Trauma CVs: do we have to show our scars?

by Cecilia Winterfox

Increasingly, women speaking about violence are expected to demonstrate our “lived experience” by disclosing details for others to assess: a trauma-CV offered up for scrutiny before we’re deemed sufficiently qualified – indeed suffienctly traumatised - to speak. 

The idea that in order to have legitimacy to speak on a topic, one must have experienced it firsthand has gained significant traction in social discourse.

But when it comes to men’s violence against women, expectations of full and frank disclosure can lead to entitled, even cavalier, lines of enquiry that have little to do with understanding the political aspects of violence or supporting women, and more to do with satisfying curiosity.

Many women share their stories with incredible courage in the hope that it will bring about change. These women are survivors, they are strong and we owe it to them to listen and bear witness. But there will always be those who cannot do so. The reasons are complex and deserve consideration.

Violence operates on a spectrum. Undoubtedly experiences vary in severity and impact, but in terms of speaking out against violence, at what point is one deemed to gain legitimacy? After verbal abuse? Emotional/financial control? One punch? Two? The reality of is that violence functions to control all women.

Consider this: a particular woman may not have been bashed by a partner, but she has experienced threats and low level aggressions from men her whole life; a controlling ex, an angry brother, men who yell things when she simply walks down the street as a human being. She sees women being killed by men in the news every day. She’s seen how things escalate and knows that there’s a distinct possibility she will one day have “firsthand experience” so spends her life trying to avoid it. She is, as we all are, affected by men’s violence because it’s used as a way to control all women.

There is a salaciousness, a voyeuristic creep that clings like rising fog to women who speak about violence. In this fog, the line between speaking from experience and speaking to unsatisfied curiosity becomes blurred.

Unspoken questions hang loudly in the air: were you raped? Who was it? When did it happen? Were you a child? Was it "rape rape"? Did you report it? Did you like it?

We do not owe each other our stories. Not as activists, not even as friends. Sometimes we choose to share parts of them with each other in different ways and for different reasons; to show empathy, to express solidarity, sometimes in the hope of finding support but also sometimes just to have it acknowledged without anything else required. Still, we’re not obliged to share our stories nor are we entitled to expect them from others. 

There is another element here and one that is hard to acknowledge, because when you’re a woman who speaks up against violence, people always want you to show them your scars. And sometimes you want to so badly, because it hurts to be accused of over-reacting or of co-opting the pain of “real” victims – those whose stories have been made available for public consumption. But you don’t, because there is something more important than you and your pain and your perceived legitimacy.

Very often, the story is not only ours to tell. It’s often a story shared by others who experienced it also but who are not ready, and may never be, to have it acknowledged. 
A father who hit a child is also the husband of a woman who feels eternally guilty for marrying him, and the child loves that mother and doesn’t want to cause her pain.

Siblings grow up knowing that one of them was raped, but that sibling has blocked out the memory and it’s how they survive so no-one can ever speak about it because who wants to be the one that foists trauma upon a person who is living, perhaps even thriving, the best way they know how?

Bound to silence by love, thickets grow up around that part of their hearts and they lie at night wondering: has the other remembered but won't say? Do they feel lonely? But there’s no way to ever know because to ask would be to tell. So we live side-by-side through glass walls, and we feel love and anger and grief all at once and what it sounds like is silence, silence, silence.

Finally, sometimes it's entirely the case that we do not feel the need to buy into this thirst for detail because we are in fact ready to let trauma go. It gets heavy to carry around and revisiting it becomes a way to freshen the wound when we're ready to heal and move on. For me, becoming political and angry about the collective experiences of women – aka, a feminist – has helped me move away from the need to repeat and hold on to individual narratives of trauma. The strength of solidarity is powerful and incredibly freeing. In the ever-beautiful words of Jeanette Winterson:

“I’ve been unfortunate, it’s true, hard-hurt and despised. But should I tell that tale to every passer-by? Should I make my unhappiness into a placard and spend the years left decorating it? There is so little time. This is all the time I’ve got. This is mine, this small parcel of years, that threatens to spill over on to the pavement and be lost among careless feet. Lost. The water out of the sieve and the river run dry. The quietly contained sea where the waters don’t break.

I want to run up the hill in the freedom of the wind and shout until the rains come. Fill up my mouth, fill up my nostrils, soak the parched body, blood too thick to flow the channels. I will flow. Flow with summer grace along a crystal river. Flow salmon-flanked to the sea”. 

