Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anger that shuts down an intersection

These men are angry. It’s a body-gyrating, fist-pounding anger, sounding distorted and tinny through run-down megaphones. A band of young men, some in turbans, others not, stand invincible at the centre of a sea of more young men, who sit like immoveable rocks or else stand and cheer at the command of their leaders. On the periphery is a husk made up of the curious and the less committed, poised with digital cameras and mobile phones. Police complete the configuration, circling it with their fluoro vests like speciality dancers in a Rock Eisteddfod.

I first saw them just after 3, when I walked past the intersection between Flinders and Swanston Streets. With vague curiosity I meandered through the edges of the crowd. What’s this about, I wanted to know? Racially-inspired hate crimes, I was told. Apparently international students have been victim to a spate racist attacks in recent weeks. Aussies have been stabbing Indian students with screwdrivers at railways stations and gatecrashing Indian parties. These people want it to stop.

I went back at 5. The cold air had a new bite to it and the city lights were shining bright against the descending darkness. The bells of St Pauls wouldn’t stop ringing – loud, disjointed notes that went on and on. They mingled with the now seemingly crazed voices coming out of the faltering loudspeakers – words I couldn’t understand. The mob had bunkered down to a large, impenetrable core.

It’s nearly midnight and I can still hear the crowd. Sirens scream and float up to my bedroom. Last year, taxi drivers protested in the same spot for 22 hours. This mob ain’t going nowhere.

When I went to Credo for dinner, I sat next to Djarro and told him what I’d seen. Djarro said they had no right to take to the streets like that – they weren’t from this country and they should either go through diplomatic channels or else deal with it like everybody else. They had no right to be so angry.
“Are you angry?” I asked.
“You’re not angry about what colonialism has done to your people?”
“It’s not in my people’s psyche to be angry,” was his answer. “We are calm. We don’t yell and shout. We’re just not like that.”
He went on to talk about his people, and how they had been decimated by ‘Anglos’. His eyes grew fierce with hurt and what looked like anger.
“You sound angry.”
“Ok, well I am angry. But our anger is controlled. We listen and we talk.”
I thought back to times when I’d heard Aboriginal people talk about what has happened to their people since colonialism. They don’t normally yell or embellish their words with lots of emotional adjectives. They just speak the truth, with a clarity that almost sparkles.

After dinner Djarro and I wandered down to the blockade. We stood on the steps of St Pauls, surveying the formation below. I stood next to a man with a bushy black beard. What is it they want, I wanted to know? His voice was impassioned, his dark eyes avoiding mine. We want freedom from these hate crimes, we want police protection. He related stories I’d heard earlier about stabbings. We come to this country to peacefully study, he said, and we do not deserve to be attacked by Aussies. We want more police protection.

When will they stop protesting, was my next question? When somebody comes from the government to assure them of more police protection, was his answer.

His demand was vague and his rant sounded like repeated rhetoric. More police protection…what did that even mean? It sounded to me like a simplistic solution dreamed up by one of those informal leaders with megaphones, mid-speech.

The protest, it seemed to me, was just their way of channelling anger. There may not be any political strategy behind it. I wonder if what this is really about is a group of proud, educated men who are sick of doing the demeaning jobs that no-one else wants to do. They drive our taxis, staff our convenience stores – and have been reduced to a strange stereotype that includes both impotence and violence. They are looked down upon, yet also feared.

This stereotype is not so dissimilar from what Djarro faces. He has a lot more to complain about, and perhaps that is why it gets under his skin when educated Indians take to the streets. For the most part, Djarro has dealt with dispossession by expressing his hurt through art and making the best of his tattered roots. His anger rages, but comes out as a sort of sadness – grief, for example, that he can’t think and talk in his own language.

I think that Djarro is resentful of others who are already powerful using that strength to shut down major intersections and make the front pages of newspapers. In this country, genocide never stopped traffic. Djarro’s people are scattered and disenfranchised. Dispossession makes it very hard to make change out of anger.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


On Tuesday it was Sorry Day. We held Credo Gathering outside in the laneway, before a backdrop of an Aboriginal flag and the urban Dreamtime mural that is painted on the wall of the adjoining hotel. Coco, who is not indigenous but could somehow pass as such, read out the acknowledgment to the traditional owners of the land. Gin read the story of a man who, along with his siblings, was stolen from his mother. We lit candles as we prayed for this man and others. I lit a candle and said “Sorry”.

