This week in Australia

I’m sure everyone is aware of the major social debate in Australia this week, the Four Corners expose on Rugby League and its “series of startling allegations relating to alcohol, women and sex.”    This type of social debate is a vital part of parenting, because it is how we determine the society we are going to bequeath to our children.  So I haven’t been tossing up whether to blog about it, but which angle to take.

There are so many.  The issue of consent has taken centre stage, which in many ways has made it a debate about morality – do nice girls have group sex?  Should anyone have group sex?  Should celebrities be held to the same standards as other people?  Should men and women be held to the same standards?  Which is where it starts to slide from morality into gender issues and feminism.  What does this say about men’s attitude to women?  The flip side of that is what it says about masculinity – is this a rough, tough sport and you can’t expect manly men to just switch it off?  Or can you be masculine without needing to masturbate with your mates?  Somehow I just can’t picture Peter Brock doing it.

 So many large issues and I only have a small blog, so I’ve picked a tiny section that’s relevant to my parenting.  Maybe some of my fellow authors might add their own perspectives in their posts and comments.  My concern is parochial, I am a mother of two little girls.  So what am I going to teach them?

 

First off I need to be absolutely clear.  No-one asks to be raped.  No-one deserves to be raped.  No-one bears any responsibility for anyone’s actions but their own.  It sounds like there’s a but coming, doesn’t there?  But there isn’t really.

 Let’s use a hypothetical situation to help think about it.  One Saturday morning it is fantastic weather with a blue sky and gentle breeze, perfect for walking and hot enough to wear your new shorts.  So you decide to walk into town to meet your friends at the movies, as you do regularly.  While you are in the theatre it gets cooler and cloudier, but it still looks fine so your friends hop in their cars and drive home.  Gradually as you walk it gets windier and the clouds build up, so slowly you don’t really notice.  You are looking at the beautiful river the footpath runs along and relaxing.  It isn’t until you are almost home that there is a flash of lightning and driving rain starts suddenly.  You are racing to shelter because you don’t have an umbrella when you slip on some gravel and seriously graze your leg and you end up having to hobble home, cold, wet and hurt.

This is a pretty obvious analogy, but the reason I set it up this way is that I think it’s fairly easy to see there is no blame.  When you first read it through it might not look that way, but think about it closely.  No-one can control the weather, otherwise we wouldn’t be having a drought (or floods)!  You do this regularly.  It was fine when you started.  The weather report said that it would be fine.  Several people knew you were walking and they all thought it was fine.  But no-one can control the weather.  And tripping is something that happens.  You might ‘control’ it insofar as some people are clumsier than others (me! me!) but it’s not something you really have control over, or we wouldn’t do it.  So in this situation you should have been perfectly alright, as you have been many other times, and through bad luck you were hurt.  Reality happens.

But even though it was in no way your fault, there are some things you could have done, and will probably do next time.  Organise a lift as soon as it looks cloudy.  A small umbrella that fits in your bag and stays there permanently.  A larger bag so you can carry a jumper with you.  Enough money in your pocket so you can always get a taxi.  Walk carefully rather than running on gravel.  Run on the grass if you need to.  You could have been prepared before you left, then there were several points when you could have stopped and re-evaluated, if you were aware of what was happening.

So let’s run that show again with the ‘real’ scenario.

One Saturday evening it is a fantastic time for going out with a great band playing, perfect for dancing in your new skirt.  So you decide to meet your friends at your local pub, as you do regularly.  While you are there you have a few drinks, then your friends need to leave because they work the next day.  The band is still pumping so you stay.  Gradually over the evening you drink a bit more, so slowly you don’t really notice.  You’re not drunk, just happy.  You are having a great time dancing, meeting people and relaxing.  It isn’t until you are about to head home that someone offers you a lift.  You hop in the car with him.

And now I’ll do exactly the same analysis.

This is a pretty obvious analogy, but the reason I set it up this way is that I think it’s fairly easy to see there is no blame.  When you first read it through it might not look that way, but think about it closely.  No-one can control another person’s behaviour, otherwise we wouldn’t be having a war (or fights with my toddler)!  You do this regularly.  You were safe when you started.  Several people knew you were getting a lift and they all thought it was fineBut no-one can control another person’s behaviour.  And meeting people is something that happens.  You might ‘control’ it insofar as some people are more outgoing than others (not me! not me!) but it’s not something you really have control over, or we would be agoraphobic hermits.  So in this situation you should have been perfectly alright, as you have been many other times, and through bad luck you were hurt.  Reality happens.

It’s pretty close, isn’t it.

And just as there are things you can do about the weather, there are things you can do for your safety in other ways.  Go out, but organise a lift.  Have a few drinks, but keep an eye on it.  Enjoy sex, but in a place and with people you trust.  It won’t necessarily keep you safe, that requires luck as well, and reality will always be there for some of us.  But it makes sense to give luck as much of a helping hand as you can.

There is a lot of debate about exactly how to be safe – clothes and behaviour are part of the social rules and change over both time and space.  Think how our grandmother’s would have reacted to what we consider a modest, demure outfit!  So the most important thing I’m going to try to teach my girls is to be aware.  To think about situations before they get into them, to plan.  To treat luck like a frail relative who needs to be helped and looked after constantly.

And really hope that reality doesn’t happen to them.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by plahski on May 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    This whole thing has reminded me how much I used to love Alanis Morissette when I was a teenager… That might sound cryptic but she did bring the feminist out in me!

    I don’t think it is as much of a question of safety as it is a question of power.

    And I know that no matter how safe a person is they may still get into unsafe situations. That isn’t to say that all people – men and women – should keep themselves as safe as possible at all times.