 

 

 

Brock Turner: Rape Culture and the Legal System

by Cecilia Winterfox

Following the case of the Stanford sexual assault by Brock "Swim Champ" Turner I recommend reading the letter written by the victim, the Guardian piece reporting on the appalling reasoning by Judge Persky, Alex McKinnon's article on the perpetrator's father's letter, and Clementine's Ford's article on rape culture. I offer here some of my own reflections on rape culture and the legal system - particularly how rapists set themselves up as deserving of pity and lenience, cultivating the "brave hero overcoming adversity" mythology so perfectly satirised by the Onion (highly recommended viewing) and increasingly, as being in a position to be platformed and educate others with their cautionary tale. 

Brock "Swim Champ" Turner violently assaulted a 23 year old unconscious woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University. He was convicted in March 2016 by jury trial, and sentenced to only 6 months prison by the Judge. Turner has said he is in the process of establishing a program for high school and college students to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that." His father, in his letter to the court, eagerly proclaimed his son, prior to and indeed in place of any formal punishment, ready and equipped to "contribute to society" by taking a leading educational role on "drinking and sexual promiscuity" and the "unfortunate results" (but interestingly not Mens Violence Against Women, which is the crime of which he is convicted and which apparently neither he nor his son accept). A hangover is an unfortunate result of drinking. Committing a violent crime is not.

It immediately struck me that I've seen this tactic before: Man commits violent act, ostensibly learns from his mistake and immediately sets himself up (or is set up by his lawyer/PR team) as a prevention expert who should be given a platform to speak and educate others with his cautionary tale. Indeed we are asked to consider him as a beacon, bravely offering up his sad story in a bid to stop others from befalling the same misfortune (it would be interesting to see the stats on how many actually go on to undertake such measures and with what longevity).

Sports heroes and celebrities convicted of sexual crimes read scripted apologies peppered with stats they've apparently just learned about violence/alcohol and how they were "shocked and disappointed" by their own actions and letting down their fans.

Rapper Chris Brown, during the furore over him coming to Australia because of his violent crimes against Rhianna quipped that he would be happy to come to Australia to "raise awareness" about domestic violence and said he should be an example of how to not let mistakes "define you" (Linking to the Onion video again - seriously, watch it). 

Chris Brown 1
Chris Brown 2

It strikes me that these men become almost more venerated, the empathy and forgiveness bestowing a mythology-like aura of the fallen hero transformed. How arrogant of this young man, sentenced to only 6 months for his violent crime because of his "bright future", to propose a speaking tour on "drinking and promiscuity". His weasel words show remorse only for himself.

Abusers should not be platformed and heard. They are not brave. It is appalling that Brock "Swim Champ" Turner, like the Steubenville rapists, is seen as a victim of circumstance, the court and the community so keen to buy into his misty eyed tale of hardship.

The trend towards this is absolutely symptomatic of rape culture. We see it in judicial reasoning, criminal defense and the media surrounding cases of sexual violence all the time: where the role of victim and perpetrator is reversed and the culpability of the perpetrator is downplayed because of perceived traits/behaviours of the victim - even when the victim is underage. Several cases come to mind: the adult teacher who raped his 14yo student who later killed herself. The judge, giving him only 30 days prison, factored in his failing marriage (no doubt "he was getting no sex at home" played into this, especially given how recently the law upheld a man's right to sex within marriage) and described the victim as having "manipulated" the perpetrator by preying on his emotional weakness. Note how the language of victimhood and predator is reversed.

The 11yo girl raped by 20 men who defense attorneys described as being "spider-like", entrapping her mature rapist and constituting to her rape by "dressing older" and hanging around in the playground with boys. The school principal who "couldn't help himself" because the girl "led him on" by dressing older, despite his threats that if she told anyone he would have her younger sister taken away from her mother. Case. After case. After case.

These "reasons" or "mitigating factors" don't come from nowhere. They come from firmly entrenched, cultural and societal ideas about gender. Misogyny is both the cause and the result. As the victim of Brock Turner so eloquently pointed out, if we continue to regard rape as a matter of trial and error for young boys whose "feelings experience" of being caught is punishment enough, we allow the misogyny that informs and upholds rape culture to endure unchallenged. The justice system must learn from feminsm and change or it cannot deliver true justice.

Bahar Mustafa's tweet #KillAllWhiteMen isn't actually a threat. And it isn't racist.

by Cecilia Winterfox

Woman of colour tweets #KillAllWhiteMen, faces charges. Internet demands how is this different from threats of violence against women (because we take those so seriously apparently. LOLJK wait til your husband kills you then we might believe you. SOZ).

Surely *any* threat or promotion of violence is bad? Except that this isn't a threat, and there *is* no violence against white men for being white men, certainly not from women, for her to be promoting.

Here's a test. Do men actually feel threatened or somehow in danger of violence when they read something like this on the internet? I'm going to wager no, because it doesn't translate into or reflect a situation of actual harm. "Reversing" the language of violence doesn't reverse the reality.

