Updated: Apr 8
In Australia it's a topic that permeates my day, I wake to news of rape, consent and toxic masculinity, and then find myself crying. It's reported that one out of five women are sexually abused, which means one out of five males are the abusers, it's shocking and sadly affirming that I have not been alone all these years. If you are one of five women you will know what I mean, and even if you have not been physically abused you would have experienced some verbal or form of discomfort by a man in your lifetime.
The first time for me was when I was ten years old, at the back of a school bus by a gang of boys who thought it would be fun to hold me down and put their hands down my pants. I remember the inability to move, the hand across my mouth and the one on my crutch, what followed after they released was pure shock, and incomprehensible humiliation, and then the shunning of my school friend who had been sharing the seat next to me on the bus, she physically moved further apart as I sat back down next to her, looking to her for empathy and shown shame and rejection instead. I didn't tell anyone, not till I was in my thirties did I decide to share the story with my mother, but yet again I was shown the same shame, and not an once of empathy. She had her own stories no doubt and she just couldn't and didn't know how to cope with mine, I understand that, but it's didn't help me, I was on my own and had been for decades. The school bus episode had sent me down a path that was not full of Unicorns and fairytales, it was a moment in time that had stained a part of my psyche, it had created a tear in the fabric of my development.
I would not have ever shared this story until now, but I feel empowered by the many women who are coming forward, I thank them for being strong, courageous and dignified. There are other stories I could share but they are too many: like the stalker, the conquest dragger, or even the builders who would wolf whistle at my schoolgirl uniform, they were all disempowering, I was unable to defend myself either verbally or physically, I just felt the rage rise inside me, and then slowly fade away, never really leaving me in peace. I'm older now so I have acquired skills and tools, and I know and understand what my rights are as a woman and human being, yet sadly I still hold on to those past traumas, I don't feel safe around strange men, I'm hesitant to engage with them, and feel that's a shame, because not all men have been, or are abusers or masculine-challenged.
I have worked in the fashion industry for over thirty years, in my youth I have been the shoulder to cry on while a model was feeling cornered by a well-known photographer, and I was also the one slammed up against a wall, on set, because the photographer thought it was sexy and fun, it wasn't. There are too many stories, and I don't care that it's taken this long for this open discussion, any time is a good time to make this a huge issue. We need protection, we need to be heard and we need it now. We need to speak up and out. Consent is only part of the issue, it's a part of the education of men in understanding women and to understand themselves: why they do what they do, and how to communicate their needs, desires, just as women are learning to do. We need to be in this together. I don't have a solution but a good place to start is with words, kindness and setting the ego aside. Checking in with these three things would make a hell of a difference.
Women, I urge you to share and to show empathy to your female friends and family. It's challenging to be empathetic, it's work on top of your regular work, but it's rewarding and an honourable thing to do. Don't let your sisters go through life with hurt and trauma that can be alleviated with a chat over hot tea, or a cocktail, share and keep sharing and stick up for each other. I can't stand to think that a young girl has to go through life with the trauma that she thinks is her fault and that she needs to keep a secret. Those traumas will shape a life that may self sabotage a beautiful future. If anyone needs to share their story please post below, or send me a message, I would like to be an ear for you when there's no one else to turn too.