‘What do you do with the mad that you feel?’
So asked beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, whose show Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood screened on public television in America for almost four decades.
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot in recent weeks, since Brittany Higgins so bravely spoke out about the rape she alleges a colleague perpetrated against her in Federal Parliament, only to be met by the all too predictable level of victim blaming meted out against women who come forward; since Chanel Contos launched a petition to codify the teaching of sexual consent in the school system, after collecting the anecdotal accounts of hundreds of girls and young women who have been sexually assaulted by boys attending some of the most elite private schools in the country, only to be met by the all too predictable tidal wave of backlash that comes from privileged young men determined to protect their power; and especially so since the government’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter, revealed himself to be the Cabinet Minister at the centre of an historical rape allegation, only to be met by the all too predictable obstinance of disbelief that pours forth whenever women dare to say they’ve actually been subjected to the thing we are taught from childhood to be most wary of.
In each of these circumstances, the systems that support rape culture have worked overtime to maintain the status quo and deflect responsibility with the loudest, most powerful voices in the country racing to squash any inkling people might have to believe the women speaking out.
What do you do with the mad that you feel?
What do we do with this mad that we feel, this mad that boils inside us like volcanic lava? The mad that is both fresh and new, a squalling baby torn out of you covered in blood and mucous, and yet so old that it’s older than time itself?
It is the mad that began as a seed, planted the very first time we heard the words, ‘Close your legs’ and nurtured steadily, carefully and fastidiously over the years with every casual reference made to what was she thinking and women lie and what did she expect and why was she talking to him and she’ll get herself in trouble one day and what was she wearing and boys can’t help themselves and and and, until it surrounds us like a wild, impenetrable forest from which we cannot seem to escape no matter how many different ways we try.
It is the mad that courses through us like an electrical current, the lightning crackling across our skin so badly some days that we feel like we might burn everything we touch. The mad that began back when we were children, when this man or that man touched us in a way we didn’t like, and then another one did it another time, and then another, and then another and it was always in secret, always shielded from view, because people you see, they wouldn’t understand. And on it went, until the day arrived when we learned those secrets didn’t need to be kept anymore because those secrets, they were compliments now and everyone could bear witness to them and declare them to be harmless. Funny jokes, a laugh, just a bit of slap and tickle. Boys being boys, come on sweetheart it’s a joke not a dick don’t take it so hard, lighten up. And so we learned to laugh, to brush things off, to not cause a scene, to tell ourselves we were overreacting, to certainly never be so arrogant as to think these men would ever choose to do these things to us seriously, to touch us seriously, to grope us in a way that would ever imply serious intent because who would ever touch a fat, disgusting lump like you, take a look in the mirror c*nt as if anyone would ever rape YOU.
It is the mad that stalks you in the night, that tiptoes up your back to whisper in your ear, ‘Did you really think things would ever change?’
I am consumed by this madness.
I am in a rage. I am in a rage over the rape apologism, a rage over the victim blaming, a rage over the ‘not all men’ deflection, a rage over the orchestrated doubt, a rage over the eagerness to manufacture motive for the supposed fabrication of a 30-year-old crime, a rage over the lack of accountability, a rage over the refusal to believe women, a rage over the discrediting of women’s testimonies, a rage over the hypocrisy, the absolute hypocrisy of men claiming allyship, of saying they would never tolerate the abuse of women, that as fathers of daughters they would NEVER TOLERATE the abuse of women and how dare you suggest otherwise, that as fathers of daughters they ABHOR violence and would NEVER TOLERATE IT, that they HATE rape and would never tolerate it, how dare you suggest otherwise, they have daughters for god’s sake, they’re fathers of daughters!
It’s not all men they say, and definitely not them, it’s not all men, and in fact no men at all, that it’s no men, no men except the ones they decide, that it’s no men they could ever know, no men they could ever be friends with, no men they could ever work with, call brother, call father, call son, that it’s no men at all and so it must be women. It must be women who do this to themselves, by being attractive, by being alone, by being out after midnight, by drinking alcohol. That women ask for it and women lie, women ask for it and women lie, they ask for it and then they lie, they lie to trap men, to punish men, to hurt men, for revenge, for power, for fame, for attention, for money, for all the things that women get when they ask for it and then lie.
That it’s not all men, no it’s not all men, that men are under siege, our sons are under siege, that it’s a very scary time to be a man, because imagine if this were happening to you, imagine that a woman could just do this to you, imagine for a moment that it—the rape I mean and not the injustice of being accused of it—imagine that this didn’t happen and that a woman could just do this to you and if she can do it to you then she can do it to all men, yes all men, imagine just imagine just imagine a world where this could happen to you.
What do we do with the mad that we feel? What do we do with it?
I have watched as powerful man after powerful man—and some women too, because who better to do the dirty work of patriarchy than the women desperate to pretend it doesn’t exist—has stood there to emphatically deny what it is we are told as women every day to guard ourselves against. I watched as the Prime Minister admitted with no apparent shame that he hadn’t watched the prime time interview in which Brittany Higgins shared details of her colleague’s alleged assault against her, because he had ‘events’ to go to.
Our own Prime Minister does not appear to consider the alleged assault of a young woman on his watch to be urgent enough to command his full attention, does not appear to consider allegations of rape against one of his senior Cabinet Ministers to be urgent enough to demand an inquiry, does not appear to consider the female constituents of the country he is charged with leading to be worthy of consideration at all and here, once again in my life as a woman on this planet, I need to know what to do with the fucking mad that I feel.
How are we still here? How many hashtags and movements do we need to convince the world of women’s reality? How many men will climb and climb on the backs of women to achieve godlike status, only to turn around and say she either wanted it or it didn’t happen at all? How many women will have their own paths to greatness blocked by those same men, their light dimmed and potential decayed?
There are so many promising young women whose names we will never know.
We are in a rising rage, the women of Australia. Let’s rise with it. Let’s rise.