Tag Archives: Domestic violence

A kick to the groin, a karate chop

IWD Bathurst
Sally Neaves and Leah Moulden from Rahamim at the IWD event in Bathurst.

I’ve just returned from a stint on a stall at the International Women’s Day event in Bathurst. This day has many and varied meanings, some entirely contradictory, but that’s to be expected. Women come in all ages, sizes, shapes, races, height of heels, wealth, education, sexualities and even biological starting-points (in the case of trans women). School girls in their white blouses trooped in. Business women networked. After unstructured time for a trawl around the stalls with their fliers about domestic violence, aged care and health, we were called to order to witness a martial arts display. The mats were brought out and a group of young women and one young man readied themselves nearby, wearing black suits with orange embroidered or appliquéd flames running up their trousers.

I’ve always had a bit of trouble with the self-defence narrative when it comes to women’s rights. Some of this may stem from the fact that, as a teenager, I was rubbish at judo. We practiced in a hot metal shed out at the pony club. The vinyl mats were spongy and thick and sweaty. I wore a hot, white, quilted suit. I remember half-heartedly doing a bit of uncoordinated kicking and flailing about. Deciding I was hopeless, I plumped for just riding it out until I could legitimately declare (to Mum, who sewed the suit) that I’d given it a go and now wanted out.

There’s also my suspicion that the self-defence narrative helps perpetuate the idea that men are violent, lustful creatures by their very nature. Rather than putting the onus on men to change their attitudes and behaviour, self-defence puts the onus on women to change their attitudes and behaviour. Fight like a girl!

But unlike me in the sweltering hall at the pony club, or me stuck in the mental back rooms of feminist discourse analysis, these young black-suited women were putting their hearts and hands and feet into it. They were shouting and grunting and making precise, jabbing, swishy movements. It was exhilarating to watch. Their moves told a different story about young women: not passive princesses but active creators of their own lives.

After the girls had dealt with each other, the young man of about the same age stepped forward to play his part as perpetrator, the prowling opportunistic stranger who might accost them in a dark alley or an underlit carpark.

Another twinge of unease. Despite the media’s entrancement with Anita Cobby and Jill Meagher – both victims of the lurking stranger – most violence towards women is perpetrated by their own partners or ex-partners. I think back to last winter, when Nadia Cameron was shot by her ex-partner after she’d left him. Lurking, murderous strangers certainly exist, but women are much more likely to be raped, injured or killed at the hands of the men they know.

The young man performed his role in good spirit, repeatedly felled by a young woman with a swishing long blonde ponytail. In a sharp, unambiguous movement, she pretended to knee him in the groin. This final humiliation was a high point for the ladies in the crowd, who met it with clapping and cheering. This seemed to be the end of the show. But it wasn’t, not yet.

Off to one side of the mats there were two big heavy concrete breeze blocks with three stacked roof tiles suspended between them. As the young women retreated and disappeared, the young man picked up the top tile and took it over to be inspected by members of the audience. Yes, a genuine roof tile out of someone’s shed, complete with spider webs. He went back and carefully replaced the tile. Someone lay a towel over the pile of three strong tiles. Holding his palms upward, he lowered and raised the backs of his forearms over the tiles, sizing them up. And then, in an almighty display of strength and technique, he suddenly punched his forearms downwards. The tiles smashed satisfyingly to the floor, kept from spraying in all directions by the bath towel. More clapping.

I made my way back across the room and sat down behind the gentle undulations of our crocheted river. I could hardly believe what I’d just seen, on International Women’s Day no less. It was as if a display of female strength and assertiveness could not go unanswered. It had to be immediately “corrected” by an even more dramatic display of male strength. That mental image of the vanquished boy on the mat with the girl standing triumphantly over him must not be allowed to linger. No, he had to get up and have the last “word”.

I’m sure this was not intentional. I’m sure it was simply the local martial arts group displaying its wares, putting itself through its usual paces. I’m sure nobody was thinking about the appropriateness of a dramatic display of male physical strength on a day dedicated to celebrating women’s rights and achievements. But that’s how culture works: it’s invisible. We find ourselves doing things that feel natural. After we’ve broken the natural order, we feel compelled to restore it again. So the roof tiles had to cop it.


UPDATE

Righto, this has been an interesting one. As soon as I hit “Publish” on this blog, I started to worry about it. Was it fair to dump some heavy-duty feminist theory on the local martial arts group? Possibly not. But then, what’s the use of feminist theory if it’s not used to think through the situations we confront in everyday life? Social change happens when we keep these discussions going. Anyway, this evening I got a phone call from Gerarda, who is a leader of the martial arts group I’m talking about in this blog (and author of this book). She understood my problem with the appropriateness of the tile-smashing at the end and took that on board, but felt I’d also been sarcastic about the particular girls involved in the demonstration (or their group). Oh dear. The last thing I want to do is be negative about girls being involved in a positive, assertive activity that builds a sense of strength and confidence in the world. The girls demonstrating their skill yesterday were amazing, and I was genuinely impressed. Their group is obviously highly professional. Gerarda pointed out that the training received by the men in the group is all about self control and skill and the utmost respect for women. Young men with such training learn ways to handle themselves consciously and respectfully in the world. I do take this on board – it’s obviously a great club doing great things! Hopefully this note will go some way to counteracting the whiff of negativity in my piece. But I’ll let my original post stand, because I do think that on a broader level my uneasiness with the self defence narrative (ie its place in the wider movement against violence against women) is worth putting out there. But this is an ongoing conversation and one that links with much wider issues around creating a culture that is genuinely non-violent and respectful towards women. It was great to have that chat!

