CW sexual assault and violence
My life is becoming harder to separate from the news. The news, I have come to understand, is nothing but a head count.
I wonder what it means to have heard these stories, to feel as if I am reflected in women’s lives that have been lost, for the last twenty years of my life.
Maybe it’s easy to see myself in these women as they are nameless.
Wife. Girlfriend. Mum.
Their stories begin to mix with mine; the words men have said rush into my head. My memories are as loud as the radio playing snippets of women’s stories – or rather, their deaths.
‘Never cut your hair. It is your most striking feature.’
— I was 13.
‘Your voice sounds like you’re comforting a kid with a hurt knee. Try to be more assertive.’
— Stranger approached me after a workshop. 23.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’
— A university friend yelled and pushed, after seeing I had kissed a man that wasn’t him. 18.
I don’t know how I became so connected to crime. It fills me with fear, knowing that each action I make can be met with violence. It becomes harder to go out into the world, to move freely through the streets alone.
‘They’re in love with you’
— Co-worker. 22.
‘Teenage girls know their own sexual power.’
— Ex-boss. 20.
‘In the taxi, she was all over me and I pushed her to him. “Pass the dirt,” I said.’
— A friend. 15.
After he’d said this, I wondered what he saw when he looked at me.
I used to think knowing the ending – understanding the violence – would help me stay safe. Locked in the boot of a car, I tell my friends, you kick out the rear light. Then, wave your hand in the hole to alert the cars behind you to your existence.
Hello. I am here. Trapped.
When I was fifteen, a friend told me of a woman at her dad’s work. She’d gotten into her car late one night and as she drove, she found there was a stranger in the backseat. He told her to keep driving. In a moment of clarity, she crashed into the car in front of her. The man ran away – something that women so often don’t have the chance to do.
Later, the police found rope and a shovel tucked under her backseat.
I’m not sure if the story was true; it could have been an urban legend. But more than anything, I felt it was true. It was something that could happen to a woman. I used to wonder, if put in the same position, whether I would find a way to escape too.
When I hear a story like this, I listen carefully. I memorise how the woman responds. I file away the knowledge alongside years of crimes against women. I keep the memories close. Just in case, one day, I need them.
‘Thought of you! Hope you’re well.’
— Friend who assaulted me. 20.
‘You’re a bitch.’
‘It’s too painful to talk to you.’
— We went on two dates. 18.
I wonder how much my fear is impacted by illness. Does anxiety make me this way? Or does the uninterrupted reportage of violence fuel my fear? It’s the chicken or the egg, I suppose. A friend tells me this has a name: the gender-fear paradox. For a moment, I feel less alone.
But I am still lost for an answer: why do I feel close to these women?
I do not know them nor wish to pretend their narrative shares much with my own besides our gender. Their stories have already been both taken and silenced by men and media alike – more so if they were a woman of colour, trans woman or a woman with disability. I don’t want to do the same.
Is it that I feel my death or assault by a man’s hand is inevitable? Did the time Mum told me as a teenager not to walk at night alone and detailed the murder of a woman she knew morph adulthood and fear into one in my mind? Or could it be that, so often, the words of men I’ve known is reflected back to me in news coverage of violence again women?
It feels like the messiness of a cold case I read the Wikipedia page of late one night: Death of Elisa Lam. She was 21. A death that lingers as mystery: did she jump into the water tank or was she thrown? I feel sick reading about her. So much written is about her illness; I see the published list of her meds. I learn little about who Elisa was: she called her parents every day. She visited the San Diego Zoo. She had begun a fashion blog. These details are not enough to show who she was. Her life is defined by death.
Would a page for me be littered with the same mix of small details and meds? Would it link to this very essay, a twisted foreshadowing of a dark fate? Reading and listening about the deaths of women, I know even less about the why of my connection to them. I’m all questions and no answers, bar one:
Katerina Bryant is a writer based in South Australia. Her work has appeared in Griffith Review, The Lifted Brow and Island Magazine, amongst others.
Image used under creative commons license courtesy of Miguel Figueroa.