Checking the surf

the first time i heard someone use the word 'rape' in a jokey way i was in year 6. i don't have a very good memory in general at all, but i remember this moment, we were making craft things at christmas time, with cellophane and coloured pencils and had joined up with a year 7 class. it was one of the year 7 boys who said it. i can't remember exactly what he said, but i remember the feeling, the feeling that follows you into the rest of your life as a female - the instantaneous sadness, anger, fear, all mixed into one. it's the feeling you have as you stay quiet in lots of these circumstances, you are paralysed by the combination of these reactions to the reminder that almost no matter where you are there is always that threat of physical and sexual violence.

it was such a shock to year 6 me, that someone would use this worst possible word flippantly. it's a shock thinking back that i knew what the word meant as a tiny person growing up without even the internet and not having suffered in that way in my tiny life. but i knew and could feel what it meant, and knew and could feel it was so wrong for someone to chuck that word about like a piece of cellophane.

last night i went to have pizza with my friends. sally made a cake that tasted like living inside a jaffa, if you were lying on a leather lounge chair with a white sheepskin on top of the lounge chair (not a vegan vision evidently), sipping a teeny glass of cointreau - great cake. because of what's been going on around us, when i left the friends in the pizza place i didn't walk to my car by myself as i usually would. i got my friend matt to come with me, because as we all know, just the presence of another man means you're safer, unless that other man is the one who's going to attack you.

the day before i was checking the surf at the beach in a car park with other people and a man in his car was looking at me, looking at me in the particular way, and doing something weird in the front seat, staring, looking, and then motioning to me. i can't explain to you how this is not an innocuous moment in time, or how i know his intentions, but there are ways that things are done that make you know the threat is there. he was reaching into my space from afar, as we are used to some men doing, and reaching into my consciousness so i had to try and shake it off the next hour - that same feeling - fear, anger, sadness and then the self-recriminations that come "i should have gone up and said something to him". it's near a carpark where a man exposed himself to my friend another time. see these aren't empty carparks at night, it's daytime, other people around, a chill suburb, it's just our day-to-day life.

i saw my friend daniel in the supermarket, also not a safe place from these things. he said that sucks about getting creeped on to at the beach and i told him this is just an every day event for us.

that's a thing that has come from this, at least for the small amount of people around me. that our counterparts and potential allies into a safer version of the world are starting to understand that this is a strange reality we live in, that the best of them are not aware of. they have been part of it though, no doubt, in conversations that feed into the general disrespect for women that leads to these things. as i tried to say to another friend "This is SCIENCE", the idea that what goes in culturally and socially does come out.

we are all part of creating this culture, and we can also dismantle it, replacing attitudes with something better.

it's just a fact, there are ways to make violence and sexual assault less common. in the case of violence against women, from strangers, acquaintances or partners, increasing respect for women in the myriad ways this can be achieved is the main thing. it sounds like i'm writing a pamphlet for the government, but i'm just trying to say, don't let things slide. i remember learning about studies where people's subconscious racism could be dampened just by exposing people for a little while to stories/photos of achievement of black people. this x 1000000000000, or this x 1 can make a difference.

some of my friends might play GTA, where you can (mum don't read this) have sex with a prostitute and then kill her to get your money back. you get points for this. nice guys know they will never do this, never touch someone non-consensually, but as if these things don't feed into our subconscious/conscious. and as if it's fine knowing that your friends would do that in a game, act out misogyny and then come over for dinner. it might be friends who would never harm you or anyone else, but all of us know people who would, and have, and do harm others.

my friend posted on fb last night that he was going to a particular show and that if anyone wanted to be walked to or from the venue he would do it. it is ridiculous he has to say this, but it also made me feel better, made me thank him in my mind, and made me ask a friend to walk me to my own car in another place that night. it might seem patronising but it's not, it's our friends beginning to understand our reality.

of course it's not the only thing on our minds. how much are we all complicit through our general apathy in the death of another young man out on manus island? he had been there for five years, crying out for help and crying out for assistance for the trauma and degradation he was suffering through having his human right of free movement and freely seeking asylum daily denied. he didn't know when he'd leave this place where he was not free and there was not the possibility of a real new life.

in the shops when i told my friend about the daily threat that had been reinforced in the beach carpark i also wondered if the fishes are yelling at me through the ether each time i pick up an item wrapped in plastic, plastic that's likely to end up scattered on that same beach washed in and out of the shore after a journey around the world and finally to be swallowed by one of their own to cause their death. driving our cars around as the planet warms up. all these things.

but for this one thing today, just make changes that will make a difference. talk to your friends, foster deep respect for women, i gotta do this, you gotta do this.

Amber Fresh