    But their measures of safety shouldn’t be brought up (or shouldn’t be the focus topic) when they have been victimized by the actions of others.

    Reply

    • Are you talking specifically about the rugby league case or in general? I think we’re discussing two different things. Philosophically talking about rape, sex, gender relations in general there is a power issue. Those are discussions about the ideal world we would like to live in, and are important to make people aware of where we are now, what has to change, and some of the things we can do.

      This blog post was about something different – given the world we live in, what will I teach my daughters? I will be teaching them about power in relationships, not just in different genders but politically, racially, educationally, in fact it is one of the basic questions that determines the directions of all interactions – who has the power? But I will also be teaching them about duties. You have a duty not to hurt others. You have a duty to help protect others. And it follows therefore that you have a duty to help protect yourself.

      Whenever we talk about ‘what should happen’ it is about duties. If you should be able to go out and drink, then people have a duty to keep you safe. it’s either everyone or no-one, although obviously to different extents. I’d argue the friend you go with has a greater duty than the stranger who sees you getting in a car. And everyone has to include you. The blame is on the attacker, but they are not the only person with a duty. The more effort we all put into our various duties, the less opportunities there will be.

      Blame is a different issue – as you say it is about power. You won’t always have the power to fulfill your duties, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have them. I’ll use another analogy to demonstrate – as mothers we have a duty to try to raise our children to be happy, healthy, productive members of society. But we don’t have complete control of the situation, there are a lot of other people and things contributing. Unfortunately if we don’t completely succeed, mothers tend to feel guilty. But just because mother guilt is often inappropriate, that doesn’t mean we don’t still have the duty. And it doesn’t mean that duty, and the ways to fulfill it, shouldn’t be discussed.

      Of course there are different audiences and venues for discussion. I wouldn’t discuss mother guilt at a PND support group, and I wouldn’t necessarily talk about safety to rape survivors, although I’m not a psych of any sort and I don’t know the effects that might have. I suppose it could be argued that the internet is public, so there could be victims reading this and therefore we shouldn’t discuss these things. But that is de facto censorship as well as being impractical. It’s not my area, but I can’t think of a single society that has become more restrictive and decreased power imbalances. And I can’t see any other way to address power imbalances than by open and honest discussion of all aspects of the situation.

      Perhaps I should have chosen a different issue that came out of the situation to focus on, but in a parenting blog and as a parent of girls I thought this was an appropriate one I could address. I’d love to hear from a parent of boys – what you are going to teach boys would definitely be about a lot more than safety. And I’d love to hear some parenting strategies to help address any of the power imbalances in our society.

      Reply

      • Posted by plahski on May 23, 2009 at 6:05 pm

        Yep – I was talking about the recent thing with the NRL – I should have been more clear – I actually was agreeing with you but also reiterating your point about safety not being the be all and end all of the situation.

        When I said “shouldn’t be the focus topic” I don’t mean your topic I meant that in general with the media there was a lot of focus on the victims actions to determine blame.

        So overall I agree that it is so important to teach our girls and boys that there ARE monsters out there that will take advantage of situations and that the best thing to do is keep safe but don’t think it is your fault if someone takes advantage of any situation.

      • You’re right, the focus of the media has been on the victim instead of the men. But I’m glad I had the chance to explore it a bit further, because I wouldn’t want people to think victims are to blame.

        And it made me think about my position more, I’m absolutely serious that I’d love ideas on how to address the power imbalance. That’s why I like these conversations, I think they are the way we form the society we pass on.

  2. Posted by perfectmum on May 23, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    To be honest, I’ve been trying to steer clear of this story…I find that a lot of the horrific stories I read and hear about in the media then rattle around in my head for days and weeks afterwards…I just don’t need it. But I came across this insightful blog written by a father about this incident…well worth a read I think…

    http://blogs.theage.com.au/lifestyle/whosyourdaddy/archives/2009/05/what_would_matt.html

    Reply

  3. Posted by MummyTiff on May 24, 2009 at 1:35 am

    As the mother of a girl I hope to teach her everything you wrote about Deb and I hope with every fiber of my being that reality doesn’t happen to her. Like you wrote I think there is a lot to be said for being aware and taking precautions but even the best laid plans fall by the wayside in situations where factors are out of your control and like Pip said, when that happens NOTHING the victim did or didn’t do should be called to account in my opinion. But my goodness, what a scary world – I really do try not to think about it too much because it is too much for my brain to comprehend.

    I am also the mother of a son. I have thought a LOT about what I will teach him and again I hope I can teach him to behave in a way that would make his Mummy proud but in the presence of friends, alcohol, temptation all that could go out the window. So very much like our girls there could be factors outside of his control that affect the choices he makes (not to say that he would then not be responsible for his actions). Perhaps this seems idealistic but if we’re talking about how I would like him to learn to treat women I would like him to think about whether the way he is treating a woman is the way in which he would like his own sister to be treated.

    You know what is interesting in what I have written though? The assumption that might daughter could be the victim of an act against her whilst my son could be the perpetrator of an act against a woman. Now there is a societal stereotype that I don’t like.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Coran on May 30, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for that link PerfectMum. It makes for some interesting reading. I think that if it were one of my sons that had done that, I’d be ashamed. If it were one of my daughters that it happened to, well, I’d be murderously angry, I think.

    The linked article talked about being a gentleman. I think that’s a concept that should be re-introduced and recognised more – “a man of inner strength, character, confidence and humility”, as the article put it. I remember that when I was a boy my father had a framed copy of Rudyard Kipling’s “If’ hanging over my bed. It must be one thing dad got right, because I think that I had the impression, from a young age, of how important it is to be a man, rather than just look like one.

    Reply

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