Dunghutti woman Marie Barbaric broke her silence at Sydney’s March 4 Justice last week. Until then she hadn’t spoken of the shame and humiliation she carried in her heart.
The shame that comes of being one of Australia’s Stolen Generations, of being an abused teenager, of being sold by her foster father for $20,000, while the government stayed silent.
That’s the sound of institutional abuse. Silence.
Speaking out was difficult, but when Barbaric did she felt the sisterhood’s support. I felt the same when I broke my silence at the Flesh After Fifty Festival, the weekend before.
There is nothing like a supportive crowd of women. You’re held in an invincible current flowing in the right direction.
Until you’re not.
Twitter is a nasty place. After my column in The New Daily last week I read angry tweets from women enraged because I will not speak my rapist’s name. They said I’m not courageous enough, and they must speak this truth.
They are right. We must always speak our truth. And I was glad to hear theirs. I had kept my silence until I was good and strong and ready to listen to the opinion of others.
But these opinions remind me how easily we get distracted from the war we dearly need to win.
In the sixties, radical separatist feminists claimed that women who slept with men perpetuated patriarchy. Enter stage right, the ‘I Am Not a Feminist, But …’ team. The fight was on.
I stood in the centre, a slightly lesser feminist since I longed to lie with the enemy.
Truth is, feminism is only about equal rights for women, especially equal rights over their bodies.
It’s about her right to sleep with who she wants. It’s about her right not to be raped. And, her right to a legal system that will protect her.
Our legal system doesn’t protect any woman yet. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s why I won’t speak his name. Doing so won’t protect me.
In Canberra Brittany Higgins described the dangers of speaking out. Her story exposed the gaslighting and ghosting that happens when you do. Higgins reminded us to beware. ‘‘Set boundaries for yourself and be ruthless in your defence of them’’, she said.
Just because the battle rages doesn’t mean you must speak out.
Keep the silence that protects you and roar with the sisterhood. All we have to do is roar to shatter the gagging silence. It doesn’t matter how we do it.
That’s what Brittany Higgins did. Shattered the silence. Now she guards her silence while her oppressors make all the noise. Every day their gaslighting and ghosting is revealed.
Silence is a powerful weapon when in service to the truth.
Take Janine Hendry’s silence, for example. On the Ides of March – yes, the Ides of March – she declined the Prime Minister’s invitation for a private delegation. And she resisted pressure, in the guise of encouragement, from women on his team to accept.
Hendry thought it reasonable the PM speak with the 10,000 women in the forecourt, since they had also come to the Parliament to speak with him.
He inferred his silence was her fault.
Hendry’s was, and remains, a powerful silence. A silence unravelling the government, exposing its Teflon trickery. A silence into which our Prime Minister threw bullets.
This last Ides of March, the wheel turned.
Now women choose when we meet the Prime Minister, and the manner in which we meet him.
Donna Ward is a writer, editor and author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life (Allen & Unwin). She is also a psychotherapist and social worker