Staring into the Abyss

I woke up this morning feeling unwell. Normally spry in the wee hours, I felt dull and lethargic. A vague nausea followed me from the train station to work. My nose ran. I couldn’t get motivated. I’m not over my last cold, I thought. I’m seasonally affected, I thought. I’m run down, I thought.

What I think is really going on is that I’m responding to the psychic bombardment of woman-hatred that has been the last week or so. It’s been relentless. First came the revelation that the man who is pleading guilty to the rape and murder of Jill Meagher has been convicted of twenty rapes. Not accused of but convicted of twenty – Twenty! – counts of rape; a matter of such indifference to the Parole Board that he was living in the community. A week in which we hear (again) that some servicemen don’t grasp that it’s not okay to circulate images of women you’ve been intimate with to your Army mates without their consent. In which the Prime Minister’s vagina, thighs and breasts served up such culinary wit at an LNP fundraiser. In which a man was convicted of the ‘public execution’ of the ex-wife who’d had the temerity to leave him. In which a radio announcer jettisoned policy questions to grapple with the core issue of which team the Prime Minister’s hairdresser fella really bats for. In which-

No. Enough. I cannot take any more. This is literally making me sick.

To live with any degree of peace and comfort in the world most women have to draw a veil over just how much contempt they are held in. This might be denial. It might be false consciousness; but to live otherwise is to stare constantly into an abyss that will drive you mad.

The human mind is a brilliant piece of engineering. It can hold entirely contradictory thoughts in comfortable tension. I know just how prevalent violence against women is. I know because I’ve read the statistics. I know because I am fortunate to have a close group of girlfriends and they have honoured me with the truth of their experiences. I know because I have experienced it myself. And yet I cannot bring the thought to consciousness that violence – sexual and otherwise – is so common, so entrenched that it is part of the life experience of many women. One of those things that goes with being female like period pain and the rubella vaccination.

To drag this idea out from my mind’s clutter to the centre of my consciousness is unthinkable. It would sentence me to an unbearable rage and sadness. I remember that feeling. It characterised my early twenties when the invisible cordon around my femaleness really started to bite. It doesn’t make for much of a life to be always screaming inside.

So you learn to bury it. To side-step. To know and not know. That’s why I cannot bring myself to condemn women who say things like ‘she asked for it’ or ‘she led him on’ when (another) case of sexual violence emerges. This isn’t ‘buying into’ the patriarchy. It’s a form of empowerment, however illusory. That won’t happen to me because I don’t wear short skirts/because I don’t talk to strangers/because I don’t walk alone at night/ because/because/because. It promises that there is something you can do or omit to do that will make you safe. It doesn’t matter that all the research debunks these myths. The myths keep you from that abyss of how systemic, how enculturated, how normal the hatred of women and the violence it gives rise to are.

Occasionally we get weeks like this that leave you nowhere to hide. Where the examples are so extreme and just so damn wrong that they become, briefly, mainstream. Watch the news, log in to Twitter or Facebook or open a paper and it’s there. My brain is contorting this way and that to rationalise, elide, deny but I can’t. Today I can’t. I’m staring into the abyss and it is making me sick.