As teens and children preoccupy media commentators, researchers, governments and parents, so too the nature of sex, love, relationships and lifestyle of grown-ups. In a recent 2018 article about a survey of men and women about sex with different partners, men claimed sex with about 14 women while women’s experience was limited to just seven men. Comparably, my 80-plus men seem incredible, if not disproportionately askew with most women and men too. But hey, that doesn’t surprise me.
A column by Australian writer, Nikki Gemmell, in the Weekend Australian magazine, 4-5 August, 2018, included recent research from Public Health England that showed 42 per cent of British women suffer from a “lack of sexual enjoyment.” Gemmell and/or the survey did not reveal the women’s ages, marital status, cultural or religious background or sexual preference, but I ponder whether the figure would be much higher if women were more honest. It is somewhat shameful to acknowledge, particularly if one purportedly professes to be happily married, that the sex is not part of it. So many married men I had dalliances with since my twenties attest to that reality.
Moreover, Gemmell continues that “Only a quarter of women orgasm from penetrative sex. I’m not one; yet it took me until my thirties to understand I wasn’t abnormal. For years I thought I was defective in that department.” Her honest admission I suspect also afflicts many more women, but opening up about it is something else. The issue for me however is why sex is seemingly so problematic for so many women and men too, apparently. According to Gemmell, participating in a UK radio discussion about sex with five men, she admitted she doesn’t like giving oral sex and once the mics were off, one guy said “You know, I hate getting blow jobs.” “Me too” said another. Gemmell states: “Forty per cent of a group of men saying they don’t actually like fellatio? “Why didn’t you say that on air….One man replied: “I have a sexual stereotype to live up to.”
What then is going on? Is it all still about adhering to stereotypes, whatever they are in this 21st century for women and men both, pretending their sex lives are all sensational, swinging, sweet and saucy? Gemmell also writes that as women “we’re complex, gloriously so…sex is a process of distilling, discovering with experience what works and what doesn’t…” She further mentions having the “courage” to say “No, actually, not there but perhaps here….Or sometimes I find it monotonous when you make love to me, and occasionally it hurts.” Her choice of the word “courage” is alarming; implying that a woman needs to be brave to say what she wants and needs rather than having confidence in her own pleasure. It is a sad state of affairs that communicating with one’s partner seems so fraught for both sexes.
I don’t recall ever denying a “hurt” having sex, though I certainly didn’t articulate what I wanted and needed until my 40s; more to do with my own ignorance about what pleasured me than any embarrassment or stereotypical shame. I took risks, experimented and explored myself and men too as I could, but that doesn’t seem the way men and women even begin to approach sex with a partner. Indeed, with the revelations of the #MeToo movement since October 2017, it seems sexual harassment and sexual assault are almost commonplace and accompanied by violence behind closed doors in suburbia.
An article in the Herald Sun on February 28,2018, headlined “Hell at home” detailed data of a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that found one in six women and one in 16 men were victims of sexual or physical partner violence. Women were more likely to be abused by someone they know while men were apparently more likely to be abused by a stranger. During 2014-15, almost eight women and two men were hospitalised each day after assaults by current or former partners. And from 2012-14, one woman a week and one man a month were killed. The report, with data from more than 20 major national sources, showed ¾ of reported perpetrators were male. Ninety-six per cent of females experiencing sexual violence say they were abused by males, 49 per cent of males are abused by females and 44 per cent by males. Rates of partner violence against women remained relatively stable between 2005-16. The most vulnerable were young, disabled, indigenous and pregnant women, those separating from partners and women experiencing financial hardship. Nearly 2.1 million women and men saw violence towards their mother by partners when they were children. Nearly 820,000 people witnessed violence towards their father. AIHW spokeswoman Louise York said “…this early exposure can heighten their chances of experiencing further violence later in life.” The direct financial cost of this violence is estimated at $22 billion a year, including healthcare, counselling, lost wages and child and welfare support. A later news report I saw on TV said one in six young people exposed to family violence will be involved in a violent relationship themselves. I was one of those six.
