Beneath the surface

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Picture credit: http://www.wunc.org

Jeffrey Epstein is dead, and various people will now take, to their graves, information about what this man did whilst he was alive for 66 years.

To the grave also will go the horrific memories and experiences of those sexually abused, either by or because of Epstein.

I’m already sick of reading his name, and now regurgitating it onto these pages.

As with other similarly disgraced public figures, to write their names in print risks sensationalizing and glamourizing these people (99% of whom are men) and adding to the layer of protection and privilege they’ve somehow been allowed to exist within.

At 44 years old it’s shocking to admit that it was only last month, when talking to a friend of mine from work, Amelia, that I had the wind knocked out of me by an anecdote she recounted, relating to the vulnerability of women. I remember wincing at the incidental parable her recollection offered up.

In spite of #MeToo, in spite of working for the past thirteen years for CARE, and learning about how our programmes combat patriarchy – even to the extent of our more recent surge in support for the International Labour Organisation’s historic moves to mandate against sexual harassment in the workplace, and CARE’s unfettered access to women living daily with violent husbands or partners – in spite of these powerful dynamics all around me, I’ve leant into some type of denial about what this collective, compelling story-boarding was attempting to highlight.

It takes a nano second to know how you feel about rape, sexual violence, sexual harassment or sexual assault. On a training course last year in Tbilisi it took several hours to analyse the differences between each of these descriptions, but no less time to know how I would feel towards someone carrying them out.

And, yet, Amelia’s story cut through all of this, and I felt it acutely.

Her “story” was, in fact, more of an off-the-cuff reference to outdoor swimming.

We were on the way to our office having met for coffee, walking past Vauxhall Arches, home to many things, including what used to be a set of salubrious night-clubs (I know from living nearby over 20 years ago). I mentioned having read about a new club under these arches earlier in the morning – LICK – which is only open to women. In a short space of time this new venture has drawn in the crowds, partly as many straight women frequenting are doing so simply to enjoy a safe space away from men.

Amelia, it transpired, had had a similar experience at Hampstead Ponds just the weekend before, when she went along to one of the “women only” areas with a friend.

“Women only” as a concept is not a new one, and one can only hope that it will continue to grow and catch up with the predominantly “men only” staples that have existed since the dawn of time.

It was, instead, how Amelia described the feeling of walking past the particular sign at the ponds that flawed me.

“As we approached the place, there was a signpost” she explained, “which said ‘No Men Allowed Beyond this point’ and, just at reading those words, I felt this immense wave of relief pass through my body – it felt so reassuring and safe.”

That was all it took.

Either via distraction, via denial, or via some pathetic moral high-grounded sense of being so aware of gender inequality – so pervasive and festering in every crevice of society that it forms gargantuan valleys of injustice everywhere – that I was immune from feeling any sense of responsibility about it myself; whichever of these types of leanings I’d been clinging on to, for however long, were smote in that instant.

A bristling and uncomfortable realization, perhaps, that whilst I’ve been writing about gender equality in various countries around the world over the past 7 years, often drawn to describing CARE’s work in what are termed as “crisis” countries (such as Palestine and the Philippines) I’d remained blind to the reality that most patriarchal behavior, which makes women and girls experience vulnerability, exists below the surface.

As such, this behaviour is immune to “crisis” labelling, and routinely allowed to manifest simply as “status quo”.

For all the many positive gender campaigns and female role models that continue to combat these subterranean and destructive norms, I give maximum kudos a

 

 

 

 

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