Let me be very clear about what it's like to be a woman receiving threats of rape or violence on the internet/your inbox/your actual letterbox as happened to a feminist writer friend last week because the sender wanted her to know he knows where she lives:

Every time, we are literally reminded of assaults we've already experienced and/or the ever-present and very real threat thereof. We're reminded that in Australia, the biggest health risk to women under 45 - more than smoking or cancer or anything - is men. Specifically, men we know and love in our own homes. Two women a week ARE ACTUALLY MURDERED by overwhelmingly male partners/family members.

Mustafa asked white people not to attend an event for people of colour. White people objected like a bunch of whining babies, crying "reverse racism". Why? How does it hurt us in any way not to go to ONE THING for people who are routinely and systematically excluded from pretty much everything? Answer: It doesn't. White people can access any aspect of society without discrimination. Our passports allow us to travel to any country, no-one's putting our CV's in the "no" pile despite our qualifications because we have ethnic-sounding surnames... there aren't even any words to insult white people for being white. 

I look forward to the day where an event like Mustafa's is met with the instinctive understanding that folks probably want to spend time with other people who have actual experiences of racial discrimination. Maybe they want to share cultural references without explaining them to us or having us turn them into festival costumes. Or maybe they want to express a totally legitimate rage, politically organise and - yes - say things like #KillAllWhitePeople without being dragged into court. Frankly, it's not hard to understand why.

Man-hating: it's not a thing.

by Cecilia Winterfox

Q: "Are you a Man Hater?"

A: "You tell me what a Man Hater is, and I'll tell you whether or not I am one."

Feminists are repeatedly asked whether or not we hate men. I say: who cares? Never mind that the first question about a movement for the liberation of women immediately attempts to focus the attention back on men, if people expect us to address this ridiculous question they should be prepared to think about what it is they're actually asking. What is man hating? What does it actually mean, and how does it hurt men in any way? 

The word "misandry" has a ring of seriousness to it. It sounds sciencey! But other than an epithet hurled at feminists who dare to challenge the status quo, it lacks gravitas because it seeks to describe, indeed to create, a false inversion of misogyny.

Not unlike "reverse racism" - misandry just doesn't exist. Men do not suffer widespread or systematic discrimination for being men. The status quo is a sweet deal for dudes, that's why it's called Patriarchy.

misandry.jpg

What then, is "man hating"? 

Are there individual “man-haters"? Look, many women have suffered terribly at the hands of men. We've been beaten, raped, passed over for jobs, paid at lower rates for the same work, relentlessly heckled for our appearance, defined and (de)valued by our sexual utility to men or lack thereof - and we see other women suffering these same things around us and in the news each and every day. 

So what if an individual woman "hates" men? Let's consider how that that "hatred" might manifest. Perhaps the individual man hater is (heaven forfend) angry. Perhaps she says things like “all men are jerks!”. The individual “man hater”, if she indeed exists, probably goes about her life avoiding men, maybe flipping the bird to the male gaze by ignoring patriarchal beauty standards, probably feeling angry, certainly wishing the world were different, fairer - all of which she is entirely entitled to do. But none of these things mean she wields power or causes harm, and her worst crime is what - not having sex with men? 

What does an individual woman-hater do? We can recall countless examples of how misogyny is acted out on women’s bodies and dignity each and every day. 

Collectively “man-hating” could be defined as… what? Women objecting to their oppression, perhaps? Collective consciousness and righteous anger? Women have every right to be angry, but this so called “hatred” - what does it do? How has it translated into any actual or proposed harm to men as a class, or even as individuals? 


I recently read a comment by a man saying he couldn’t get on board with feminism if it meant that women would be superior and men would be kept in stud pens. What a luxury to express theoretical fear at this imagined dystopian future which no feminist has suggested ever when the reality is that women ARE actually kept in rape-camps and forced childbirth is used as a tool of ethnic cleansing.

Every day women are raped, murdered and discarded like garbage.
Women are simultaneously blamed for causing our own lot and, inexplicably, for "reversing" the conditions of oppression simply by objecting to them. Women have been oppressed socially, politically, economically and physically for time immemorial the world over. Feminism is the political fight to liberate women from this oppression. It cannot be rationally construed as “hatred” of men in any defensible way, so I propose that exactly zero resources are devoted to exploring this myth any further.

The opposite of misogyny is not "misandry". The opposite of woman-hating is woman loving. The opposite of oppression is liberation. And that is what feminism is fighting for.

Listen to Cecilia Winterfox speaking with Clementine Ford, Ada Conroy and Yassmin Abdel-Magied on The Misandry Hour

 

 

Feminists are not responsible for educating men

by Cecilia Winterfox

As a vocal feminist with many intelligent, lovely male friends, I'm often met with indignance when I choose not to engage with them about feminism. Surely if I really cared about changing our culture of discrimination and inequality, I should be trying to educate men? Isn’t that an activist’s job? Shouldn’t feminists be grateful when men want to bounce questions off us, because it shows that they are at least trying to understand?