The Victorian Government held a Royal Commission into Family Violence in February 2015 with 277 recommendations to reduce its incidence and provide assistance. An ad campaign is still on going in the mainstream media, with one-page ads in The Age and Herald Sun sponsored by the government. These ads are all directed at men. One suggests “SAYING SOMETHING SAYS A LOT”, following on with “RESPECT WOMEN> CALL IT OUT. It continues: “To end family violence we need to recognise how it starts. It starts with a lack of respect for women….Staying silent means you accept what ….(a man might say jocularly) and he gets away with it. You don’t have to say much, just something.”
The Andrews government committed $2 billion to tackle the issue but organisations on the ground “have complained for months that reform was having little impact,” according to a story in the Herald Sun on May 11, 2018. Anti-violence campaigner, Phil Cleary, whose sister, Vicki, was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who later committed suicide, spelled it out by asserting: “…the greatest danger women face is the man in their life,” as reported in the Herald Sun on May 19, 2018.
Revealed in the Sunday Herald, now defunct, circa 1989/91, there were 100,000 serious assaults reported to Victoria Police in 1989 compared with less than 10,000 in 1960. Police figures show that about 70 per cent of all reported sexual offences occur in a house…(where) they are actually more vulnerable in a home with people they know. Between 60 and 70 per cent of attackers are known to the victim. The Sexual Assault Centre at the Royal Women’s Hospital estimates at least nine out of ten rapes remain unreported with stats suggesting they are running at about three a day in Victoria.
With Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinsten, now facing charges for sexual assault and rape, and a plethora of men not just in the US, but in the UK and Australia allegedly perpetrating sexual harassment and rape too, it should be no surprise that I experienced all of this in the media, here and in the UK, four decades ago before the issues hit the headlines. Now in America Supreme Court judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh is facing an onslaught of alleged sexual misconduct by women who knew him as a younger man. One woman alleged he assaulted her while another claimed he exposed himself to her, similarly as the guy at Thames did to me. French actor Gerard Depardieu has also been accused of rape as has soccer superstar Ronaldo. American comedian and TV star Bill Cosby has just been jailed for 10 years for drugging and forcing sex with a couple of women and the list of men alleged to have committed sex crimes just grows and grows on a daily basis. Many women might be speaking out now but I didn’t speak out about Richard because I didn’t believe imprisoning him would alleviate or solve the problems he had or that I had in supposedly loving him. Obviously, violence still permeates many so-called “loving” relationships as I witnessed in my own home as a teenager though without a punch being thrown. The emotional violence I experienced as Erin Pizzey wrote, so damaged me and evolved into a relationship with a violent man, both physically and psychologically. The reality is my experience was not at all unusual; sadly, too usual if the previous stats are accurate. I am lucky to be alive.
However, where did I go wrong? Was it initially going out with a man I knew was violent or more significantly, taking him back too often when he had been violent? Certainly, I knew the psychiatrist I consulted about Richard and I didn’t have a clue so who does? How can one understand “loving” a man who abuses you? And was having a violent home background, with both parents exploding resentfully and emotionally at each other and sometimes at me, explain it all? Was my young comprehension about “love” and sex inextricably linked to violence? The fact it is so common is alarming and not just in the domain of the disadvantaged and lower scale of the socio-economic spectrum.
In 1988, I wrote a feature article for The Australian Jewish News about domestic violence, with then assistant director of the Jewish Centre, Marilyn Gross, saying the centre has handled about 30 cases of domestic violence with some victims married for more than 20 years while others for less than 10 years. She said: “Women are now coming forward more than before, but it is hard to ascertain whether anything in the family environment has changed over the years.” Most of these women “still (say) they love their husbands.” Then Victorian Information Officer in the Office of the Status of Women, Renata Singer, emphasised “domestic violence is endemic in all cultures. Our whole society is violent….”