I’ve been thinking about that word a lot lately. It came to my attention a while ago, when I was with Nick. I noticed that he never said sorry for anything. He would arrive hours late armed with excuses rather than apologies. Ill-fated circumstances were never attributed to himself – they were always somehow out of his control.

In some ways, I admired Nick’s ability to recognise where he was not to blame. Some things are out of your control, even if you are involved in the incident. I compare Nick’s aversion to saying sorry with my own tendency to be unceasingly apologetic at times. Nick’s son, Marrick, picked me up on it during a game of ball – I threw badly and instinctively said “Sorry”. “There’s no need to apologise,” he said, with incredible clarity for a 6-year-old. “It’s only a game.”

Over dahl and shahi paneer with Despina at my favourite Indian restaurant, we chatted about the word ‘sorry’. Like me, Despina apologises a lot. “In Greek,” she said, “they don’t have the word ‘sorry’. When I went to Greece I had the experience of not being able to apologise for everything I did. It was really weird.”

So in Greece, I confirmed, if you accidentally knock someone on the train, you don’t say sorry. If you’re late, you don’t say sorry. What if you do something really bad, I wanted to know? Well, she answered, you explain your actions. You don’t – you can’t – say ‘sorry’.

“Actually,” said Despina, “There is one phrase that you can use. It’s something like ‘I have an ill feeling’. You use it if you’ve done something bad.”

An ill feeling. Very different from a flippant ‘sorry’. You wouldn’t use it if you knocked someone on the train, for example, or were five minutes late for an appointment. This phrase, whatever it is, seems to show that you are aching inside because of your own actions.

‘Sorry’ says that you regret something you’ve done. Perhaps it is also a request to be excused by the person you did wrong to. Stating that you feel terrible about doing something is different. You are not asking for forgiveness. You are not even really saying, outright, that you did something wrong. You are just describing your feelings in the aftermath.

Women, I have noticed, say sorry a lot. I think we generally feel more guilty than men – guilty, it often seems, of our own existence. Karen Armstrong, in her book “The Gospel According to Woman”, puts it like this: In the West guilt seems to be part of the female condition. When we women have cause to feel guilty we wallow in it, and when we have no cause we manufacture one, in a way men simply do not do.

Armstrong goes on to describe the guilt of women who return to work after having children, and the guilt of women who stay at home. Women are guilty about failed relationships and bratty kids. We are trained not to be assertive and to prelude a criticism or to herald our presence with an apology that might be verbal (I’m sorry to disturb you…sorry to insist on this…sorry to have to tell you that your work is appalling) or it might simply be a deprecating smile or apologetic shrug.

Armstrong links this obsession with apologising with the guilt we have inherited from centuries of Christian thought blaming all women for the sins of Eve, who, apparently, introduced evil into the world. According to the Church Fathers, we are all Eves.

Personally, I’d like to try living for a while without the existence of the word ‘sorry’. For times I really needed to apologise, I could just say, “I feel sick inside for what I’ve done”.

But, for our Indigenous friends, this might not be enough. I do feel sick inside for what colonialism has done to Aboriginal people and communities. But I don’t think ill feelings alone cut it. What is required is a reaching out; a statement that what has transpired is morally wrong. A plea for forgiveness – if not for the individual but for the wider society.

I think there is something healing about the word ‘sorry’, when used well. Maybe when we women use it too often, we devalue its currency.

Monday, May 25, 2009

bleeding heart

In the city, on almost every street corner, is somebody with a clipboard and a pommy accent trying to sign you up to some moral cause. It’s funny, but no matter the charity (old growth forests, empowering women in India, rescuing bears from evil circus masters) they all pick me out as a potential supporter. Some people get approached in the street because they look like they might want drugs; I get approached for some kind of principled vibe I apparently possess.

And it’s not a bad pick, on the part of the ethical spruiker. I work with homeless people (tick for Mission Australia); I don’t eat much meat (tick for Animal Liberation Victoria); I care about the environment (tick for the Australian Conservation Fund). I once campaigned for the introduction of Fair Trade products in universities and I used to be involved in the youth arm of World Vision (both ticks for Oxfam). I am the quintessential over-achieving bleeding heart, and they pick it in an instant.

