Content warning: discussion of rape, suicide, complicity.
I knew the woman who is at the centre of the allegations of rape against the Attorney-General of Australia, Christian Porter (allegations he denies).
Her family have asked for her not to be named, and although her name is now circulating in corners of the Internet, their wishes should be respected.
She was smart, funny, talented. I knew her at Adelaide University in 1990 and 1991. We were not close friends, but we enjoyed each others’ company, and I had respect for her intelligence which was, as others have said, formidable.
She never told me anything about what had happened to her, and that is a relief, because I know I would not have been a good ally. I know this because less than two years later I was not a good ally to someone I knew less well who told me that she had had been raped. I just didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t. I didn’t even tell the male friends of the person she accused until years later. That was – and is – a source of enormous shame to me.
And that is what this post is about. There are already women out there telling their stories. So many stories, so many horrifying stories.
This is about what responsibility we, as men, have. There’s a clip from a comedian, David Sloss, making the point that women are trying really really hard to not be raped.
His point is that men need to be allies, to be better allies.
There is already stuff about how to behave in public situations
There are charities like the Good Men project.
There’s the work by people like Jackson Katz, who makes the point that the formulation “violence against women” is in every sense passive. It’s violence against women by men.
As with race, this work needs to be much more integrated into climate activism. It’s the white supremacism and patriarchy that have helped our species to the edge of destruction. If we don’t resist that, it’s over for all of us.
There are some obvious points-
Listen to women. Amplify their voices.
Contest the shitty behaviour by other men – don’t be silenced by sneers of ‘white knighting’ or being ‘pussy whipped’. Behaviour – that’s from jokes, assumptions, through sneers, leers, to worse.
For god’s sake, if a woman confides in you that she has been assaulted, DO SOMETHING. Trust me on this, you need to actually do something.
That doesn’t mean taking a tire iron to the person she says attacked her. But support her. Talk to people who know the guy. Beyond that, well it depends, doesn’t it?
Check your own privilege
Try to understand just how exhausting and enraging and terrifying life can be when you are on the receiving end of catcalls and worse. That every woman will be reading the cases of my friend in Australia and Sarah Everard and thinking “that could just have easily been me.”
Try to understand that this violence isn’t (just) by stalkers and the proverbial attacker in the bushes with a hockey mask. Assault, rape, worse is by committed by brothers, neighbours, friends. These are people we work with, drink with, socialise with. OF COURSE IT IS “NOT ALL MEN”. For fuck’s sake, nobody saying it is all men. But some men is enough.
Use the voice you have when and where appropriate, making sure it doesn’t silence others, or slip into heroic saviour mode.
Name it as a system, a culture, an institution, that imbricates and interlocks with white supremacism, ableism, classism and speciesism. Name it – it is not mere “sexism,” solved by simply having heart-to-hearts with individuals, in the same way that a system like slavery could be ended by convincing individual slave owners to free their slaves. It’s a system, an institution, that is replicated in day-to-day actions, that is institutionally privileged, encouraged, that has been able to defend itself, absorbing critique and contestation, morphing to come back as strong or stronger.
It has its outriders, it has its attack-dogs who will smear and sneer and do their ‘whataboutery’. Well-paid media goons. To hell with those turds.
And I literally cannot imagine how exhausting and terrifying it must be.
I have nothing else right now.
I am thinking of my friend, and her misery, and the things that she didn’t get to achieve that she had the right to. I am thinking of her family. I am thinking of all the women in Australia, and London, and every where on this imperilled planet, who are so very tired, so very angry, so very fearful, with good cause.