Grief and Other Bruises

Somewhere, over the rainbow


I thought I was doing ok during this ridiculous, divisive debate in which my “fellow’ Australians are being asked to make a decision about my life, my rights as a fellow Australian citizen, and therefore give their opinion about my relationship and my family.  The survey arrived the other week and I left it on the table for days, I couldn’t bring myself to complete it.  It felt like I was in denial and I kept asking myself “how can this be happening”?

We eventually ticked the boxes and posted them off. I didn’t feel the least bit celebratory, though we took the obligatory photo of the pieces of paper that asked us to validate our own existence; these expensive pieces of paper that have been delivered to millions of strangers so they can pass judgement on us.

Anyway, I thought I was ok. I had been buoyed by the polls in the last few years that told me 75% of my fellow Australians thought same sex marriage was long overdue. I was hopeful that our elected representatives would do what they were paid to do – lead the country, make decisions for the good of the nation, refuse to allow hatred and discrimination to inform their decisions.

Yet no, here we are with a non-binding, non-compulsory, astronomically expensive postal survey that has been shown to have no integrity (think stolen surveys, undelivered mail, envelopes dumped in the rain) and that has revealed a dark and hateful side of our populace. Sanctioned by a gutless government that refused to show leadership, a hypocritical government that refused to stand for equal rights.  We’ve quickly became an Orwellian nation: all citizens are equal, except well, obviously, the gays are not as equal…and don’t get me started on those transgender ones…

I tell myself everyday not to read the newsfeeds and definitely don’t scroll down and read the comments, but it’s compelling stuff. Maybe I’ve been naïve living here in the bubble that is the Republic of Canberra, surrounded by people who are loving, kind, open-hearted, progressive and fairly egalitarian.  The news, the posts and the comments devastate me. I read about people being bashed, being yelled at on public transport, I hear the “No” campaigners whine about being bullied (I mean, really? Really?). I read about people’s houses being vandalised, rocks thrown through windows, and vile language used to describe gay people – disgusting derogatory terms I haven’t heard for a very long time. I see how sad my friends are, I see how their mental health suffers and I feel how hurt we all are.

Every day my heart breaks a little bit more. I love my partner; we chose to commit to each other and we have built a life together; we celebrate and cherish all that we have. We have family and friends who love us.  Yet there is this seething underbelly in the community that hates us, loathes our very existence, makes a seemingly simple question give them permission to spew vitriol over us.

What are they so afraid of?


*Photo credit: Google

Stop with the “#notallmen” already!

I’m becoming more and more irritated by the “not all men” whiney rants that pop up whenever anything is written or discussed, particularly on social media, about violence against women.  Violence and murder is perpetrated on thousands of women and children in our country every day, and the #notallmen responses are infuriating.

“Not all men”/ #notallmen is dismissive and extremely unhelpful. And, if I hear another “I don’t know any men who do this sort of thing”, from a man or a woman, I shall scream. It’s confronting and uncomfortable to think that someone you might know, or know of, would do such things. But you know what, just because you may not know someone who uses violence to control and punish doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen! Not all rapists and domestic violence perpetrators actually tell you what they are doing; in fact, most don’t.  And they do their best to make sure their victims don’t tell either.

The sorts of serious criminal offences that are committed against women and children on a regular basis in Australia include rape, battery, assault, imprisonment, kidnapping, destroying property, harming family pets, and theft. Serious crimes. Add name-calling, putdowns, shouting, financial, emotional and verbal abuse and we have something ineptly named “domestic” or “family” violence. Feminist author Judith Hermann had it right when she called it “domestic terrorism” back in 1992.

“Not all men” is a galling interruption to important conversations about sexism, misogyny, women’s rights and abuse of children. “Not all men” redirects the discussion to “it’s not my (men’s) fault”. “It’s not my fault that women get raped, suffer violence, get killed”, etc, etc, etc.  #notallmen serves to shift the focus of the conversation, instead of getting people to engage with what is actually happening: an epidemic that is huge and seemingly unfuckingstoppable. An epidemic of murder, rape and abuse of hundreds of thousands of women and girls in Australia, every day.

Why are we (and I mean our government and our society, not the small number of underfunded services that try and assist victims of violence) doing so little about this terrible scourge that causes so much physical and psychological pain that then damages generations of us?

Ok already, we know it’s not all men. The majority of rapes are perpetrated by men; the majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men; the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by men; the majority of all violent crime is perpetrated by men. The statistics in Australia are horrible and unbearably sad. Two women a week are murdered, usually by men who are known to them. 87% of domestic violence victims are women whose perpetrators are known to them, usually their intimate male partner. One in three women has experienced some sort of violence since the age of 15 – that’s nearly 4 million Australian women. One in five women have been stalked, many by their current or previous male partner. Fathers, stepfathers and male relatives make up the majority of perpetrators of females under the age of 15. Two million women experience unwanted sexual touching, mostly by men, each year. The Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics tell us that the available statistical data relating to sexual assault research is likely to be an underestimation.

I’m not denying that some women perpetrate violent and sexual crimes. This is of course far from acceptable.  However, what I, and many feminist writers more eloquent than I (and without the swearing) are saying is that the titanic majority of these crimes ARE COMMITTED BY MEN.  (Not sorry for yelling).