I generally scurry past the clipboard-bearing backpackers with my hat low and my eyes cast down, lest they see what kind of person I am. Occasionally I accidentally make eye contact, or fail to adequately brush off a conversation hook.
“Do you like animals?” or “Do you care about the environment?” they ask.
I whimper, “Maybe,” and that’s it, I’m a goner.
“Fantastic! Now, before I got on, are you over twenty-one?”
I’m a little flattered that they still ask me that question. “I think so.”
“Great. Now – have you heard of Amnesty International?”
And so it goes, on and on, a barrage of questions that require only one-word answers that apparently give the desperate salesperson (paid by commission) permission to rattle off information and point at graphs at a speed I can only guess has developed from the fear of having potential signups walk away mid-sentence.

What really bugs me (warning: minor rant forthcoming) is that they don’t usually bother to engage with me as an intelligent person who is possibly interested in the subject area and not altogether ignorant. Actually, I was once the secretary of the Amnesty International club at uni – so clearly I care about the issue. I don’t need to be convinced to care; I need to be persuaded to give money. But you just get treated with the same eye-glazing spiel, like everybody else.

So I’ve never signed up with any of these guilt vendors – I always end the conversation with a declaration that I have no money and make a quick exit. That is, up until today. Because today, as I was hurling my grocery shopping home, I encountered Steve, who was playing with his dog. Stuffed dog. Steve introduced me to Bob, who was a very obedient dog and hadn’t bitten anyone in over five years. We got chatting and Steve soon revealed that he was from the Lost Dogs Home. That is, he worked for the Lost Dogs Home. We talked and joked and he told me about all the amazing things the Lost Dogs Home does – and I was impressed!

It probably helped that Steve had a cute Scottish accent. But it also turned out that the Lost Dogs Home don’t get government funding because they refuse to put down healthy animals (“We just work harder to find good homes.”), and have a 24/7 animal ambulance! When we got to the part where he was asking for money (or, in his words, become a member of the “Paw Club”), I felt so awful turning him down. I took the usual approach and told him that I had no money, which was true. Steve wouldn’t take no for an answer. He said I should busk more. So I agreed. I signed up to be a member of the Paw Club, making monthly donations of $20 a month. The first payment is set to come out 2 July – hopefully I’ll have more than 18 cents in my bank account by then.

And then I slipped him my number. I shocked myself. I’d done two things in the space of 5 minutes that I’d never done before – signed up to one of those clipboard charities on the street, and given a guy I liked my number without him even asking for it. After that I ran away, scared I’d do something else disturbing.

He hasn’t rung, yet. He probably has a girlfriend. But it’s only been 5 hours. Should give it a day or two. We’ll wait and see.

more haiku's

Faith walk:
The space where money was
Is now filled with Spirit.

A better world:
Colourful mobs of hairy friends
Make me feel alone.

Twenty-first century:
Dreadlocked girl doing yoga
By the old convent.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

haiku writing

I've been writing some haiku's lately. They're fun to write. There is apparently no consensus on how to write a haiku in English, because the art form is Japanese. The main things they have in common is three lines. Some people say that the first line should have 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third 5 again. I find that helps as a rough guide. But I think the main thing is to have two sections with a 'break' - I've been doing it by starting the thing I'm describing in the first line, with some kind of essential truth or description in the second and third lines. Here's a few I've come up with:

Lemon myrtil tea:
Silence sits in the bottom
Of the pot we shared.

Sound of drilling
Cracks the shining blue sky
That drifts from another world.

Mini skirt:
Thighs wobble -
But she still looks good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

art exhibition

“My mum did that one, that one, that one, that one, that one, that one and that one!” says the artist’s child, proudly and with the particular hyperactivity of a 10-year-old girl. She is one of a tribe of children – girls, mainly – who, I can tell by their stylish and rather grown-up outfits, belong to that category of parents that lie somewhere between hippies and yuppies. Their mothers stand in loose huddles, leaving lipstick marks on glasses of white wine as they slap each other lightly on the arm and throw their heads back in laughter.

Couples peruse colourful pieces in acrylic paint, one by one, clopping slowly across the hard floor and talking casually about where a particular piece might fit in their home. A man with a protruding belly and a beer stands in a corner decorated sparsely with pencil sketches, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He is looking anxiously in the direction of the ladies’ toilets, his view momentarily obscured by the tribe of little girls who dart by.

I recognise a politician (also a little overweight), who is talking in muffled tones about the importance of the arts to a woman in black with thin red lips and deep furrows between her eyebrows. Next to him is a woman with a very colourful floral scarf and red boots, who is waving her hands around furiously and laughing in a high pitch way, almost spilling her glass (brimming with red wine) on the politician.

I turn to look back at the uncomfortable man in the corner, and find him greeted by a woman with very blonde hair, very hair heels, very pink nails and stockings full of little holes that are in a pattern you might see on a Turkish carpet.

