How Much Does Non-Violence Cost?
Our standards are only as high as we hold them
Editor’s note: The proceeding story was written in the thick of Me-too timelines, and pivoted around the conversation of gendered violence. As time has unfolded since its writing, the themes and notions contained have become more relevant, as we see with increasing ferocity, violence finds stages upon our screens and enters our normative reality. The Will Smith and Chris Rock Oscar’s incident that has since gone viral, raises a series of questions about the role of protectors, and what means we can use to employ in the name of defence. To some, Smith’s hand across Rock’s face is an agent of justice for those who are rendered defenceless, whilst to others it represents a horrifying overstepping of self-righteous violence. How we narrate experiences like this collectively, often fall into the habit of sensational categorisation, trying to determine whether we are staring at foe or friend of humankind. What is to learn when we witness this through a lens of looking for a human, like you or I, grappling with the weight of injustice? Is there in fact a necessity to violence and it’s undeniable force when it is defending values we collectively agree upon, or is the quality of violence itself in direct opposition to the values it stands upon?
Today I woke up without the weight of a word blanket I’d held closely to me for a few years. The words I’d swallowed and knitted were given greater purpose than serving my victimhood, allowing my experience of sexual assault to become a mouthpiece for those still holding onto their blankets. Admittedly, without its warmth and certainty, I don’t think I’ve slept properly once since publishing the story. But undeniably, I do feel more like myself, with a will to change the locks on my door again. Like this home we are building together and this body my soul lives in, might be safe again one day. Finally. Maybe.
Radio and television news is full of commentary on the scenes inside Australian parliament, as we start to reckon with the top-down infiltration of predatory behaviour in the places we are supposed to feel most represented. On morning car rides, the airwaves rattle with parliamentary back and forths, brimming with clumsy addresses and booming males attempting to sketch the face of the beast we are staring at, without noticing it looks remarkably like their reflection in some ways. Not because they are male, but because of the male they choose to show up as. Though I’d consider myself a duly calm person, during these segments, I am barraged by my own tears, brought on by a latent Scott Morrison’s voice fumbling to unite everyone in the battle against sexual violence against women. My tears are a mixture of relief that we are all seeing the same thing now, that we are safe to believe ourselves because the white horse is being promised, with an accompanying sense of self-preservation that I can’t count chickens of hope before they hatch. And an omnipresent fear that our resources are being misused.
I’ve seen social media like this once before. It was during the Black Lives Matter movement, but admittedly, my privilege afforded me more inner peace back then. I only fought against racism from the comfortable whiteness I was born into. You see, it’s easier to escape fatigue when you don’t have to prove your voice is worth listening to, and I wish I’d known that then and acted from that place.
Scrolling through Instagram Stories, a new viral post takes lead rotation slot in the circulation every few days as the masses trickle towards the same points of understanding. It’s easy to lose hours trying to find the next infographic to progress the conversation, or to dissect the multitude of readings on the matter. It’s strange following the strands of information back to their sources, and realising I will never truly be able to grasp the weight of the original wearer’s reality.
This, of course, does not come without trauma and heaviness. As a collective, we are here to begin the reconciliation process. To pay our debts to one another, to speak into these long undisturbed shadows of humanity, to get our voices back. Not just women but everyone. Men too. Men checking in with intention to support and self-inquire more deeply is the first step to turning over the old paradigm. Which is why when this does happen on our screens or in person, I do believe we have to celebrate it with as much of our broken hearts as we can muster. We need to welcome each other to the part of humanity that believes we can all be better. We are practically re-parenting ourselves, raising each other as citizens of a new world order. As we do for children; we have to reinforce the behaviours we want to see more of. Even if they’re impotent at first, and using the wrong words. Even if it’s frustrating to watch, like a child falling off a bike. Even if it seems performative. It is, after all, a starting point. And that is better than silence and stillness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what this would look like – a world without violence towards women. A world where women can be more attentive to their hopes, nurture their dreams, be visible on the street, talk openly, kiss and love freely, without fear of being preyed upon. A world where women may not even consider partnership because being independent, alone and thriving is safe. Imagine the quality of relationships that would be formed in a world where we truly want the people around us. In this utopia, men would be nurtured more. Violence would become less of a threat to us all. Men wouldn’t engage in fist-fights, they’d speak eye-to-eye.
We haven’t lived in this reality yet, but we are in the process of creating it. In the same ways that we are products of our parents, and their parents. Potentially our parents breathed some of the violence they’d lived back into us, their children, leaving us to grapple with inherited violent tendencies in whatever degree that may have been. But also, realising through our own humanity that our parents probably swallowed just as much of it out of conscious choice. What I mean by this is that we may have been passed violence, but potentially, we were passed it in halves. How we pass it forward is our choice.
This movement is the culmination of so many brave humans. Particularly brave women. Some have been speaking aloud, but most of them have been busy healing their hurts in silence. People sometimes forget that there is genuine exhaustion that comes with wearing the shoes of both the victim and the victor of social change. That trying to speak your mind and heart to a system that attempts to silence you is wearing. Unless, that is, those in the system have experienced something similar themselves. Brain imaging shows that we can empathise with other people’s pain, but we can’t assume we feel it in the same way. If you’re finding it easy to speak on the topic as a non-victim of violence, I prompt you to ask yourself why. I dare you to lean in and question, “are my words making a difference in a positive way?”
We must continue to be mindful of this.
