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What White Ribbon can learn from #NoMore 

2 Feb

It’s Super Bowl Sunday here in Wisconsin and while the guacamole congeals I thought I’d take a moment to talk about football, violence against women and those smug pricks at White Ribbon Australia.

For the first time the biggest television event in the world will lend its airwaves to an anti-violence PSA. I can say, without a hint of sarcasm, that it’s wonderfully done. The people behind the NFL-supported #NoMore campaign did an amazing job and when I see it tonight with a corn chip in my hand I am sure to cry big tears.

The #NoMore campaign launched with the 2014-15 football season in the USA. It features players, celebrities and the President saying straight up to the camera that violence against women must stop.

At first I was dubious. It was another campaign that highlighted men as saviors rather than perpetrators and made no effort to reveal the suffering and self-advocacy of victims. But the Super Bowl ad won me over.

Across the Pacific another football-related anti-violence campaign, White Ribbon Australia is a different beast altogether. In 2014 the non-profit announced a partnership with Sydney rugby club the Canterbury Bulldogs. This, my local team, is almost synonymous with rape. In 2004, six members of the team were accused of raping a 20 year old woman. And that was just one incident out of a string that would make any woman hear “Bulldog” and make run for it.

As Jacqueline Magnay wrote at the time “Rugby league, with its macho advertising and scantily dressed cheerleaders, has long cultivated an image of masculine bravado. But a picture is also surfacing of a murkier code in which players share women for sex as part of the team “bonding” process.”

A decade later, I can see why the Bulldogs would leap at the chance for some good PR. While there’s a chance that the team’s endorsement of White Ribbon might result in a change to its culture, the fact that White Ribbon is willing to endorse an organization with an (alleged) history of rape is disturbing in the least.

White Ribbon, you see, talks very little about violence. Very rarely do they draw attention to victim’s stories. Their all-male ambassadors include some mighty shifty characters. As I’ve said before on this blog, “All I ever see of this organization or its ambassadors is Good Blokes patting each other on the back. Rarely, if ever, have I seen White Ribbon tell a story of female victimhood. The key message seems to be: there’s good guys, and there’s those who can become good guys.” Basically, White Ribbon gives out more cookies than the Girl Scouts.

Looking at the #NoMore Super Bowl ad makes me long for an Australian organization that could gets its messaging right. In the ad, the woman is the protagonist. It tells the audience to listen to her, even though it’s hard. It isn’t about what makes a good man, it’s about what it’s like to be a woman under the threat of male violence.

The NFL may be no friend to women, but with this they score some points.

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I put a classified ad online. A month later I called the police.

19 Jul

10pm, Wednesday

It’s taken two years of living in Chippendale but I finally have a stalker. It’s lucky, I’m moving to the suburbs in 3 days so I was really running out of time. Like almost everything in my life, it started on the internet.

About a month ago I put up an ad on Gumtree saying I was looking for a room in a sharehouse. You know, It had worked for me before, so I figured it was worth a try. In it, I mention I’m a writer and include a blurry profile pic. Every Ebay seller knows you need a photo to get replies.

Among a bunch of replies advertising shared rooms and lounge rooms with a “transformational curtain”, I got this:

Hi Eliza,

I have a large creative arts premises and welcome you and your writing to settle here as we grow into living dreams.

 I look forward to hearing from you…

Billy*

 I replied:

 Hi Billy,

Thanks, but I’m not interested in commercial space.

Cheers,

Eliza

 And it went on, until I eventually accused him of being a sex offender.

 Him: I know. I have a room / studio the size close to three standard garage lengths. Pls come check it out I know you will agree it is right. I’m in the business of growing people’s dreams……

 Me: That honestly sounds as though you’re luring me there so you can murder me.​

 Him: Oh god. Now imagine I say my business is freedom & self appointed as dream maker. But, self demoted recently to executive freedom fighter. Do I have your number? Perhaps we can talk other housemates are here

 Me: Sorry, what has freedom fighting got to do with house hunting?

 (I have to admit, by now I was intrigued.)