National Council of Jewish Women Victorian president, Geulah Solomon, said she was “horrified” at the extent of the problem, calling for a program in Jewish day schools and greater community involvement in dealing with the issue. Gross added while the Centre has been dealing with individual cases for the past two years “there are many, many more women we’re not reaching…”
Moreover, she said ten years ago, in 1978, she “absolutely refused to believe” domestic violence was happening. She thought the women were hysterical and making it up, both Jewish and non_Jewish women. Her training, she said as a social worker, had been so “anti-women”. Slowly, as more women recounted their stories, she changed her attitude. Reacting emotionally to the plight of Jewish women, she felt “Outraged, frightened and confused…,” but helping these women was difficult as some didn’t even acknowledge violence as the crux of the problem. “Shame is a big factor in trying to disguise the real problem: It’s an unconscious process for them; they can’t deal with the indignity or the fear.” Furthermore, the attitude of the abusers compounded the problem. “Sadly, too many of the abusers will not accept that they are the aggressors and refuse to seek counselling. They blame it on the women who, they say, cannot cope, behave hysterically and provoke the violent reactions.”
This scenario was all too familiar to me as my relationship with Richard attested. However, in my family my mother was also explosive, resentful, had low self-esteem, lacked confidence and felt angry, “bottled up” inside while my father exploded on the outside. According to Gross, the men too are “frustrated, angry, resentful and haven’t learned the skills to resolve conflict without violence. But too often, they’re defensive and retreat from any personal confrontations.” In this perspective, it could be comprehended it takes “two to tango” and it may be that women and men react differently to their frustrated resentment. Certainly, Richard and I did too, but he wasn’t the only man to avoid personal confrontation in my life. After splitting from Richard, I stopped confronting people, both men and women who were abusive to me, not necessarily as Richard was physically, but family members and friends who chose psychological abuse as the weapon to control me with. It failed.
Clearly, I internalised some of the emotional poison of my family environs but when I worked it out for myself after ending my relationship with Richard, I was only too well aware of the “signs” of discontent and delusion of many people, not just about me, but about themselves. The inability and/or unwillingness to confront themselves and instead projecting their personal poison onto others became very clear to me and I started walking away from these people. However, some ambivalence towards Richard and my family and friends remained within me for some years until I really perceived how it all manifested to my detriment. Clarifying that once and for all in my late 30s brought my ambivalence to an end about myself as well as others, learning to love myself as a whole without feeling torn by my emotions. I never looked back.
The tragic outcome of the Victorian Government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence is that most media focus has been on the men as the sole perpetrators with violent women, be they physically violent or more usually psychologically violent, receiving little attention. Family violence has been scribed about as a male problem, by men as much as women commentators. In May 1990, I researched and wrote an article for New Woman magazine about emotional abuse by women of their daughters. Understanding how my mother and sisters too as well as some female friends had emotionally abused me, I interviewed several people highlighting how mothers in particular can be as abusive as some men including fathers. Headlined “Emotional Abuse: Are you guilty: How to give your child the right support”, this violence is now recognised as a “specific pathology in State legislation around Australia” claiming thousands of children as victims. In NSW, 13-16 per cent of all child abuse cases are emotional with nearly 2000 children deemed at risk It is however the most “difficult” area to define as there are “no black eyes or bruised limbs.”
Victorian director of Child Protection Services, Robin Clark, said in my article: “The bones don’t always tell a story. A child could end up an emotional cripple. While it is a vague and fraught area to delve into, that’s not to deny it’s a real form of child abuse…and cuts across the socio-economic scale. It is also most frequently perpetrated by women….” Ms Clark added: “Parents often don’t realise the destructive effects their verbal tongue-lashing or cold withdrawl has on their children…They don’t confront their own emotional inadequacy and the behaviour is passed on from generation to generation.”
