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17 Jul Rules for Women

It is quite hard being a woman. There are lots of rules. They are not written down explicitly in a list. They turn up implicitly in editorials, popular commentary and casual conversation. A woman works them out from reading between lines and divining the assumptions upon which people’s statements are based.
 
So a woman doesn’t go to Wiki and read a list of rules about what women should or shouldn’t do to avoid sexual assault. Yet we all know what is on that list.
 
The first unwritten rule is, of course, that it is up to women in the first instance to avoid being sexually assaulted. She mustn’t be out at night, alone, in a dark place. She mustn’t be drunk. She mustn’t wear a short skirt or revealing top. The onus is on her, if she doesn’t want to be sexually assaulted, to not look like does.
 
She mustn’t meet someone and get in a car with them, obviously. She mustn’t trust anyone or take them at face value. She mustn’t assume that anyone she doesn’t know yet is a good person. That would be silly, and asking for trouble.
 
This is despite the fact that it is estimated 85 per cent of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim. Most of the time, you might conclude, a woman would be safer with a stranger.
 
But we must travel in groups and dress Amish, and drink green tea and stay home a lot. Then, if the worst thing happens, we’ve spent our whole lives being ready for people who ask if we broke the rules.
 
It has become clear in the past week that there are unwritten rules for how a woman should behave, not just prior to a sexual assault, but after one has been alleged.
 
She shouldn’t talk about it, for starters. Maybe if she’s weepy and looks damaged and frail, sure. If the victim is dead, we’ll take anger and outrage from her family, criticism of a system that let them down. But not from a victim who appears confident, articulate and certain of things. That feels inappropriate somehow, right? We know what a victim should look like. And it shouldn’t be stronger and smarter and braver than us. That makes us uncomfortable.
 
And she shouldn’t talk about it too soon. Maybe after everyone else has spoken she can have a turn. Though she shouldn’t leave it too late, either. We’re suspicious of those women who leave it years to tell their story. Were they really working up the courage? Or just working on their story? If it really mattered, they would have said something at the time. There is a right moment for a victim to tell her story. We’ll tell her when. It’s not like she’s new to being diminished and dismissed.
 
Or here’s a different rule we could try: If you can’t trust yourself not to sexually assault someone, don’t go out alone. Stay home, stay sober, wear pants and call a trusted friend.
 

— Michele A’Court

Rules for Women 17.7.14

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26 Feb The Egg Incident

All kinds of things inform the kind of citizen you turn out to be. One of my seminal moments was The Egg Incident of 1984. I was living in Wellington then, walking along Salamanca Road beside the university on one of those calm, clear spring days the Capital does rarely, but well.
 
A car load of what my grandmother would have called “hoodlums” drove by, hiffed an egg at me which hit me square on the chest and, shrieking with the hilarity of it all, drove on. Totally random, largely innocent (though someone might have lost an eye) and clearly hugely entertaining for them.
 
For me, it was devastating in the kind of way that makes you remember it 30 years on. A very close family friend had just died that afternoon and, sobbing, I was walking home from her house to my flat. I didn’t make sense that someone would throw an egg at me when my heart had just been broken.
 
The Egg Incident taught me that a) you shouldn’t try to make sense of things that don’t make sense; b) you don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives; and c) sometimes the stuff people chuck at you has little or nothing to do with you. It’s just about their joy at chucking something.
 
That’s how I think of geeks who make computer viruses. They don’t get to witness the effect of their cyber-destruction or how it affects people (deadlines missed, opportunities lost, the expense of repair) but they imagine it and that gives them a thrill.
 
Hateful stuff on social media is a bit like egg chucking. They can’t see or hear your reaction to what they say – only what people choose to write back – but they imagine a recipient responding with an interior, “Well played, sir,” or perhaps weeping into their pillow in the dark hours. Hey, it’s their fantasy so they get to picture it however they like.
 
Writing a column can be a bit like throwing an egg. I read one this week about Charlotte Dawson that I wish I could un-read because it felt so cruel. People who hardly knew Dawson – myself included – shouldn’t speculate on what led her to the choice she made on Saturday. And no-one should diminish the reality of mental illness.
 
What we should speculate about is what the rest of us should do. Social media – just like the village pump, town square or office water-cooler before it – can be a brutal place. Or more correctly, a place where people can be brutal.
 
It can also be a forum for tremendous support and kindness. I’ve seen people reach out for help on Twitter and find it – tracking down missing family after an earthquake, or somebody reading the anguish in a tweet and driving over to help a friend in crisis.
 
Someone in my Twitterverse last week created #ShareTheLoveTuesday, a conversation encouraging people to publically name a friend they admire. That kind of thing should go viral.
 

— Michele A’Court

The Egg Incident for the Mainland Live 26.2.14

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