The statistics of the incidence of violence against women are frightening. The news of Eurydice Dixon’s death hit me particularly hard. Maybe it’s because she was murdered in a park that is only a few minutes’ drive from my home. Maybe it’s because she was a comedian who just wanted to bring smiles and laughter to people. I wonder if sharing my stories can make any difference. It certainly can’t hurt, so here goes.
I should preface this piece by saying that thankfully, I have never been the victim of violence or sexual abuse. I consider myself one of the lucky ones but events like this bring up memories of all of those ‘close calls’. My stories are not extraordinary, but are examples of the types of situations many women will have found themselves in.
In high school, when I started to go to parties, I was the nerdy one who would get my parents to pick me up rather than get a taxi home like the cool kids. When I turned 18 and started going to clubs, I always volunteered to be the designated driver and Dad would still be awake until I arrived home safely no matter what hour of the morning it was. I’m grateful beyond words that I had a safe home to return to. Even now at age 34, family members like me to give them a call when I have arrived somewhere safely. I have been brought up to be careful and checking in with family is like second nature.
However, after some reflection, it dawned on me that despite the countless times I’ve walked briskly back to my car after a comedy show late at night and the times I’ve travelled on my own in foreign countries, I realised that the times in my life when I have felt most threatened have been at work, school, on public transport – just going about my daily life, often in broad daylight.
There was the time my sister and I as kids were playing cricket on a vacant block across the road one Christmas Day (I’m not doing much to challenge Australian stereotypes here), when a man drove up to us with his passenger window already down. He was friendly, he waved us over to the car and asked us for help clasping a bracelet on his wrist. When we said no, thanks to ‘stranger danger’ education, he swore and drove off in a rage. We ran inside but were too scared for some reason to tell anyone what happened and kept it to ourselves for years. On Christmas f**king Day!
There was the time in my part time job as a cashier at a supermarket when an admiring customer sent me flowers but didn’t take no for an answer. He kept calling my workplace to find out when I was working and people told me there had been a man coming in asking after me. I was grateful for male work mates who offered to walk me to my car at night as my shift finished after the rest of the centre had closed.
One time that man called the supermarket when I was there and I stood by completely frozen – I couldn’t even speak. A much more confident female colleague grabbed the phone and told him to stop bothering me. I wonder if in a moment of real physical danger I would be able to recall what I learnt in my high school self-defence classes, or would I freeze?
There was the time at my first full time job at age 19 when I dreaded going to work because I didn’t want to hear another sexual remark directed towards me from a male colleague, who was over 30 years my senior. When I got the courage to say something to an HR officer I found out there were already three similar complaints made against him over the years.
I think back now and remember that my initial reaction was relief that I wasn’t being overly sensitive rather than, “How the f**k does this guy still have a job?!” That says a lot doesn’t it? He lost his job that day and I carried the guilt about that too. Then I had to listen to the gossip around the workplace including a disgruntled man who whinged that, “Someone obviously can’t take a joke around here.”
There was the time the week of writing this post when I decided to start driving to the train station instead of walking through the park to get home because if I have to work back late, sometimes the soccer games in the park have finished and the flood lights have been turned off by the time I’m coming home. I hate feeling robbed of my sense of independence.
Eurydice Dixon was a comedian walking home from a gig. The thing with comedy is, it happens at night. Furthermore, a lot of it happens in pubs and bars. I am not a performer but I love to watch a lot of live comedy. During comedy festival time I am in the city as many nights of the week as physically possible and I will go see most shows on my own, meaning I walk back to my car on my own.
This raised enough concern for my Mum to buy me a personal alarm in my early 20’s to ward off potential attackers. I would internally roll my eyes at Mum’s overly protective request to park in an undercover car park instead of side streets so she can sleep more soundly at night. Now I’m at an age where I worry about how I will ever stop worrying about my own future children’s safety.
I have come to accept that it is part of life, along with pretty much every woman I have spoken to about this. I chalk these unsettling experiences up as another dodged bullet, push it to the back of my mind and just get on with things. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t leave the house.
I realised most of the men in my life would have no idea these things happened because I never thought to tell them and I’ve started wondering why. Perhaps one thing we can do is talk to the men in our lives about what we’ve gone through. They may be oblivious to that constant underlying fear lurking in the back of our minds.
I don’t have the answer and I’m sure the solution is some time away but I can almost feel that the tide is starting to change. Sadly and infuriatingly we don’t yet live in a world where we can afford to turn off this awareness of danger. I hope that it will be better by the time I have children. In the meantime I will keep working, I will keep catching the train, I will keep travelling, I will add my voice to the fight, and I will sure as hell keep seeing comedy shows.