Social worker with Victorian self-help group, Parents Anonymous, Ro Bailey, was in an unrewarding marriage (though her husband was not a drunk nor did he bash her), but she “was critical and sarcastic to my two children and vented my frustrations on them….my own behaviour was frightening to me. Once my daughter was screaming so much that I picked her up and threw her into her cot. I didn’t realise that what I was saying verbally could be damaging too.” Ms Bailey then sought help with other parents and now counsels others. “Verbal abuse doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other; it can scar a child for a lifetime…”
Parents Anonymous receives about 400 telephone calls a month and most of its clients are women. Carol is a typical example of a woman under stress who unconsciously repeated the same emotional abuse towards her four-year-old daughter as she had experienced from her own mother. Married for eight years and now 30, she’s been taking tranquillisers for two years and while she has a social sciences university degree, she was “too scared to enter the workforce. I’ve never worked. I didn’t believe my mother loved me and as a teenager I was anorexic. Sometimes my mother would get so cold towards me and withdraw from me and I thought it was all my fault. I blamed myself for everything. I used to think I was useless.” She’s now receiving help from Parents’ Anonymous.
Carol’s mother’s behaviour towards her was somewhat similar to my mother in that she could behave very coldly and withdraw from me into her own shell but at the same time, she could also be very warm, affectionate and loving. These mixed messages, or ambivalence, coupled with my father’s similar emotional confusion towards me, addled my psyche so I felt I was “suffering” at home and led me, I believe, to continuing my relationship with Richard after his first violent outburst. My mother and father both exhibited similar traits, albeit emotionally. Internalising my parent’s ambivalence with many psychological and emotional conflicts about my confidence, self-esteem and self-respect, played out with Richard because he evinced the same ambivalence towards me as I experienced in my family. One day warm and loving and full of affection to then abuse me violently the next. His ambivalence made me similarly ambivalent to him as I would be loving towards him when he was to me then become cold and withdrawn when he was violent. Taking him back consistently expecting or hoping things would change took me months to break that cycle.When I ended that relationship, I already had some insights into my conflicts and then embarked on resolving them. But how many women, mothers, sisters, friends abuse other women? Or indeed, abuse their male partners too? And ultimately and tragically, it is an inner self-abuse they need to confront but too often cannot.
The focus of domestic violence groups is predominantly on men as the perpetrators and one of the few media commentators to write about women being violent is Bettina Arndt. In an article titled “Silent Victims” published in The Weekend Australian in November 2015, Arndt calls that focus an “anti-male bias”: “the zealots controlling public debate on this issue are absolutely determined to allow no muddying of the waters. Violence by women is dismissed as irrelevant; violence against men is routinely ignored and seen as amusing.” Arndt continues that “the epidemic of violence…isn’t just about men.” Tying her report in with mine 15 years after my article for New Woman, Arndt asserts: “Around the country, there are government departments struggling to cope with daily reports of child abuse, most often by their mothers…(and the) abuse by mothers is surely part of the story of violence in the home …” Quoting Erin Pizzey who campaigned that domestic violence is “not a gender issue” she says “I always knew women can be as vicious and irresponsible as men, (pointing out that) “many of the women in her refuge were violent, dangerous to their children and others around them.” Further, Pizzey argues “We must stop demonising men… (and) the current insidious and manipulative philosophy that women are always victims and men always oppressors can only continue this unspeakable cycle of violence.”
This brings me to the novel I wrote in 1978-79 “The Circle War” about this very dynamic which wasn’t published because I made the violence NOT gender specific. It was just seven years after Pizzey opened the first female refuge in London and I had worked out my mother’s and father’s emotional violence, not just towards me but to each other too. I believe many people who read my novel thought it was about Richard and I; that I was as violent as he was, even homicidal because the female character wants to kill him; the fact she doesn’t deemed irrelevant. Indeed, for speaking out about the truth of many women, Arndt says of Pizzey her “honesty …attracted constant attacks- she was forced to flee her native England with her children after protests, threats and violence culminated in the shooting of her family dog”. I certainly relate to how Pizzey was treated as I think I was punished, even persecuted for writing about female violence at all; the silent subterfuge for its non-publication.
In February 1999, I did pen a journalistic article headlined “Females in a Fury” about female violence that was published in The Age but the headline distorted the truth about female violence and a specific woman, who chose not to reveal her real name, that I interviewed about female psychological violence was omitted completely. No one I interviewed, including a male forensic psychiatrist even began to understand the issues underlying emotional violence and/or physical violence perpetrated by women.
