How Much Longer?
Published on June 16, 2018 by Alisa Tanaka-King on The Bird Girls Blog
Alisa is a friend of mine who is passionate about halting the horrific body count of women lost to domestic violence. Here are some of her thoughts which have been prompted by the recent shock of Eurydice Dixon’s murder.
Three things happened recently that made me lose a little faith in humanity.
A couple of weeks back, I was running an education program in schools called Respectful Relationships. The program is designed to assist schools in incorporating the new addition of Respectful Relationships into their curriculum. This is a direct result of the Royal Commission into family violence that found that one in three women experience violence by the age of 15.
I’ve put a lot of time and effort into designing this program with a group of dedicated, creative, conscientious, people. It has been a challenging, confronting, and exhausting process.
When presenting this program to schools, we generally receive very positive responses from both students and teachers, which is encouraging and rewarding. We’ve had brilliant conversations about gender stereotypes, deeply embedded social conditioning, and breaking down of barriers.
However, just the other week, I had an unpleasant wake up call reminding me how difficult it is to make fundamental change. At the end of running a school program for year 8, private secondary school boys, one of their teachers approaches us defensive and insulted.
Our boys aren’t like that.
Now I specify that this was a private all-boys school, as there seems to be an assumption that if you are of a high enough social class, you are immune to being a violent criminal. We don’t go to any school assuming that the students are rapists or murderers, and I don’t believe that any child grows up aspiring to be such.
The program we run is not directed at boys who already have a history of violence or crime.
The program we run is not only taught to boys – it is taught equally importantly to girls. For us to make the ground-breaking changes necessary to end gender-based violence, everyone needs to be better informed.
But this teacher wasn’t finished.
Why don’t you talk about violent women at all? There are violent women too.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this. It’s not even the second. Or the third.I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Yes. Of course there are violent, terrible women.
Unfortunately there are hateful and destructive people in every gender, culture, religion, and race.
But this program is designed to help address the family violence crisis we are facing. The crisis where women are statistically at much greater risk of experiencing physical and emotional violence, controlling behaviour, and death.
We try to approach conversations like the one with this teacher in a positive, patient, and informative manner. We explain the statistics, and how important it is for everyone to be responsible and active in making fundamental societal change.
But really, I just wanted to lose all professionalism and shout at her.Oh, did I mention this was a female teacher?
I wanted to ask her if she had ever wondered if her skirt was too short? Her heels too high?
Had she ever parked in a spot that was too dimly lit?
Did she carry her keys between her knuckles late at night, phone clutched tightly in the other hand, wondering if she would be able to dial for help fast enough?
I wanted to know if she’s ever texted friends to let them know she got home safe?
Does she know how to walk quickly, but not so quickly that the stranger behind her thinks she’s rushing? Does she know that she shouldn’t have to be afraid as a default?
Honestly, I wasn’t even angry at this teacher.I was just gutted that one of our educators was unable to see why this is so important. I felt like everything we are working so hard to do fell on deaf ears, and I lost a little faith in humanity.
A close friend of mine is pregnant, expecting her first child, a little girl.
She mentioned to me that she is conflicted.
She is a very strong, intelligent, independent woman who believes firmly in gender equality.
She doesn’t believe in victim blaming – of course no one deserves to be raped or murdered, and that should never be seen as the direct result of the decisions the victim has made.
But I will still warn my daughter not to walk home in the dark, teach her to be careful, teach her to be afraid. What else can we do? It just seems too difficult to change anything else.
I tried to explain the education program that I am running, but it sounded weak and useless against the reality of one woman murdered every week.
This kind of fundamental societal change takes too long for us not to teach our daughters to be cautious.
If I had a daughter I would teach her the same thing, and that breaks my heart, because it feels like admitting defeat. It feels like I’ve lost faith in humanity. And not just faith in the way our society currently functions, but faith in our ability to change and be better.
And then, after a long day, I logged onto Facebook.
Now, my Facebook feed generally provides me with pretty like-minded views of the world, as I’m friends with pretty like-minded people. So, for the most part, facebook provides me with a lovely (though probably naive) little bubble of progressive, open-mined opinions.
But when I logged on this time, a male friend (and yes, it is relevant that he is male) had posted a status stating that he agreed with the Victoria Police statement asking people to take responsibility for their own safety. He then went on to question why anyone would disagree with this statement. In fairness, he approached this conversation openly, was sensitive, and welcomed comments and thoughts.
Of course excellent responses flooded in, explaining the frustration, unfairness and helplessness felt around the implications that this statement made. While the brilliant responses from both men and women gave me hope, I was still taken aback that this sort of view had to argued amongst a cohort of people who I thought shared my beliefs without a shadow of a doubt.
There have been countless articles, comments, tweets, and even Facebook profile picture frames responding to the Victoria Police comment, and I think it is excellent these issues are being brought to light and discussed.
However, it feels like we are putting so much effort into convincing people why we need change, that we’ve got no energy left for change at all.
When the shock of Eurydice Dixon’s murder fades away, will we go back to treating precautionary behaviour for women as normal?
Will we continue to be blind to the violence taking place behind closed doors towards wives, girlfriends and daughters?
Will we conveniently forget that women are being raped and murdered on a weekly basis, just because they aren’t being laid out in a public park where we are forced to acknowledge it?
It has taken hundreds, if not thousands of years to establish our current gender climate, and there is a mammoth amount that must be undone. Not just by women, not just by men, but by everyone – from our families and local communities, to our global society.
From celebrating the birth of a boy and praising the continuation of the family name.To telling girls to sit more lady-like.To saying boys will be boys but in the same breath demanding them to man up. From the nature of our porn and sex industry, to our struggle to support mothers’ and their careers, to teaching our daughters to feel weak and our son’s that they must protect them.
I repeatedly explain to teachers, principals, students and colleagues that the fundamental societal change needed to bring about gender equality will take time.
But the task of creating change seems so monumentally big, that it feels impossible to even begin. Instead of being inspired to fight with energy and passion, I am overwhelmed with helplessness.
Every life lost is one too many.
How can we possibly turn around and say well, this will take time without losing faith?