The politician makes a speech, mainly about the importance of the arts. He says: “Great art holds a mirror not only to the mind and soul of the artist, but also to ourselves as art appreciators.”

I leave soon after, the collection of paintings disappearing from my mind like casual words over a glass of wine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Her face is stern, strong and lipsticked. She worked as a doctor in a hospital before her world was reduced, by “chronik fatik sydrom”, to a day-by-day struggle to feed herself and convince other doctors that she’s not mad. Today, when I run into her on Little Collins, she is all smiles. I know the drill – kiss, kiss, kiss, beginning with the right cheek. She tells me how radiant I look, although I know she is disappointed about my hair (“Now that your hairstyle is more sophisticated, you must begin to act this way,” she’d told me when I first cut it off.)
I brace myself and draw a sharp breath. “And how are you?”
“Ah well, you know, not very good.” I am expecting her to go on. I glance over her shoulder, in the direction of the station. My train is leaving soon. “But, you know, that is life.” She pauses and beams. “But you – you look like you’ve just come back from a wonderful holiday!”
I glance at my watch. “Actually, I’m about to go on one. Just for a few days, in Ocean Grove. Staying with a friend.”
“How WONDERFUL!” she cries. I’m not sure whether I’m meant to feel touched, or guilty for my gifts of youth and good health. “But,” she adds, with a warning tone, “Remember what they say. A guest is like a fish – good for about three days, but after that begins to smell!”
We laugh loud and high – I feel like I could be a fellow Ukrainian woman, sharing a joke that only Ukrainian women understand. This joke is a fairly generic one, but she makes me feel special, in her peculiar way.
We part in a flurry of smiles and laughs. I walk briskly onwards towards the station, grinning with pleasure.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mothers' Day

Young man, about my age, sits slumped on the neatly mowed grass, knees bent only as much as his leather motorcycle pants will allow. He hasn’t brought flowers…just himself. As he settles before the brass plaque, flushed from the ride, the cool evening air stills against his face. His heart rate drops to a steady meditation, subdued by an old, aching wound. We walk by silently and carefully. He looks up and I smile at him, sadly. I feel a bit pathetic. I can only imagine.

It’s Mothers’ Day and there are fresh flowers everywhere; plump petals boasting youth and life. They will wither soon after the visitors leave. Rebecca and I walk Kerry to the grave of her elderly parents. It doesn’t seem two years ago, although a lot has changed. Kerry has her own unit now and seems so confident and independent. It’s been nice to watch. She comes to the gravesite with some artificial flowers in hand – she’s such a practical person; these ones won’t wither and die. I remember when we lowered the coffins (Kerry’s mum’s first – she’d always been afraid of heights). I think back to Kerry shaking with grief as family members threw chunks of soils into the grave. Mothers Day is always hard, but today Kerry is composed.

Rebecca and I leave her to be alone and go to search out the O’G-s’ grave. Rebecca has visited before but can’t remember where it is. We file silently through large, dark-grey tombstones of polished marble, engraved mainly with Greek-sounding names. Some of the newer ones have photographs of the deceased embossed on the stone. I’m surprised – I hadn’t known such a large Greek community existed around Whittlesea. Mum would disapprove – for herself, she wants just a brass plague, simple and dignified. I too would feel uncomfortable having my remains adorned by a large shiny tomb. So showy; not very Australian. But I suppose it wouldn’t really matter for me. It only matters for those left behind.

We finally come across the grave we are looking for, marked by a temporary post. Stapled to the post is one of the laminated keepsakes I took home from the memorial service, with the names and smiling faces of the three family members. Under each face is written 7/2/09 – the date of Black Saturday. The freshly heaped dirt is covered in bunches of flowers – some fresh, others turning brown and stained by coloured tissue paper that has run in the rain. There’s another, unmarked grave next to what seems to be the main one, bare besides a few scattered marigolds and a pinwheel that is spinning a little in the light evening breeze. Rebecca wonders if that’s Stewie’s. She’s not sure so adds her small bunch of home-grown flowers to the main grave.

We realise that the O’G-s’ grave is actually quite close to Kerry’s parents’. I wonder if they knew each other. Ken and Alan might have played golf together – Ken being a long-standing employee and volunteer at the Whittlesea Golf Club, and Alan being a local businessman. Ken lived with Shirley and Kerry in a small house (which he owned) in Eden Park. Alan lived with his family in a spacious home at the top of a hill in Humevale, near the golf club. Neither the golf club nor Alan’s home are there anymore, thanks to the fires. I think Ken’s place has been sold. Now, they are all practically neighbours.

