Violence against women is no laughing matter

Rape and domestic violence have just headlined at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
Taking the piss out of women – and children for that matter – isn’t new humour. Sexist jokes are as old as misogyny: from a litany of blond jokes to the pedophilic. This family tree has a long lineage of degrading the vulnerable, the oppressed and the weak.
But some things are just not right, and they are certainly not funny.
This is what I know:
  • I am afraid of sexual violence.
Overwhelming. Tremendous. Life-limiting fear.
In my 40s, and for no good reason, I am no longer conscious of it every day. But it is there. It smolders just below the surface.
I’m a woman, and the threat of sexual violence has been a part of my life as long as I’ve been aware of myself.
Don’t fret. I’ve got no ‘bad’ violation story to tell. But I also don’t believe in ‘bad’. One act of abuse or violence is the same as another.
Every time one of us is raped; touched when we didn’t want it; felt we could not say no; had to listen to sexual suggestions directed to us personally or about women generally; or changed our behaviour because of fear of assault, it is not acceptable. This ‘bad’ can not be calibrated.
Fear is not my only reaction.
This is what I also know:
  • I am angry about sexual violence. Blood red fury.
Smack bang out of Uni my first client was an adult survivor of child sexual assault. For three years I was a counsellor at a women’s service where violence against women was the order of the day.
For three years I listened to the same script. Perpetrators of violence against women and children use the same patterns. The tools of implementation vary, but it’s the same story at the end of day.
Counselling was only part of the gig. I doubt if jobs exist any longer where you can facilitate groups like Introduction to Feminism. I also spent a lot of time conducting community education, staring into classrooms of 15-year-old faces in regional Queensland and talking to them about respectful relationships, abuse of power and sexuality. It was excruciating watching some of those faces open revealing their vulnerability and pain, and exhilarating delivering the most important healer they could hear, ‘You are not to blame’.
Funded by government, we led protests  and demanded the right to reclaim the night. We spoke to the media and cameras rolling, told journalists that men were responsible for ending violence against women.
We campaigned against a local charity whose annual fundraiser rag literally filled page after offensive page with jokes made at the expense of rape and domestic violence. Without having any idea what we were doing but knowing it had to stop, my mate Anne-Maree and
I ran a two-girl protest. It played out over weeks in the public space and when the charity’s head honcho called to negotiate, we tried to control our hysteria, sound grown up, and make our demands to his question, ‘What changes can we make to this publication to give you comfort?’
It was the most important and immensely satisfying work I’ve done: sharing the tools of healing; collectivising; and taking action, because I, and others I was fortunate enough to know and work with, believed that violence against women was unacceptable and must stop.
That was 20 years ago.
Now it’s 2012 and feminism is dying a death by a thousand cuts. On the stage of an internationally renowned event, young men’s wit turns to sexual violence.
As long as women and children feel fear of sexual violence, feminism is relevant.
As long as men continue to mock and minimize sexual violence, feminism is relevant.
Because feminism demands a world free of violence against women and children.
Because violence against women and children is not funny. It is not humour.
It is hatred and it is sanctioned violence.
So what can we do?
Not mock violence. Don’t laugh. Challenge sexism in all its forms. Sign petitions. Protest. Lobby for services for women and services for men that doesn’t draw on the same pool of funds. Think about sexual politics and share power. Talk to young people about respectful relationships. Keep speaking out that violence against women and children, in all its forms, is unacceptable.
There’s nothing more important than the right of all citizens to live without the fear of violence. Here’s some other stuff you might find interesting.
” Reclaim the night and win the day
We want the right that should be our own
A freedom women have seldom known
The right to live, the right to walk alone without fear”

Peggy Seeger

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