In another article in January 2018, Arndt says “women’s role in family violence is emerging ever more clearly. Every third victim of intimate partner violence is a male. Almost half the people being emotionally abused by their partners are male.” Maybe my novel 40 years before was just too early for people to confront. However, while one woman a week is killed through domestic homicide in this country, one man is killed every ten days. She claims: “…few of the 75 males killed in the most recent domestic violence incidents (2012-14) attracted the media attention given to female victims.”
In the 1990s, (date uncertain) an article in the Herald Sun detailed findings of a report by the Accident Research Centre at Monash University finding men made up a quarter of domestic violence victims admitted to hospital. Co-author of the report, Ms Jenny Sherrard, said: “It is not only a female problem as some literature might lead you to expect. Men are also represented. It is important men are not neglected. In 1990-91, 11 women and one man died from domestic violence. The study analysing 53,320 cases of adult injury presenting at emergency departments of five Melbourne public hospitals, identified 239 positive cases, 265 probable and 261 suggestive cases of domestic violence injury to females. Comparably for men, there were 49 positive cases, 53 probable cases and 52 suggestive cases of domestic violence injury.”
The article continues quoting Don Parham who produced a documentary called “Deadly Hurt” about domestic violence, who said that while the figures show men were violent in the home at twice the rate of women, “there was also psychological violence….There is a psychological violence inflicted on men by women- that ability to cut through a man’s ego. It’s the power and violence of words.” My novel, “The Circle War” was about this issue among other things as I already understood how my mother and sisters abused my father who reacted by abusing them. I didn’t abuse my parents, but the psychological violence perpetrated by words in the home was possibly more damaging than a black eye. In an article in The Age about Parham’s documentary, Moira Rayner claims that his assertion that the “cycle of violence” starts in the home is only “half right” She asserts no “theoretical explanation is the entire answer. Power imbalances are part of it.” She quotes the 1990 National Committee on Violence report that highlighted a combination of low employment and socio-economic status, booze, and a climate of violence.My family home was only without the booze, but my characters in my novel both consumed too much alcohol. Moreover, Rayner concludes that “The best defence to violence is not to be a victim, but women pay heavily for ebing strong. As Marg Piercy wrote: ‘A strong woman is a woman is whose head a voice is repeating, I told you so, ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch, ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back, why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t you soft, why are you quiet, why aren’t you dead? For men, I think it is an inolerable burden to be strong and in control all the time’…Strong is what we make each other. Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid…’ ” Rayner concludes “Let’s be kind to one another. Pax nobiscum.”
Indeed, one woman media celebrity, Lisa Wilkinson, however commented in her Andrew Ollie memorial lecture in 2013 that women can be “unkind” to women for complex reasons including competitiveness and a dearth of opportunities for females that heightened that competitiveness. The Australian writer, Ruth Ostrow, admitted in 2018 in an article that when she was younger and single-mindedly pursuing her winning career, she was “unkind” though she doesn’t acknowledge whether that was to men or women or both. Moira Rayner’s words should resonate with all of us but in nearly three decades, kindness towards each other, irrespective of gender, seems as distant a reality as it ever was. Emotional and physical violence still permeates domestic enclaves as well as social media, the school ground and almost every aspect of our lives. Even pedestrian rage is now a phenomenon. Are so many people so frustrated, unhappy and prone to violence? The depressing answer seems to be “yes”.