Rebecca and I find Kerry sitting on the grass, tears streaming down her face. Her body shudders and she says, “I miss them so much!” She comes here most weeks, but today, being Mothers’ Day, is difficult. Rebecca tells her how much her parents would be proud. Kerry nods, chin dripping. We help her up and walk her to the car, arms draped across her shoulders.

Our huddle makes its way past the boy in the motorcycle gear. As if our leaving marks his cue, he stands to his feet. We pile into Rebecca’s little red car. The radio comes on and we turn it off. Peering through the two front seats I watch the young guy walking towards his bike. His back is stooped like an old man. Rebecca silently navigates the narrow paths between the sections of graves.

Turning around in my seat, I can see the boy getting onto his bike and turning his headlight on. My heart aches for him; I want to run out of the car and give him a hug. I don’t. I imagine that at least for this part of Mothers’ Day, he wants to be on his own.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sex object? I decide!

Yesterday as I was walking to the park to preserve my mental health, I wandered past Treasury House. Two black cars pulled up, and a man in a black suit and an ear piece simultaneously stepped out of each door. They looked like advisers to Labor politicians; I'd seen that sort before at a 'community cabinet' when I spoke about clean energy to a politician, who was flanked either side by these burly men in black. As a strolled in between the two cars, I was struck by an almost laughable sense of invisibility.

I related the story last night over dinner: "They were just so masculine! They didn't even see me as I walked through. Not that I was surprised - it was a Credo day so I'd decided not to dress like a sex object." We all laughed at my implication that sometimes I do dress like a sex object.

Actually there were a few reasons for my invisibility - my femaleness was just one thread that caused me to slip their gaze. I was also dressed incredibly casually - as an unimportant passerby that had nothing to do with their very important business. They had no reason to look at me. But it was in the gendered vein that our conversation continued, with a discussion over whether women could choose whether they wanted to be a sex object or not. Gemma remarked, "The gazer doesn't necessarily have all the power. The one who is gazed can dictate the situation as well."

Her comment was a response to a discourse, prevalent in film studies literature, that painted women as passive objects to be observed, while men did all the observing. Men, in that line of thought, had all the power.

David responded in predictable facetiousness. "Are you saying, Gemma, that women who walk around in miniskirts with boobs hitched up to around their necks actually have some control over whether they're looked at or not? Are you saying that women can manipulate men with the way they dress? You've got to be kidding!"

Gemma rolled her eyes, but the rest of us laughed. I said that I actually really like the fact that I can control whether I'm looked at or not. Sometimes - shock horror! - I like being looked at. I suppose that could be because I'm stuck in a patriarchy where I've been trained to think that my value lies in whether I'm attractive or not. Without denying that possibility, I would say that there is something light and playful in looking at someone and being looked at as well. And it doesn't all go one way - I look at men too! It's part of the fun of being young and relatively sexually attractive. I can decide, to a degree, whether I want that kind of interaction or not. I don't feel oppressed in this way; I don't feel like the passive object of the male gaze.

It's nice to have that realisation.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

telling tragic stories

Went to a wedding last night, which was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to! I think the main reason it was so good was because there were so many nice, interesting people there. Sitting on my table was this activist couple, who were involved in the peace movement, particularly to do with Palestine. They were great because they were normal, daggy people who ate chicken – they didn’t snob the work that I did, and were genuinely interested in my experiences in New Orleans.

As we shouted above the DJ during dinner, I had this feeling I’d seen the guy before. It was during the father of the bride’s speech that an image popped into my head of a scared kid in a too-tight private school uniform stepping over the banister of one of the stalls, high up over the audience, during a talk given by the then-Education Minister, David Kemp. He must have yelled something anti-Liberal Government out, but what I remember is how terrified he looked – partly, I suppose, because everybody was looking at him, and partly because it was really high up and I don’t think he had any idea how to get down.

I was also wearing a private-school uniform, and after the forum I remember running up to the guy to congratulate him on his fine act of resistance. Incidentally, he was a card-carrying member of the group Resistance, which is the youth-wing of the Socialist Alternative. We chatted for a while, and afterwards Mrs Maher told me to watch out of boys like that. I said, “Oh, Mrs Maher, you’re so conservative!” I think she was offended by that.

