Saturday, February 18, 2012

The slap

A couple of days ago a guy I went to school with posted this charming article on his facebook wall, offering it up as a how-to guide for all us poor unmarried lonely hearts. A kind of odious self-improvement manual, heavily laden with barely concealed scorn and judgement for anyone who might be so ill-informed as to think that marriage is not the single most important life goal possible for a woman. Just to be clear - I am not friends with this person, online or otherwise, but such was the outrage caused by his post in my school friends (of both sexes) that it showed up on my timeline purely on the strength of everyone else's comments. Naturally I read it. And after I stopped feeling the need to punch someones face and/or dry-retch into the nearest bucket, my first thought was this:

Oh for fucks sake.

To think there are women sitting at their computers all across the globe, sipping gingerly at their hot water and lemon and nodding sagely as they think "gosh, you know what? She's right. I am an angry, self-serving whore. I need to change drastically in order to please someone I've never met, despite the fact this article assures me marriage is mostly a lot of hard work for very little gain" just sets my mind reeling. Not because I hate marriage or because I feel articles like this are betraying the mysterious sisterhood or whatever. It's because the whole premise of this article is patently ridiculous. Oh shit, not married by 36? Well, that's it then. All those things you achieved? That job you love? Those relationships you cultivated? Your house, your savings account, your flings and holidays and life experiences? Worthless. You've got no husband and, let's be honest shall we? You're not getting any younger.

The article begins with what I can only assume is meant to be a 'knowing' comment about feminism, or the apparent lack of that wanting to be married purportedly implies. But that is NOT WHAT FEMINISM IS ABOUT. Feminism is about equality. So I can get married straight out of school and be a stay-at-home mother, or I can never get married and have a high powered job, or do anything in between and still be a feminist because it was my choice. Personally I'm not sure if I will ever get married - it's to early to tell as far as I'm concerned. But I am sure that I want to make my way across the globe with an overused Barclay card and an oversized back pack. I'm also sure that while I'm on my way I'll want to kiss strangers whose names I don't know, and have flings with people who speak another language, and wake up with hangovers and manic memories and brilliant stories to tell when I finally wash up, broke and hazy, back on Australian shores. And when I do get back to Oz I'm sure that I will want to use my brutal ambition to carve out a career for myself that I can describe as exciting and exhausting and successful. I might not have a husband, but I intend on having a hell of a time.

So I was feeling pretty smug, what with my misogynist-hating friends and confident outlook when, in an astounding feat of cosmic timing, I went out on Friday night and got hit in the face.

All the men I know have been told, fiercely and repeatedly, that you do not hit women. So, understandably, it took me completely off guard. I just had no way of dealing with it. I ended up drunk and shocked and sobbing in the middle of Soho, completely unable to deal with the simple fact that I'd been hit. It wasn't even that painful. I woke up with a slight bruise on the side of my face, but given I bruise like a peach this is hardly a reliable indication of harm done. I've experienced much worse pain. And it wasn't even that big of a deal. I've known women in my time who have been beaten, raped, repeatedly abused. Comparatively this was a walk in the park. But it floored me nevertheless, primarily because I did nothing.

I went home, and I cried, and I got up this morning and went to work and life just went on. Of course. It was a blip, an irregularity on the face of my otherwise very happy, very lucky life. If the world stopped for every minor act of violence we'd be at a perpetual standstill. I felt shaken, but in the harsh light of day I also felt foolish, and ashamed. I had done nothing to defend myself. My friend's boyfriend hit him back; I didn't. It was a tiny event that made me feel weak, and worthless, and very, very small. But the worst thing was, when I was walking home and on a very expensive phone call to Australia, I realised that what I wanted most was not my mum, or my friends, but a man. I wanted someone to stand up for me, protect me. Isn't that awful? Isn't that the most hateful thing I could possibly have thought? Just two days before I had scoffed at that dreadful 'Why You're Not Married' article, and yet there I was, falling back on those same ideals because I got a scare.

Thankfully, thankfully it didn't last, and tonight I was able to make jokes about having joined a fight club to liven up my evenings with my old host-parents pre-babysit. And I play-fought with my old kids, safe in the knowledge that Ben will never ever hit a woman. It'll be an anecdote - that time I got hit in the face in Soho. It will sit in amongst the memories of other poor life choices and awkward situations, and pretty soon I'll find it mostly funny. And if anyone ever tries to hit me again, or tells me I deserved it, at least now I'll be better prepared. Because if there's ever a next time, it sure as hell wont be me that ends up crying. Or - if what I've read is true - finding my future husband.

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