 Him: Just thought I’d let you know what my business is. Altogether your potential new home is part of a creative arts centre. Pls call & chat with us.

 Me: Thank you but that sounds like my personal hell. Can I suggest you take a copywriting course? You shouldn’t have to explain that you are not in the business of murdering people. Unless you’re running a Warhol-esque factory/murder house. If that’s the case then your marketing strategy is appropriate.

 Him: So do you want to call or come or just miss out on the best thing that will happen to you

 Me: Is it some kind of arts/murder/sex house?

 Him: Two out of three ain’t bad.

 Me: This is insane. Why are you pursuing me?

 Him: All jokes aside. Pls take a look I am sure you will find it suitable

 Me: no, never, under any circumstances.

For three weeks I heard nothing, then two nights ago he contacted me again urging me to check out his Art Sex Murder Factory. I called him a stalker. We’re in the midst of the Sydney housing crisis and this guy has been pursuing me as a housemate. This does not happen. I had deleted my ad from the internet and the creepy dude from my mind.

Until about 20 minutes ago.

I was walking home from dinner in Surry Hills to Chippendale (yes, Dad, I should have got a cab). I passed this old junk shop — the kind filled with 1980s high-cut bikinis and Huey Lewis cassettes. I paused for a moment and looked in. For the first time I saw someone in there: a blonde girl who looked about 19, just sitting in a chair. I shrugged and kept on walking. I got about 10 metres away before I heard a man call out “excuse me”. Of course, I didn’t turn around. That’d be nuts. I kept walking and heard him shout out again. And again, more insistent each time. I wondered if I was being too harsh and thought that maybe I’d just dropped my wallet or something. I stopped and turned around.

The man, with pirate long hair and black everything sidled right up close. He told me, “Sorry, but I just wanted to tell you you look really stunning. I had to come out and tell you.”

I said in the loud, confident voice I reserve for suspected rapists “Thank you. Fuck off.” I strode away. I got a few paces and heard my name.  He called it out three times. A chill ran through me as I put the pieces together. This is him, this is Billy. The junk shop is the “artists’ residence”. I walked like someone who’s not scared all the way to my front door where I collapsed in a gibbering heap in front of my male, drummer-armed flatmate.

I called Redfern Police and spoke to an incredibly helpful constable.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to pack some boxes. Can I also just mention, internet, that my boyfriend actually owns a gun? And that it’s totally fucked-up that I should have to fear for my safety walking home from dinner? I think I need a hug from that bullmastiff I’ve been training. He hates artist collectives even more than I do.

*His name isn’t really Billy, I just named him after my least favourite ‘Ally McBeal’ character.

If you’ve encountered similar incidences, online or off, the police would quite like to know about it.