We verified that it was, indeed, the same courageous yet geeky guy, who, eight years later, had a full beard and was wearing a suit coupled with a large red and white cotton scarf from Palestine. He told me about being a human shield in Palestine early on in the conversation, and casually dropped in mentions of similar work in Iraq. He was no soft-lined hippy type, that was for sure. He had the air of somebody keen to impress; quick to lay claim to certain political causes and dangerous situations as a way of telling me what kind of guy he was.

I can’t judge, because the reason I was so keenly aware of his conversational motives was because I do the same thing myself. I say things to shock and to excite. I’ve noticed it particularly around the bushfire stuff. People ask, “You’re from Whittlesea – were you affected?” And the honest answer is ‘yes – I was and I am’. I know personally several people who have died, and others who have lost everything they own. The community I grew up in has been shaken to its core. In the direct aftermath, I found myself relating these things almost as a way of claiming a stake in the disaster. There’s some kind of kudos that comes with direct association with any large tragedy, as terrible as that is. Yet at the same time, I really wanted the people around me to know I was affected. I guess you could say there were some mixed motives in there.

We decided to kick on to a bar, and as we left the reception venue my newfound friend mentioned, with slightly alarming nonchalance, how he’d come across a dead man in Palestine who had drowned as a result of flood waters rising in an unnatural way against the Apartheid Wall. His tone was all too familiar. He is seriously disturbed, and perhaps has never really found a way to process or express his grief. He is seeking political kudos in his shocking story…but maybe this is his way of making sense of the incident.

Perhaps by shocking or impressing, we are reinforcing to ourselves that this thing is a big deal. The thing that the man at the wedding and I have in common is that we were both a number of steps removed from the incident. It’s actually really hard to process traumatic stuff when you’re not directly involved, because your energy goes into feeling empathy for those more directly affected. So we spend a lot of time telling people how full on the incident was, as a way of dealing was a whole lot of repressed emotions.

I really liked the guy. He annoyed me as well. I can see now that my annoyance was really irritation at myself, for doing exactly the same thing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

some questions about sex and power

Just finished reading Helen Garner’s book, The First Stone. Garner sits in some “questions about sex and power” from the vantage point of an ‘old guard’ feminist from the 70s who is facing a new crew of younger feminists in the 90s. The Master of Ormond College at Mebourne Uni is accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching two female students. The girls eventually go to the police, and Garner wants to know why.

The 90s, evidently, was a time when sexual harassment was big on the public agenda, and a lot of feminist energy was directed at the issue. I don’t think that we’re that obsessed with sexual harassment today. Garner describes some of the ways young women were responding to sexual attention – feelings of repulsion at being looked at; worthlessness when touched against their will. There seemed to be a feminist discourse that emphasised the invasive, almost violent sexual will of men, who exerted themselves over powerless female victims. This idea is familiar to me, because I’ve played into before – using it as a way of painting myself as an innocent victim, rather than an active player in a dicey situation.

While we use this framing of power play from time to time, it’s not a dominant idea for my generation. When I’ve used that discourse, I’ve been aware of how disempowering it feels, and how actually, I would feel far more whole if I took responsibility and admitted that I was not powerless, but chose to act in a certain way. Garner riles against the idea of female powerlessness, and when I look around today, I see that women are taking up that power more. There are some strong assertions of female sexuality, and perhaps a recognition of the responsibility that comes with that. I’m not sure that women of my generation have that same discomfort at the male gaze, or whether a grope would be internalised as a sense of ‘worthlessness’.

One thing, though, has not changed. And that is the odd passivity that washes over many of us, like an icy shower, when we are subjected to something sexual against our will. Garner described it in her book using examples from her own life and the lives of lots of other women – women who are, at any other time, strong, assertive individuals. And that is how I would describe myself, yet as I read these stories, I can relate so whole-heartedly to them it’s almost eerie. It happens so fleetingly you convince yourself it was an accident and press on as if nothing happened. Or, it happens so gradually that you don’t even notice it, until you’re in the midst of it and you don’t know how you got there. Or, it happens and it would be somehow inappropriate to say or do something, as if what had transpired was appropriate! The feeling is so bizarre, and you bustle off in a state of shock or denial, and afterwards you go, “Why didn’t I just…” But you didn’t. Somehow, you never do, until later.

I wish I could tap into that female power in those situations – to ‘slap ’im’ or make a scene. But I just freeze, and then simply try to escape the situation. Garner suggests that what we do, in these situations, is work to protect him. What is with that? What do we have to gain?