Looking beautiful was never top of my priority list as a young woman, but when I had a couple of black eyes I felt as ugly as all hell. They were not courtesy of an aggressive assault in the school yard or playing rugged football; rather, inflicted by a man I loved who I believed (thought?) loved me. Or so he attested time after time! Did I walk away? Not initially. His persuasion was promising; avowing to never hit me again and retreating into tears when I told him it was over. I wanted to trust his word; on so many other occasions, he was smart and sexy, where we enjoyed a close and convivial companionship coloured by interesting and intimate intelligence. How did I feel when I looked in the mirror to see one eye badly swollen, puffy, black and blue with tinges of purple and yellow, and unable to open that eye? I felt sick, disgusted and sad, totally remiss to understand why he had hit me. Verbal hostility was one thing; we had arguments that were fuelled by jealous passion over sexual infidelity (both his and mine), but hitting me was something else; something I just couldn’t comprehend. It complicated everything; love so quickly distorted by hatred ( was it his unconscious self-hatred he projected onto me?)and disrespect; one minute I was a wonderful sexual mistress and in the next, a dirty slut! Was I succumbing to this behaviour because my self-esteem was low? Indeed, I had my own career which was thriving, my own apartment and my own economic independence and there were no children, so why did I keep on forgiving him and believing in a new agenda without violence? I knew I thought well of myself; I was an attractive, confident and independent woman who always condemned his violent outbursts, so why did I stay in the relationship? The truth was I loved him as the good man he often was, when there were periods of peace we shared together as a loving duo, and reconciling that man with the flip side of his character seemed impossible to fathom. Like Jeckyll and Hyde, he was two different people and however naïve even stupid I was, I kept faith that the good man would win through. But there were times of emotional violence too, when he would verbally abuse me about my work (I couldn’t write), my appearance (I was too fat) and my attitudes (women can’t play around like men do). Of course, at other times, I was the best woman he had ever met; asking me to marry him which I rejected. I think I knew deep down that his violence was a problem that wouldn’t go away. It was a very complicated scenario; I didn’t accept his physical assaults; I never excused them and I began to realise that my pity for his lack of control was irrationally misplaced. I wasn’t going to put up with him any longer and as the sad apologies became more and more frequent, I started to understand he had issues I couldn’t deal with. In the first couple of instances, I thought I might be able to help (how naïve was I at 21?) but it became increasingly clear I was completely out of my depth. So be it – after he nearly killed me one night and I picked up a knife in case he came after me as I wrestled free from his grasp, I had to finally acknowledge it was over, despite my tears and despair. I was lucky to be alive; lucky he didn’t follow me into the kitchen, lucky he fell asleep after being out all night drinking. (But he even kicked me on one occasion when he was sober!) Alcohol-fuelled violence now hits the headlines as commonplace but more than 30 years ago, talking about violence; albeit domestic violence, was infra dig. And the statistics of domestic homicide are truly frightening – more than one a week around Australia with 75 per cent of offenders male and a female victim. But even my girl-friends didn’t want to know what had happened to me; they liked him and stayed friends with him, too. (Are women really worse to women as some people say?) Truly incredible as I reflect on it all now; but I swore to myself that I would never make that mistake again. I knew men who were violent had no place in my life; except maybe as a basic bed fellow without any relationship.
Over the following years, I always asked men I met if they had ever hit a female, and sadly, about 80 per cent of them answered yes, only to add, but….as they tried to find some justification for their behaviour. Suffice to say their words fell on my deaf ears; I had no time for any of them ever again. But the verbal abuse and put downs I encountered in my workplace only increased as I started to climb the ladder in my career. And to my horror, I discovered quite a few of the male reporters I worked with were also violent to women. But while I recoiled from any relationship with them, maintaining my dignity at work became harder and harder. By my mid-twenties, I was earning a pittance, and expected to put up with bullying and abuse. Knowing the symptoms of this kind of behaviour all too well in my previous private life, I knew I had no choice but to get out of that workplace. No one would ever say I had low or no, self-esteem ever again (another very naïve belief on my part), I worked hard, was very good at my job and deserved a lot more than the exploitative and humiliating scenario I was supposed to put up with. And the pattern of this psychological violence as I called it just continued everywhere I worked. I was in search of justice and a fair go when all I received was a paltry pay packet and continued harassment. But no one said I had a good sense of myself for refusing to put up with this masochistic hell without respect and responsibility, indeed, by walking out of shit jobs I was impractical, incapable and incompetent. And worse, I was deluded for thinking I deserved better. Who does she think she is, when the bosses would assign me impossible stories I knew I would never succeed in – with subjects that never wanted to know the media or grant any interviews.
But now after almost 30 years of this repeated scenario (with years in between of unemployment which forced me to accept jobs I felt belittled my talents and hard work) I am once more unemployed and labelled unemployable. As a woman, I have come to understand that standing up for yourself and demanding a fair go are simply incompatible unless you play the game of sucking up to the bosses and undertaking every shit job they give you to do. Call it quits and you’re the one with all the problems, without self-belief or healthy self-esteem. At least over the past decade or so workplace bullying has taken on new meaning in the media; there are books about it which focus on the psychopaths in the office but what are we supposed to put up with? What, I wonder, is the definition of healthy ego and self-esteem when we’re supposed to accept being put-down in the workplace but never in our own homes? Be involved in domestic violence and as a woman, we’re as sick as the perpetrators but walk out of a job that psychologically maims us and we’re also sick for not putting up with the abuse.
For me, society can’t have it both ways and of course, I’m now the one struggling to make ends meet while contemplating a future without a good job. I’m living on saved money and I write this blog to try and highlight the continuing ironies and contradictions that pervade this country. I call it cruel to women who don’t conform and won’t settle for less, who want and deserve a fairer go in the workplace when now, at my age, I am experiencing the injustice of ageism, too. But as a Femmosexual who’s happy with myself, I can somehow muddle through and am no longer rattled by those who label me a failure or loser for walking out of those shit jobs. I now live in peace and harmony despite my impecunious circumstances, albeit alone.