Door bitch

12 Dec
The coalface of contemporary gender politics isn’t actually the earning gap or reproductive rights. The real battle, the one I rage daily, is a door. Specifically, the door of the lift in my office building. If I get in the lift first I stand towards the back and other people, including men, get in the lift and stand towards the front. Normal so far. I ride to the top floor, and if a man happens to be standing in front of me he will stand, somewhat awkwardly to the side and look at me expectantly.
I stand there awkwardly back.
He looks at me like I’ve forgotten something.
I stand there awkwardly still.
He gestures towards the door as though I might have misplaced it.
I smile sweetly and say something condescending like “out you go.”
The poor man will then either smile sheepishly and leave or continue to stand there with his arm half raised like a vaguely chauvinistic muppet.
If that happens I will then drop my voice an octave and tell him “we’ll be here all day.”
Given the choice between a speedy exit and being trapped in a lift for eight hours with an increasingly threatening woman they tend to choose the exit.
Taking gender out of the equation for a moment, I think the idea of people holding doors open for one another is quite nice. It’s also terribly inefficient. The time I spend each day saying things like “oh no, you go first” could be better spent staring out the window while my coffee kicks in or reading Jezebel. I’m a busy person and time is precious.
I have, on occasion, tried to instil a people-hold-doors-open-for-people regime by holding a door open for a man. This causes great confusion, much oh-no-you-go-first-ing and eventually I give up and just get the hell out of there. Less efficient still.
So back to the gender thing. I realise these men are just being nice. They’re just trying to do what society tells them. Problem is, society hasn’t updated its quote book since 1903. You can call it gentlemanliness, you can call it curtesy but as my very smart sister pointed out, if you hold doors open for me my arms will get weaker.
The polite gesture I meet every morning acts as a reminder that my presence in the building as anything but a secretary is something very new. It reminds me that women are treated in so many ways as special or unique or delicate or in some way worthy of men’s special care. It implies that I am either too important or too fragile to open a door myself. However well meaning, this is always patronising. Especially when you’re just planning on staring at my arse anyway.
I know not everyone thinks this way. I know that the graphic designer on Level 7 gets huffy if someone doesn’t open a door for her. I know that there are probably more of her than there are of me. I know that she and I probably both call ourselves feminists and that we don’t wear badges explaining how much we feminise and how often. I realise that the daily door dilemma is a minefield for us all. How about tomorrow we do this: who ever is nearest the door leaves first. And if the graphic designer from Level 7 gets huffy just smile politely and threaten to take away her right to vote.
Update: just after writing this my feminist door stance nearly got a man killed. I just had to use the sentence “I’m sorry my feminism nearly got you crushed between the doors of a closing lift. That really wasn’t my intention! I appreciate your efforts to be polite. Can I please buy you jellybeans or something?” Now I can see why the Republicans say feminism is so dangerous.

A long time in politics

8 Dec

I dated Marcus for a week, from the Saturday we met to the Saturday morning I spent sitting on his balcony trying to delay the moment when I’d crush his spirit. Spirit crushing is something to which I should probably grow accustomed.

Thing is, I go for the quiet, understated gentleman. Really, if you have boyish features and tell me at a bar “I know I’ve only spoken a few words to you, but I have been listening intently and am now thinking dirty thoughts” then you’re basically my ideal man. My dad once told me that I’m destined to be murdered by my husband since it’s the quiet ones that always have the axes.

So I was chatting to Marcus, who at that point was not carrying an axe. He was saying a few words every so often but was otherwise just looking at me adoringly. When he did speak it was usually about left wing politics, indie music or food. He was good looking and interesting, yes, but that wasn’t why I was interested. I think what made me want to jump his bones was the fact that he was quite obviously scared of me.

Don’t let the fact that I spend all my time alone in my room on the Internet fool you, I’m actually a very self assured person. I also like to provoke people at parties which I guess gives me a brazenness that offers a welcome change from girls who don’t smack people. That, combined with a large bust and talent for hair flicking is all a bit much for a nerdy boy to handle. And, like a female hyena, I seek out the ones waiting at the back of the waterhole and then pounce on them while they’re drinking.

I told him straight up that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. Then for a week I acted like his girlfriend. I’ve never been good at the dating thing. I tend to just decide whether or not to marry them sometime after breakfast. By my standards I was going slow. So there were dinners, long nights and lazy mornings. Questions asked and jokes made. And Marcus,like all my hapless victims, was suckered into it.

I’m not sure how much he liked me, but he definitely liked the idea of me. He wanted the home cooked meals, the arguments over who puts the bins out, someone to sit next to at Christmas. I wanted all those things too, but with someone on the other side of the world. I watched him getting his hopes up, like I watch an egg rolling off a bench – regretfully but without going to too much effort to stop it. When, at the end of our second Saturday, he asked if he had a chance with me all I could do was apologise.

My friend tentatively raised the point that maybe, just maybe these boys were not the hapless victims I’d always portrayed them to be. Maybe they’re actually very capable young men who know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. Maybe they think they’re the hyena.

Look, that’s always a possibility, I replied, thinking it over. Maybe I just assume they’re terrified and vulnerable because, in a not completely healthy way, I’d rather be the hyena than the prey. Maybe I should give them and myself a little more credit.Or maybe I’ll just have to wait until I get my axe wielding politics geek and we can both sit, terrified and happy, well into old age.