It’s both exhausting and diversionary being expected to hash out the basics with men who haven’t bothered to think about their own privilege before. Men are not entitled to expect feminists to educate them. Real change will only happen when men accept that the burden of education is on them, not on women.

                                                              Image: Tatsuya Ishida.

                                                              Image: Tatsuya Ishida.

Recently, I politely declined to debate with one such baffled male friend, who followed up by sending me some well-intentioned advice on how I could be a more effective feminist. Having never thought much about feminism before, he said, he just didn’t find my social media posts appealing. Too shouty and academic. What I needed was to explain things in a way that appealed to men.

Considering himself as the sort of bloke who “could be part of the solution”, he helpfully sent me a link to a twelve-minute TED talk which contained, in his words, “a basic yes/no test” for misogyny together with proposed steps to solve the problem. In an impressive gesture of hubris, he suggested the next time I was asked to educate a man who was genuinely trying to learn about feminism, I forward this snappy sound-byte resource he had just found for me.

It's astonishing that 50% of the population are so regularly asked to make a sales pitch for liberation from structural disadvantage and systemic violence.

Here’s the thing about being expected to hold the hand of each individual man as he grapples with the possibility that despite his self-perceived good nature and honest intentions, he is a beneficiary of the structural oppression of women. It actually hurts. Patriarchy hurts women on a daily basis. But even though it can be traumatic to discuss rape culture, for example, we live in hope that by showing men how it hurts us they will begin to understand and become our allies. When men appear to take an interest in feminist discourse it tugs at this yearning. While they can play devil’s advocate and toss around hypotheticals that are utterly disconnected from their reality and then opt out at the end, for women these discussions require revelation and vulnerablility; they are a sharing of our actual lived experience.

The most common argument is: If You Won’t Educate Me How Can I Learn. This is how it usually plays out. Self-described Nice Guy interjects discussion with earnest appeals for feminists to engage with his personal opinions. Having pushed past his bristling discomfort at feminists being bitter, resentful and combative (but not before pointing out this sacrifice), Nice Guy is bewildered not to have his theories discussed immediately and in a reasonable, non-angry way. Despite the hundreds of resources on the subject which he could, like the rest of us, go off and read, Nice Guy expects women to stop what they are doing, and instead share their experiences of oppression and answer his questions. In an ironic twist, Nice Guy is unaware that by demanding women divert their energies to immediately gratifying his whims, he reinforces the power dynamics he is supposedly seeking to understand.

It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with having basic questions about feminism. Unpacking something as complex and insidious as patriarchy, particularly when it requires an examination of your own privilege, isn’t easy. Where it becomes problematic is when you are so confident that your questions are SUPER! IMPORTANT! that you try and co-opt feminist discussions to have them heard.

To borrow the analogy of another woman:

'It's as if you have walked into a postgraduate mathematics seminar, yelling
"Hey, how can you even use imaginary numbers anyway if they’re not real?"
When someone rather distractedly points you to a first-year text-book in the corner, you leaf through the first couple of pages half-heartedly for a few seconds and say “I don’t agree with some of the definitions in here – and anyway you haven’t answered my question. Doesn’t anyone want to have a discussion with me?!!"'

This incredulity is usually delivered with a sound telling-off for being sarcastic, unreasonable, illogical, ungrateful and bitter. Now, as a woman raised under patriarchy I am socialised to respond to men’s praise and approval. Having suffered the consequences of men’s disapproval, conflict is counter-intuitive to me. It’s tempting to give in to the desire to be recognised as a “good” feminist who takes the time to explain things in a polite, fun, sassy way. But here’s the kicker: polite feminism not only doesn’t work, it is actually self-defeating.

Spending time and energy nurturing men through their journey of self-discovery is not only incredibly dull, it actually serves to reinforce existing power dynamics and keeps us from collectivising as women and enacting real change.

My advice to men who genuinely wish to learn about feminism is this: read and listen to the voices of women when they explain what misogyny feels like and how it operates. Never ask women to find resources for you; seriously, get a library card. Or the internet. Don't interrupt to disagree or derail by using individual examples of women in positions of power or instances of what you see as “reverse sexism” (here’s a hot tip: “misandry” isn’t a real thing.)

To paraphrase Audre Lorde:

When people of colour are expected to educate white people as to their humanity, when women are expected to educate men, lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world, the oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.

If you are in a group that has the structural advantage of wages, safety, health and education – when you’ve basically already won the life lottery just by showing up - it is your responsibility to educate yourself. And really, don’t tell women to be nice. We’re angry. We have every reason to be. Frankly, you should be too.