Particularly on social media. A place where, as always, the best and worst demonstrations of humanity can be witnessed. On each platform, I’ve seen women coming forward, sharing their stories and, in some cases, naming their rapists outright. I’ve watched men comment “shut up” or “lol” as if their ability to objectively dismiss another human makes them superior. I have seen men write “not all men” as if they needed to be absolved from the actions of their peers.
I have seen countless conversation-starting resources explaining why “not all men” is still part of toxic masculinity where for some, it’s a genuine attempt at an expression of solidarity. I have also witnessed people openly attacked after penning these sorts of posts. Here in these portals between conflicting realities, there is an alarming dominance of cancel culture and violent language steering the collective.
In a world that perpetuates violence, and with so much disagreement to be had over discourse, we cannot afford to slip into old ways of resolving these issues. By dividing men from women, good from bad, making one type of human superior from another. We are, at the end of the day, no matter what gender we identify with, on the same team here. I want to support all humans to take their place here. Why?
Because supported women support themselves. And when that happens the flow-on effect does not stop.
Supported women support other humans.
Supported women support men.
Supported men support themselves.
Supported men support other men to support women.
Supported men support other humans.
I don’t believe we are looking at a coincidence when we see that the prevalence of male violence against women sits alongside the prevalence of male suicide. Let alone, the unrecorded instances of male violence against men. It is hard to not look towards men as key players in this change, when violence instigated by women is so disproportionately miniscule and largely statistically non-existent. We are staring into deep wounds, these are complex social issues. There is no quick, simple fix. Transformation takes time, and willingness.
But here are some ways you can show up to join the momentum so these stories don’t home themselves on the dusty shelves of our subconscious anymore, regardless of how you identify or express your gender.
Increase your self–care.
Switch off from socials when things get overwhelming and inform your loved ones of how best to reach you. Hydrate, prioritise sleep, exercise, meditate, journal, seek genuine connection and affection. Nourish your insides so your cup can stay as full as possible.
Practice self-aware communication when interacting with others.
Know when you are entering an interaction needing something, versus when you are entering an interaction wanting to give something. Be clear on when you need to be validated and heard, and when you are able to be open to listening and giving someone else validation. Where are you projecting your traumas or lack of understanding onto others?
Check in on your friends.
Send them love, ask them how they are, let them know when your ears open for listening and when you need them to respect your space as you process and heal.
Practice safe boundaries when it comes to exploring emotions, triggers and trauma.
Always ask: “Do you have space for me to tell you how I’m feeling with (x)?” before emotionally dumping. If someone responds with an honest no, thank them for their honesty, and consider where else you can turn. There are online counselling services available including 1800 RESPECT national helpline, Lifeline and Beyond Blue running around the clock to catch you where friends can’t. There is no shame in utilising these. Our free to use Self-Service textline is also a great space to workshop behavioural changes or emotional tools.
Realise that a woman who has shared her story online does not necessarily have the emotional capacity for you to disclose your story to her too.
Your trauma stories deserve to be held in a safe space and received in a way that will help you feel seen and heard by someone who has the capacity to do that for you. Consider if there is someone you are avoiding disclosing to who is nearer to you. Maybe you are getting closer to healing this with them. Consider if there is a professional you can speak to who can support you as you assemble your next steps.
Use trigger warnings when posting online about rape and sexual assault.
These protect those who are victims of sexual assault from being re-traumatised by stumbling into emotionally triggering content. This can be noted as TW: SA/rape.
Seek to have solutions-oriented conversations.
Avoid getting stuck in “feeling” loops, where problems can be accidentally magnified and energy can quickly be sucked into conflict or further violence. Go into conversations knowing the feeling you want to walk away with as a clear outcome.
Avoid cancelling other people.
Cancelling, ignoring and diminishing someone for their inability to understand can be another form of micro-violence. Try to educate rather than criticise where possible. If a conversation is derailed and no longer productive, know when it is time to separate and return to self-care. We need to consider the sustainability of discussions as they progress, so be brave enough to respectfully reject conversations that feel toxic.
Practice nonviolent communication when calling out bad behaviour in others.
We can no longer afford to rely on violence in any capacity. Promote nonviolent conflict resolution with your friends. The way you speak to people you have issues with not only impacts yourself but those around you and sets a precedence for how you instinctively treat all people. What might seem to be okay in the moment, can have negative impacts long after.
Learn when and how to say sorry properly.
Take accountability for your actions and apologise for wrongdoings when it is due. Don’t diminish the power of apologies by apologising for your emotions, appearance or personality. A sincere apology looks like this:
Show remorse. “I’m sorry for” NOT “I’m sorry you feel”
Take responsibility. “I know I hurt you” NOT “I know you are hurt”
Offer to make amends. “I would like to find a way to make it up to you” NOT “Please forgive me”
Make a promise/pledge. “I promise to never do this again” NB. only make promises you intend to keep
Reflect on the following questions to think about your role in the conversation.
Be prepared to feel discomfort. You are stretching new muscles as you learn new information and become more aware:
When I sit with and reflect on my past I feel _______
A time when I could’ve acted in a less violent way to another person was _______
The part of myself I need to give more time and love towards at the moment is _______
I find ________ to be the most uncomfortable part of the conversation about violence
When it comes to my own sexual experiences, I wish I knew more about _______
One thing I am going to seek an expert’s opinion on (either through research or booking an appointment) is __________
One self-care practice I am going to employ to keep my energy sustained at the moment is ________
I am going to practice nonviolent communication this week by replacing ________ with _________