I quoted a few lines from a letter my mother wrote when I was 10 in 1960 to my father, my sisters and me earlier in this book and I’ve now decided to pen the letter in full. It says more about our family than I can, revealing the resentment, bitterness, anger and sadness in our home, particularly my mother’s complex psychology. It reads: “I want to have a talk to all of you. First of all to you, my husband. When you married me, you were like James Stewart in the film, promised me the world. I haven’t got it, and I don’t grumble about it, but I do expect a little consideration from you. I am not rude to you or anybody else in this family and I expect the same from you. When you break something, or do something that you shouldn’t, or do not do something that you should, I do not perform like you do. I have gone through twenty years of married life without any luxuries, without that tenderness that a woman wants, without that feeling of having someone to lean on, someone to look up to, when there is trouble, I have not willingly hurt you, in fact I have gone to the other extreme and bent over backwards not to. I have always pretended that I don’t want this or that or better clothes or better entertainment or help in the home because I know that we haven’t got; not because I didn’t want it and what have you done? Whenever you have to do something in the house there is always trouble, always quarrels, always rudeness don’t you think I am tired too? I am built for comfort and spoiling not for the rigours of life and rigours is what I have. So I am telling you I can have all the materials things I would like I at least expect real love not by word of mouth when the mood strikes you but in acts, and I would not care two hoots for the other things I do not butt in when you tell the children what to do in fact I tell them off if they don’t listen, but you nearly always do. In fact, I’ve had it.
As for you, my dear children, the same applies to you. I have made sacrifices for you, but then you did not ask to be born and any mother deserving of that name would do so, but again I do expect a little bit of consideration and appreciation, because believe me, if I do not get in, again in acts not in speech, I’ll just nick off as the Australians say. And I’m not saying this to frighten you. I would be just as unhappy as you if I had to leave, but I just can’t stand it any longer. Please learn that money doesn’t grow on trees, I know you really know that, learn a little bit of co-operation, a little bit of courtesy, learn that you only get out of this life what you put into it, there are a few who get things (material) easily, without working for them, but the average person has to work to get anywhere and again I do not mean only socially and in money matter even if you want a good figure, skin, teeth and a good heart good feelings kindness, thoughtfulness, those things have to be practiscd over and over again until they become second nature.
I also know in every family there are squabbles and fights and so long as the family feelin is there everything is allright I do not expect anyone to be perfect no one can be, but try a little harder and you’’ll be surprised how easily it will grow on you. Because if I have too much and too many arguments I’ll just explode and bust. You Pam learn how to hold and control your temper you Ruth learn how not to be so lazy and to be told a thousand times to do something and learn to do without things you want without thinking you hare badly done by and Pauline, learn to take your medicine as you should and I don’t only mean medicine for sickness. I love you all very much and want what is best for you but I find that I can’t cope much longer, especially if your father yells at me for things in which he shouldn’t even be interested in.
Also everybody learn to put a real value on things and people not because of what they cost, or how rich someone is, or what they appear to be, try to understand the real value of things or a person their nature, make-up, don’t buy a pig in a poke as the saying is, but look for what is underneath, sometimes you will find there is nothing there ad will be disappointed and other times you will find the search will be worthwhile and you will find the gold and not the dross. This may be a little bit over your heads but later you will understand. I hope you won’t make the same mistakes in life as I did, but you will make plenty so try and equip yourselves with a strong character so you can take anything which wishes to deal out to you without much complaining and moaning.
AGAIN don’t forget I love you all.”
There are clearly lessons I understood from this letter about appreciating people for their inner goodness not because of their external accoutrements but the tenor of my mother’s lament is I believe indicative of many women of her generation who married and expected a happy ever after life, putting her sense of self second to her husband and children as well as her own sense of development, growth and learning. Fortunately I kept this letter to better realise how my mother succumbed to the fairytale mythology; be it in a book or movie, believing in the romantic ideal of prince charming and domestic bliss in suburbia. Understanding how frustrated she was, I didn’t make her mistakes, just different ones which I also understood as I got older.
