This Sunday is White Ribbon Day. I blog about White Ribbon Day every year, because it is a cause close to my heart.
This year, White Ribbon Day is particularly important to me.
What is White Ribbon Day? It is the one day per year that is devoted to the cause of ending violence against women. It generally has a domestic violence focus, but it is in fact a campaign to end ALL violence against women. I’ll give you a few Australian statistics:
- Every week, a woman is killed by a current or former partner.
- One in three women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
- Domestic violence is the major cause of homelessness of women and children.
- 33% of women have experienced inappropriate comments about their body or sex life.
- 25% have experienced unwanted sexual contact.
- 1 in 5 women have been stalked.
Be aware these statistics are of reported cases. This does not cover the hundreds of incidents every day that go unreported. Violence against women is not just physical or sexual. It is also mental, emotional, financial and institutional. Every act of dehumanising a woman is violence against women.
This week just past has been hellish for me. In the week since I attempted to launch a project for marginalised women and was forced to shut it down due to the amount of harassment, bullying and threats aimed at me and anyone who expressed interest in participating, I have been subjected to a constant barrage of abuse from complete strangers. Everything from anonymous hate on Tumblr, days and days of harassment on Twitter, someone creating fake Facebook accounts in my name (with stolen photographs of me) and attempting to spam all of my friends and colleagues to actual death threats.
This abuse does not exist in a vacuum. This abuse happens because culturally in Australia, and the rest of the world, violence and abuse against women is considered culturally acceptable. Not just the kind of abuse I’ve experienced this week either – rape, physical assault and murder are excused repeatedly. Victims are blamed for their abuse – either they are told they actually did the wrong thing, ie were in the wrong place, wearing the wrong thing, behaving the wrong way etc, or if they do speak up, they are accused of “playing the victim” or “drawing negative attention to themselves”.
The most horrifying fact is that many women internalise these dehumanising messages and then turn them on their fellow women. Just this week in my own experience, many women actively recruited men to help them abuse me online when I refused to apologise for telling them to fuck off out of my space. This is disgusting behaviour, and a prime example of internalised misogyny. “Women aren’t allowed to say that!” or “What a bitch, she’s going DOWN!” Not once did I initiate contact with any of these people, nor did I go to their online spaces to leave abuse or even respond to them, the only time I responded was when they approached me, and mostly it was simply to tell them to fuck off out of my space.
There is NO excuse for violence against women. There is NO reason that a woman is to blame for being abused. No matter how she dresses, where she goes, what she does with her own body, what she drinks or consumes, what she says or how she behaves.
Women do not have to be nice, polite or submissive. Women are allowed to say NO. Women have every right to tell someone who comes into her space, be it physical or online to fuck off. Women don’t have to give someone “the benefit of the doubt”. If she does, and that person then abuses her, she is then blamed for not protecting herself. “What was she thinking!?” people cry. She was clearly thinking that she should give someone “the benefit of the doubt” like she was told to do. Women are allowed to be loud, to swear, to dress themselves however they like, to have consensual sex with whoever they wish to, to be angry, to inhabit any public space without it drawing violence to her. Women are even allowed to be rude, cranky, impolite, abrasive, abrupt, nasty, bitchy… and all those other words that are shame code for “women being assertive” without it drawing violence to her.
THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
If you do not like a woman, walk away. Don’t pursue her into her space either online or physically. Do not force her to pay attention to you when she does not want to. Do not bully her anonymously to try to shame or silence her. Don’t try to passive aggressively shame her by claiming you are offering “constructive criticism” when she does not want it and you are in her space. You are not “offering” anything, you are forcing her, and that is violence against her. Don’t recruit your friends or men to bully her if she doesn’t respond to your demands. Do not abuse her for being rude if she walks away from you or tells you to leave her alone, even if she says “fuck off” in doing so. She has every right to do so and owes you nothing.
If you really believe you are superior to someone, then you will walk away from them secure in that knowledge. A better human being always will.
We live in a horrifically victim blaming culture. We harass women online and off, threaten and bully them into submission, shame them when we deem that they are unworthy or inferior. We get angry at women who stay in abusive relationships, but also deny them support and protection if they leave those relationships. We shame them for not standing by their man, not standing on their own two feet, not caring enough about their children, not trying hard enough to make things better. All the while we absolve the perpetrators of any responsibility. We deny women support financially and emotionally when they leave abusive relationships, shame them for being “single mothers” or “sluts” or “a drain on society” for needing financial assistance when a partner has financially abused them and their children. In the same breath that we tell women to give men “the benefit of the doubt”, we then blame her if she does and it turns bad.
But most importantly, we must speak up. We must speak up as a culture and say “This is not ok.” It is scary to speak up, as I’ve seen particularly painfully this week, and I am sure this very post will draw it as well*. I am not “special” or “brave” for doing so – I’m just a woman who has had enough of being treated like shit by society and then blamed for it and treated even more like shit. I have just reached a point where I can’t survive any more being pushed down for being a woman who is deemed unacceptable or inferior. You too can speak up whether it’s loudly and publicly like I do, or amongst your own family or friends. Big or small, every statement made against the violence women suffer gathers, accumulates and gets louder and louder. Every voice, wherever it is, makes the world a bit safer for women and gives women courage to stand up to abuse and expect better for herself.
Tomorrow and through to Sunday there are many events happening around the country to raise funds and awareness for women who have or are suffering violence. Every small donation for a white ribbon, every raffle ticket, every cocktail party or rally makes a difference. If nothing else, donate a couple of bucks, buy a white ribbon and wear it to work, around your friends and family, on the street. It is a tiny symbol of hope for women who have suffered everywhere that someone cares, that someone will stand with them, that someone believes that campaigning to end violence against women matters.
If I had seen that tiny symbol when I was suffering domestic abuse, I know I would have been empowered a whole lot earlier in life than I was. I know I feel a whole lot more empowered now seeing it on men and women everywhere.
And if you are a woman suffering or have suffered abuse or violence of any kind, know that I care, as do many others. I do this for you as much as I do this for me.