Tag Archives: sexual abuse

2021: Meeting the Moment #13

Been having a virtual mythopoetic journey through the Burren and County Clare with a bit of County Mayo on the side these past few weeks with David Whyte and in the very best of company. It has been a much needed counterpoint to the saturation and inescapable conversation of sexual violence that is permeating every corner of the country. The cellular and elemental nature of fear, anxiety, distrust and the unpredictable appearances of trauma and grief are swirling with gusto like the winds of the Atlantic on western edge of Ireland. There is a litany of names in my heart of women who have been violated, and lamentations are completely insufficient. I find myself wanting to blow things up. I think of the muscular power of a woman’s body which can stretch to its limits sometimes tearing, often leaving permanent scars, bruised and sewn up. The rallying cry is enough is enough and so the line drawn in the sand, calls for a new day, new ways, everything is broken. I am reminded of the cycle of domestic violence and the point that comes when leaving is the only option, anything less is complicity and compliance.

I have done some leaving over the years and experienced the full monty patriarchy panic first hand.  While we have our media full of individual experiences of sexual abuse, my mind goes to the systems holding these practices in place. Here is a litany of my own:

  • You can’t enrol in this program, it is a full time load and you are about to have a baby
  • You can’t hold down that job as there is no support for childcare you can afford
  • You can’t come and sit at this table, you are not a man, you are not ordained
  • You can’t take on this responsibility you are married
  • You can’t bring those thoughts and ideas to this place, the leadership will never agree
  • You can’t pray with those words, you can’t sing with those songs, you can’t ritualise with those artefacts
  • You are not credentialed, because only men can get that qualification
  • Your motherhood is a barrier and your husband and children are your first priority
  • You should be home doing the housework
  • You can’t bring your female friends here it is unsafe for them, you are married so you will be safe
  • Your breastfeeding makes us feel uncomfortable
  • Your pain must remain hidden
  • You will probably want to do other things like have another baby, I don’t think this is the right time for you

The structural inequalities behind each of these lines are founded on the bedrock of patriarchy.  Most of them I have addressed head on for myself and for others and some have even had structural shifts and can only be found in the Australian Museum of Misogyny alongside the CDs and lost mixtapes of Julia Gillard’s speech to Tony Abbott. But it is all just window dressing, the deep wounds of power and privilege translate into power hoarding.

First Nations have been fighting this frontier since the first fleet. Colonialism another layer in the prehistoric origins of what has brought us to this moment. There are calls for a Makarrata and in doing so are calling for a non-white power sharing model, privileging country and place, story and culture. In a small way I noticed the shift that happened when I started using the names of places in their first nation language and stopped using colonial names – a small gesture and one which is catching on. It becomes a constant reminder of what was, what is and what could be. To not be welcome in your own country, to be forced to live by another’s foreign rules, under the flag of your oppressor, taken to their beds and stripped of dignity and justice, to have your children taken from you, to be left for dead, to be beaten, falsely accused, loose hope …. a petering away of hope … working a way into allyship and solidarity that strengthens means getting out of the way, going to a table not created by you and waiting to be invited, being patient to wait for the apprenticeship to be offered, to live in the discomfort of the emergence into something new and in the knowledge you are part of the problem and decolonisation starts inside the head, heart on its way to being translated into plans and action. 

So too is this pilgrimage out of patriarchy. Giving up on the messages and the structures that reinforce the messaging of inadequacy, its your fault, personalised and individualised transactions. Rejecting definitions of progress and growth that don’t include those with decision-making power not stepping out of the way is a big piece and a hard one. Think: it’s not all men, its not all white people, mantras.  Well actually it is when you take a systems lens. No justice without peace was a mantra in my youth. Meeting this moment: there is no justice without a reckoning.

Sparks will fly #10 #cooler

Summer is starting to unfold into autumn and while we are still having warm days, the hint of what is ahead is on the evening breeze. Instead of heating up we are being cooled down. How interesting that the temperature rising in the thermometer is reflected in our language of heating and cooling. Paradoxically, energy levels seem to rise with the cooler weather for me I have felt slow, sluggish and at times almost paralysed by the heat and a heavy heart. Then there are moments of lightness on the breeze, promising a season of more joy and peace. Some of these moments this week: 2,500 women and men gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day, the kindness of a friend to say “I can take that”, the music in the park at Womadelaide, the shelter in a place not my own and the hilarity of exhaustion mixed with a few mils of alcohol to aid brainstorming with peers. There are all encouraging signs of cooling down, a soft wind forecasting a future and change in season.

In the breezes are wafts of hope to replace the aches and weight of what holds sadness in place. The burden of holding onto something that weighs you down is easily lifted if you let something go – it sounds so simple. There is nothing elegant in the putting down though, it is a bluddering, tottering, slipping and sliding movement that eventually finds its way to steadiness and then finally after all the stopping and starting, all the discernment, in a complete movement it is put down.  Not all decisions are invested with this ditheriness, some can be made with swift and certain clarity, deeply secure in the values that hold you in place. But then there are these grey areas, where self-care comes into view and where timing is still not right or perhaps when the burden takes on a weight that is so heavy you can no longer lift it. In that scenario you don’t put the burden down, the burden puts you down and writes you out of the equation.

Brene Brown writes: You can move on, shame. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect. When you know you are loved and belong, you do have the capacity, to invoke David Whyte, to be half a shade braver.  I have a suscipion this bravery walks with truth, and the freedom walking hand-in-hand with truth. I am not sure there is ever a place for truth causing more harm than good. I was listening this week to Prof. Megan Davis talking about a makarrata (a Yolngu word meaing restoration of peace after a dispute) for Australia. First step in this process is coming to an agreement about the dispute and the costs of that dispute and finding a way for peace to arrive between the disputants. This kind of truth takes up responsiblity, accountability, rights, reform; and spears have been known to be involved. Respect is central, reparation inevitable.  In this season where the breeze is blowing in truth and settling into cooler times, something is brewing in our land where we can move on shame.

What truths are ours to tell and what are the ones we have to graciously sit out and listen to has been in the airwaves this week. In the wake of the Pell prosecution, those continuing to be traumatised both from their own experience and vicariously are the ones to speak and to be heard. The eloquence of Clare Linane against the likes of commentors like Andrew Bolt to bring her ongoing truth as a supporter to survivors of abuse. Clare is a relentless mental health advocate for her community of Ballarat which has a suicide rate for men 65% higher than the national average. She speaks on behalf of the families including her own who live everyday on the front line witnessing and aiding those who are surviving trauma of sexual abuse. Victims must always be believed, the shame of coming forward to state your truth, takes courage and we must be strong alongside of them, to bring our love and solidarity, to walk with them, knowing our imperfections signal our own bravery.

There are so many stains, and in the tradition of Lent which finds itself in autumn in the southern hemisphere, we have an invitation to turn back, to repent. At the macro level, there is a national election in the breeze, with the potential to promise a makarrata; we have more discourse to be had around the mental health of those impacted by abuse. And in our individual experience, as each day gets cooler, we have the reckoning and turning around invitations to come closer to the centre of truths we don’t want to face.

I doubt I am alone in being disturbed by the Angel of Justice and am trusting the Angel of Encouragement is flapping her wings around us all.

May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you
In worth and self-respect,
That you may live with the dignity
That presides in your soul. – John O’Donohue excerpt from A Blessing of Angels

Sparks will fly, and while flames grow wider and eat up all that is combustible, what is not consumed, is left charred and still with the scars of having writhed in pain. Once cooled, relisient and death defying remains … remain.

Dignity and hope at least then have a chance then to arrive in the aftermath as the work of healing begins.