So stop being male apologists.  Stop with the #notallmen bullshit and engage in the discussion.  Be outraged that this epidemic goes on unchecked. Be furious that we are sentencing generations of women, girls and children to lifetimes of terror and despair. Do something. Get real. That puny, snivelling hashtag won’t save lives.

*I didn’t make up any of the stats I used in this post.  Given that most of the research I read said that the incidences of domestic and sexual violence appear to be increasing, the stats are probably higher in 2015.  Here’s where I got them from:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004 and 2012

Australian Institute of Family Studies 2012

Herman, J (1992) Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books: USA (Domestic Violence resource Centre Victoria) 2015

**Photo credit: Huffington Post UK


Two weeks off

Downstairs the house smelled of wet dog and mould, and unwashed socks that had been worn too many times.  I didn’t care. That was what Exit Mould and Pine-o-clean were for. I bought bottles of the stuff and cans of Glen 20 and I washed and dried everything, including the dog, and I shut fast that room with its smell of ancient foot odour.

I went for long, punishing walks with the dog. He had to run to keep up with me and he was only small – a maltese terrier -type crossed with something or other. He had a penchant for bullying much larger dogs and was annoyed when I didn’t let him off the leash to run after what he thought were fair game. I’d learned my lesson last year when he decided to take on a huge mastiff. She weighed ten of him, with a head the size of a basketball.  I was the one left with the 800 dollar vet bill, a mutt with a plastic collar of shame around his neck and a drain in his chest, and an earful of virulent abuse from the mastiff’s owner.

Occasionally he’d balk at the pace as we pounded along the beach or the bush tracks behind the dunes. I’d play Green Day as loud as my ears could bear, so I wouldn’t have to think or feel or hear anything else but Jesus of Suburbia and American Idiot. With my headphones, sunglasses and a hat jammed on my head I could be anonymous and separate.  Every now and then, the leash would jerk and pull my arm backward. I’d turn to see the dog sitting stubbornly in the middle of the track and he’d look at me balefully as if to say “slow the fuck down, will ya?” I’d jerk the leash back my way, and off we’d go again. I did not slow the fuck down, and he with his tongue sticking out, bright red and dripping, had no choice but to run or be dragged. I’d make him jog along the shoreline and he kept a wary eye out for any encroaching waves, for he hated to get wet and would bark in a shrill voice at me if I got too close to the water.

When we eventually returned home, the dog would throw himself onto the tiles downstairs in an effort to get cool, panting mightily. When he thought I wasn’t looking he’d curl up on the couch.  And then he’d sleep for hours and hours, only occasionally shifting to get more comfortable. Sometimes his legs would jerk and his body shuddered as if he was having a mini-seizure, and he’d moan in his sleep.  I took to walking by myself in the afternoons so  the dog could rest and I could trudge along unimpeded, without the need to examine other animals’ excrement or stop to wee on fence posts .

We were both a little leaner at the end of those two weeks.

*Picture credit: me and my iPhone

When my grandmother died

When my grandmother died not long ago, at the ripe old age of 97, I was very sad. Here was a woman who had loved me all my years, a woman who I remember with every cell in my body, who was the linchpin of my large flawed family and had the sweetest Geordie/Irish accent you’ve ever heard.  I posted a picture of her on Facebook, with her twinkling, smiling eyes.  “At least you had her for so long”, commented one friend.

“At least you had her for so long”!!  Just because she was a great age when she died?  Does it mean I should love her less? My 1 year old cousin only had her for a year. Would you say at least you had her longer than he did, that somehow one year of love is worth less than fifty? Does it mean I won’t miss her as much? Are you envious because your grandmother died sooner than mine?

When my best friend died, an acquaintance said, “Oh at least you got to see her a lot before she died”.  And if I hadn’t, what then?  “At least you got to have dinner with her six months ago, before she got sick, before she died” (Oh yeah, great. Lovely). “At least you didn’t lose more than one best friend” (Oh but I did). “At least she died with her family around her” (um, no, we weren’t all there). “At least you have shared memories with others (no, she held the memories). “Well, at least…” Jesus Pollyanna, shut the hell up with your platitudes and ridiculous “at leasts”.

You hear it a lot in the face of tragedy and sadness. “At least he was unconscious”. “At least you got home in time to see your father, (ravaged with disease and delirious with pain)…before he died”. “At least her daughters were in their twenties when she died. At least they had a mother to grow up with”. “At least they had wills…imagine if they didn’t”. “At least the baby was born and you got to hold him…before he died.”

“At least”…. It’s a term used to add a positive comment to a negative situation. People like my acquaintance, Pollyanna Perfect, say it all the time to make people feel better. It’s part of her stock standard patter.   But you know, it also means “at the minimum”. You should clean your house at least once a week. You should service your car at least twice a year. At least I saw her once before she died. At least I saw her when she died. At least I went to her funeral. At least I remembered her birthday.

“At the minimum, you saw her (once) before she died”. “At the minimum, you got to hold the baby (once)”. “At the minimum, you got to the funeral (once)”.

“At least” diminishes. Repeated and repeated, statements lose all meaning.  At least you saw her before she died. Why is that comforting?  Why do you assume that comforts?  It doesn’t.  I want to see her now, alive, talking, laughing. I want her to remember me. I want to make new memories with her.

At least you have old ones.