Women Opinion

Let our heroic women be voices for change

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(Left to right) Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Samantha Maiden, Amy Remeikis (Screenshots via YouTube)

The imbalance of power between men and women has been placed squarely in the spotlight over the past year.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual abuse

As we approach International Women’s Day, I thought it prudent to reflect on some of the most significant events that have occurred in the mainstream media and political discourses.

Or rather, I thought it prudent to highlight some of the names that have flashed across our television screens and been printed in bold.

Grace Tame; Brittany Higgins; Kate; Samantha Maiden; Amy Remeikis.

I highlight these five because of the monumental role they have had in shining a light on the experiences of women who have experienced sexual violence.

Reading Remeikis’ On Reckoning left me nodding and shaking my head almost simultaneously in agreement that she ‘first learnt to stay quiet’.

For “quiet” is exactly what women are taught to be by those who seek to control us.

Thank you, Amy, for your words of strength and resilience.

But nodding at this made me feel like I had no right to find some small recognition in the experiences of these women.

I learned to stay silent when my legs were small enough to fit in between the banisters of the stairs at my childhood home.

I didn’t know why and I didn’t like it, but I knew that when voices were raised, when men were called out for financial and emotional abuse, the response was gaslighting and hands on wrists.

I had no idea that what I was witnessing was a combination of emotional violence, coercive control, financial and, in some instances, physical abuse.

The women mentioned previously experienced far worse than I.

There are many more and not enough words to convey how being a woman changed their lives.

But statistically, as a woman with a disability, I wonder about my own odds.

Will I join them in being preyed upon — another number?

There is another I want to acknowledge, who has left me almost in tears, nodding my head vigorously as I turn the pages to her book Eggshell SkullBri Lee.

I have always believed that men and women ought to be treated equally.

Yet when it comes to seeking justice for the survivors of sexual assault and abuse, it is still the woman whose experience of sexual assault or domestic violence is not treated equally to a defendant’s right to the presumption of innocence.

It is still the woman who must somehow prove she didn’t “want it”, still the admissibility of facts that must be examined.

Yet women are the ones who walk down the street looking over our shoulders and avoiding eye contact with men when we are alone.

Statistically, one in three women will have experienced physical or sexual violence from the age of 15.

One in three women has experienced sexual or physical violence at the hands of someone they know.

It is women who must give evidence outlining every aspect of trauma in courtrooms, often ruled by men.

Women across the globe get up every day knowing that they could become a statistic. A number in a report.

I wonder how many men share that same anxiety.

I wonder how many women have sons, worrying that those sons could become an abuser.

I wonder how many fathers worry about the same.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison needed to imagine how he would react if his daughters were raped to have empathy towards Grace Tame.

If he had a son, would he have pondered the question: what if that son would become a perpetrator?

That question seems to be something that as a society we shy away from.

Why do we worry more about teaching our daughters how to prevent being raped than we do about teaching our sons not to become rapists?

Why do we spend so much energy telling women that if they are experiencing domestic violence to ask for help instead of telling men not to commit domestic violence?

Why do we put so much energy into teaching children the perils of “stranger danger” when statistically the danger often emanates from those closest to them?

So, as we approach International Women’s Day, I want to challenge everyone to turn the tables on the dominant discourses that have surrounded violence against women.

So many women don’t have the opportunity to seek justice for the pain they have suffered, their lives taken too early.

And so many who do survive are having to cope with realising they have eggshell skulls and that justice is so rarely given.

That even the process towards justice revolves around reliving the violence they have experienced.

That their reckoning may never come and that their skulls may be broken.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Melissa Marsden is a passionate advocate for social justice and a self-confessed political junkie. You can follow Melissa on Twitter @MelMarsden96.

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