I also know, if someone took me by the hand in a similar situation, I would have done as that young woman did.

        If someone has said to me, this is not good enough, you have to do something, I would have grabbed the chance.,

        It is not about being weak, It is not about being gutless, It is about being so worn down, that one is just to tired to move on.

        It looks like things are now changing. I know I now will pick up that phone to the police, if I am confronted with DV,

        Like

        Posted by Catching up | February 10, 2013, 4:30 pm
  3. Thank you for this post. It gives me the strength to know that the journey I will be traveling over the next few months will be worth all the millions of tears I’ve cried over the years.

    Like

    Posted by joyce lameire | February 10, 2013, 2:23 pm
    • Joyce, not knowing what you are up against, I can only say, you are doing the right thing, Ir will help, but sadly never fully over. It is a step one has to take., Good luck.

      Like

      Posted by Catching up | February 10, 2013, 4:58 pm
  4. Good luck to you Joyce. Glad my daughter’s story was a help. S

    Like

    Posted by Sally Baxter | February 10, 2013, 4:20 pm
    • It made my day to know there are people, like your lovely daughter and the middle-aged man on the bus, who don’t pretend to look the other way.

      It has been a long time coming, but the great change I have seen in recent years is not less harassment and abuse of women, but that a victim is more likely today to be listened to and taken seriously.

      When I was young, I was too ashamed tell anyone because the girl was always seen as being at fault. Somehow she’d “asked for it”. Of course, many people still think like that, but at least more women know they aren’t alone and they don’t have to take it anymore. Your piece reminds us that somewhere there will be a helping hand.

      Like

      Posted by yellowbrickbooks | February 11, 2013, 9:32 am
  5. Not only was one made to feel ashamed and responsible, it was the woman’s job to keep the family business private.

    Like

    Posted by Catching up | February 11, 2013, 11:21 am
    • Right. Keeping Up Appearances for the family. The punishment for failing to do so used to be banishment. I remember girls back in the 60s who disappeared overnight. The whispered assumption was, “They got themselves pregnant”. (Only the Virgin Mary was allowed to do that. All I can conclude is that the Holy Ghost must have been a busy boy.)

      Where did those girls go? Back then no one told. But Australia, too, had its own version of the Magdalene Laundries (Has this been investigated in OZ?)

      When I told my daughter about all this tonight (you see what your blog has sparked) she said, “Mum, my generation can’t even imagine that stuff”. And then she added, “Maybe that’s because I grew up in America”.

      I hope young women in Australia can’t imagine that stuff anymore either. Because that’s what I want — no young woman anywhere should ever again be able to imagine being “disappeared” — for any reason. So, on the one hand I’m thinking; Hey, it’s great my 27 year old daughter is saying, “Mum, get over it. That stuff doesn’t happen any more”. On the other, I’m saying to myself, this stuff should not be forgotten.

      Oops. There I go dating myself again.

      Like

      Posted by yellowbrickbooks | February 11, 2013, 5:58 pm
  6. I’m so pleased my daughter has inspired this conversation and thank you both for sharing your thoughts on my humble blog.

    The most inspiring thing about social media’s role in this discussion is the spotlight it has shone on these experiences. It’s also profoundly depressing to realise how universal they are – but there’s the key in removing the shame.

    When we realise it’s happening to all of us, it becomes harder to convince us that it’s something we did/didn’t do or said/didn’t say. And it makes a return to those dark days an impossibility.

    Yes, it’s great that our daughters can’t imagine that stuff, but it should never be forgotten. The battles shift but the war ain’t won – and knowledge is our greatest power.

    Love S

    Like

    Posted by Sally Baxter | February 12, 2013, 6:37 am
  7. Reblogged this on lmrh5.

    Like

    Posted by lmrh5 | February 13, 2013, 10:10 pm

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