 

Honouring one of the 62

rose_nadiaIt was another gorgeous spring day in Bathurst, with birds vying for trees and plum blossoms dusting the footpaths with pink petals. The priest in white and gold stood on the steps as we made our way into the cathedral with its giant sandstone columns, soaring stained glass windows and an altar surrounded by dozens of flickering candles. There were easels holding up two portrait shots of a beautiful brown-haired woman. One was a close up with her chin resting on her hands. The other showed her with a young boy. Moving quietly among us were Zenio Lapka and Chris Seabrook, photographers for the Bathurst City Life and the Western Advocate. Their presence was a reminder that this was not an ordinary memorial service. People were here, and people would want to know about this ceremony, because Nadia Cameron is one of the 62.

So far this year, that we know of, 62 women have died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners. Back in July, the number was not quite that high, but it was climbing. It was on July 18, the day Bathurst was blanketed in snow, that word went around town that something dreadful had happened: Elie Issa, proprietor of the ever-popular Elie’s Cafe, right in the middle of town, had murdered his ex-partner Nadia, who worked at Bathurst Real Estate a couple of doors down. He’d shot Nadia twice in his living room in his house at Kelso, and then he had turned the gun on himself. It was shattering. In the days afterwards, piles of flowers appeared at the doors of both premises.

Today’s service was a chance to to process the shock and celebrate a beautiful life cut short.

“As Nadia died violently and suddenly is important for us to gather as a community and grieve together,” said the celebrant, Father Paul Devitt.

The cathedral was the appropriate place because Nadia was a regular churchgoer. Father Devitt pointed out the spot where Nadia usually sat on Sunday mornings.

Nadia’s friend, Barb McTaggart, read the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon…

Another friend, Lee Illingworth, told us that her own youngest son and Nadia’s son Jordan had been best friends for three years. They’d both attended the Cathedral school. The boys had ridden motorbikes, gone swimming, played soccer and eaten at McDonalds together. Lee had first seen Nadia at the school gate wearing “Kylie Minogue hotpants and a boob tube”. She was a woman who took great care of her appearance, and was quite open about trips to Sydney for cosmetic procedures and hair extensions.

“She wasn’t bragging, she was just telling me in case I needed to get some hair extensions,” said Lee.

She spoke of Nadia’s generous spirit and care in showing her friends that she cared for them.

“Every time I see a beautiful woman I’ll think of Nadia,” said Lee.

David Swan, speaking on behalf of Judge Andrew Colefax SC, who was unable to attend because of illness, read out First Corinthians Chapter 13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Another friend, Christine Le Fevre, who runs the Bishops Court Estate boutique hotel, said Nadia had come into her life in “such an effervescent way”. Nadia had turned up to book her son’s Christening party, but stayed on to become one of Christine’s dearest friends. She was a “beautiful gorgeous girl” who lit up a room; she never forgot a birthday or other special occasion; she was radiant, beaming with life, a beauty on the inside as well as on the outside. She loved the finer things in life, like champagne and shoes and Paris. Christine and her husband David Swan had been in Paris when they got the news of Nadia’s death in the middle of the night. The following day, David went to the Somme as planned but Christine was in no mood for the battlefield. Instead, she spent the day shopping with Nadia, seeing things Nadia would have liked to see, buying things Nadia would have liked to have.

“She’s been taken from us,” said Christine.

Christine said she had taken all the flowers and cards left for Nadia outside Bathurst Real Estate office and was composting them ready for a memorial garden in her honour. The garden will feature a lipstick maple tree.

And then Christine turned her attention to the 62. She said that TV presenter Lisa Wilkinson had spoken out against domestic violence, and Nadia’s face was there on screen as she spoke.

“Nadia’s out there being remembered in our world,” Christine said. “We must stop this from happening.”

Barb McTaggart added her own memories of Nadia. The two women had met at the Health World gym. Nadia had shown a great talent for chatting, exercising and keeping up with the instructor at the same time.

Michael Buble’s “Home” and “Flying High” rang out from the overhead speakers.A team of beautifully dressed women – dressed in honour of Nadia’s dress sense – gave out tiny plastic glasses of champagne or sparkling mineral water. Father Devitt asked us all to be upstanding. He said we should stand partly so that we could drink a toast to Nadia, and partly because “we must make a stand against domestic violence.”A woman came along the pews handing out fresh long-stemmed white roses.And then we all spilled out onto William Street. Just a couple of blocks away, Elie’s Cafe remains closed. But Bathurst Real Estate will open its doors as usual tomorrow. And it was still a beautiful spring day.