Recently, there was a question and answer show on TV in Australia. The subject of domestic violence was brought up, and a member of the audience shared his personal story involving the death of his sister at the hands of her partner. The audience member also mentioned an incident that occurred recently involving several male journalists laughing and joking about drowning a female journalist.
A male panel member answered the audience member, and then a female panel member spoke. When she became understandably passionate and emotional about the subject, in response to what the male panellist had said about the incident, he called her “hysterical”.
The next night I watched a program where they interviewed the male panellist about his use of the word, and the show’s commentator explained the historical significance of the word, especially in regards to women. The panellist said he would use that word again if he was in the same situation.
Afterwards, I was talking with my mum about the whole thing. That the subsequent program had invited the male panellist to speak about what had happened. That the whole conversation was not about domestic violence, or the fact that the sister of an audience member of the original q and a show had been murdered, but rather about the use of the word “hysterical”.
I said to her something along the lines of: I know how important it is to change the way society speaks about women, but I am more concerned that there is, on average, one woman killed per week as a result of domestic violence. I have to pick my battles, and murder is the battle I’m picking right now.
As soon as I said it – “I have to pick my battles”, I knew that it was wrong. Not that I was wrong for saying it. But that society has led me to believe that I have to pick my battles. That we have to work on the big stuff – murder and violence and rape – and make our way down to the smaller stuff – the disgusting jokes and the language and the dismissal. That I should have to pick a battle when it comes to my gender. I shouldn’t have to accept the fact that people are going to talk down to me, and talk about me in a negative manner. I shouldn’t have to accept that I’ll get to that part one day, but for now I have to work on reducing the number of deaths occurring in my country as a result of violence against women.
The program shouldn’t have invited the male panellist to talk about what had happened. He used the word “hysterical”, and he had already said his two cents. Why was the female panellist not invited, so that she could share the importance of not using that specific word, and the importance of language and the way we speak about women in general, and bring the discussion back to domestic violence?
WHY was the man who dismissed the horror of a group of male journalists laughing about killing a female journalist as just a joke among blokes invited instead? WHY was the man who dismissed the words of the female panellist with his sentiments on her emotion invited instead? WHY was he invited?
These are all pretty rhetoric questions, and I’m almost certain that anyone reading this knows exactly WHY he was the one invited. Because, once again, the person who was given power was a male. The person given permission to speak, nationwide, was a male. The person given the opportunity to explain his feelings was male.
In terms of domestic violence against women, I see so many services and initiatives focussed on the aftermath. On noticing the signs in a male partner. On helping women and children get out of the situation. On helping them move on. But what I don’t see is preventative measures. Services and initiatives that work to teach society that violence is not acceptable in any manner – verbal or physical or any other type. That work on saying: no. You do not result to violence. That is not the way.
Why is it this way?
Maybe it’s because we’re forced to pick our battles.