But was it just my mother’s generation that were unhappy with their lives? In September 2018 in an article in the Herald Sun, a national survey of 15,000 women by the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health program found “it comes as no surprise that almost half of women have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.” It showed women having high levels of anxiety and depression with two-thirds of women feeling nervous, anxious or on edge nearly every day or for several days a month. Nearly one in five women find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep or have had unsatisfying sleep nearly every day in the past month. Are these women also prey to the fairytale mythology, now juggling careers unlike my mother, (she just had a boring retail job) with children and a busy schedule? Like my mother however, these women are trying to do it all, working, mothering, being good wives and homemakers too. The survey revealed that half of these women thought they were overweight or obese but didn’t have time to cook healthy food because of work and family commitments. Twenty-six per cent of the women said they had no time to themselves each month. Twenty-five per cent said they weren’t motivated enough to be healthy and less than twenty per cent cited cost. So what is happening out there in suburbia? And if the mothers are anxious or depressed as was my mother on her tranquillisers of sodium amytals, what is the consequence for the children? Could the health or more aptly the ill-health of mothers impact the mental health of the children as it did me? With more mental health issues for young people as I wrote in earlier parts of this book could it be mothers are “projecting” or passing on to their children their own anxiety and depression and/or are the children internalising some of the problems as I did? Are these 21st century women simply trying to be superwoman and failing because the concept itself is unattainable and unrealistic? Is it just a question of not having enough time or as the headline of the article highlighted these women are just “run off their feet.” But why are they? What are they endeavouring to be? To do? Be everything to everybody in their homes and at work with no time for play? Did they think they could have it all only to feel anxious and depressed because they cannot? Maybe the salient truth is that my mother, a very different generation, was not unlike the women now who having education and supposedly important careers, are still missing out on the support and assistance they need? Has anything really changed in how women believe they want to live and how they are living? Maybe it’s not generational at all, but an indictment of women’s lives that they take on more than they can realistically achieve and then feel depressed because they cannot live up to the superwoman stereotype? If cost is not an issue, then is the fairytale mythology still entrenched in their psyche, just with a modern twist of having significant careers as well as the prince charming and the children? I cannot answer these questions but from my own experience I can only say I did realise how impossible it was to have it all without the support and the financial security simultaneously. It seems the expectations of being perfect, at work, at home and at play, is still wreaking havoc with thousands of women’s lives. And the men? I get to this later.
My mother’s unhappiness with her “lot” was in some ways internalised in me but with insight, analysis and perception to make my unconscious conscious, I learned to be happy with myself, without financial security nonetheless. The sad thing is my mother’s discontent with herself, pervasive in the letter but projected outwards on to my father, sisters and I was as an antidote to facing her own sense of inadequacy and inner turmoil. How she really felt the rest of her life I do not know. She was just 45-years-old when she wrote the letter, living until 88 years.
But it’s not just females abusing male partners or their children emotionally, but according to an article in the Herald Sun in January 2018, “mothers (are) bullying mothers”, “mean mums…driving new mothers towards post-natal depression by shaming them over breastfeeding or childbirth.” “Doctors have warned ‘cruel’ and judgemental women are striking fear into many, who feel pressured to live up to the expectations of others. AMA president Michael Gannon said many women were “competitive” about child-rearing. “I’ve talked to many women who come back from mothers’ groups quite distressed and traumatised….There are examples of women being cruel to each other…”
And it’s not just about child-rearing. Sadly, maybe the salient truth is that both men and women can be violent, physically as well as psychologically, not just between the sexes but within them. Furthermore, may be projection onto others deflects focus on themselves and their own internal civil war that I wrote about 40 years ago. When you enjoy inner peace I believe one has no need, desire or tendency to be cruelly competitive with others. A dissatisfaction, frustration and sense of inferiority within self can manifest all kinds of unpleasant and nasty abuse towards others, especially those “closest” in one’s own home. However I contend that these people are actually not close to their families because they are not “close” to their self, cut off and out of touch with their unconscious and how they really feel. It is far easier and less complex to take out one’s frustrations on others rather than deal with one’s own, let alone trying to understand the source and reasons for the frustration in the first place. A person’s projection outwards is the enemy of inward peace and a manifestation that all is not well on the inside of that person.
The big difference between my parents is that turning 21, my father let go of any semblance of control or even wanting it while my mother sadly continued to try to shape my life until her dying days. My father, calling me a “radical and non-conformist” accepted me as I was and my mother could not, still hearing what she wanted to hear rather than listen to me. Family violence is all too pervasive and I can only ponder whether too many people are still chasing the “fairytale” rather than living in the real world. The BBC Horizon program made a documentary several years ago called “The Truth About Violence” which detailed that we all carry the propensity for violence in our DNA as passed on from our ape ancestors, according to new research at that time. Perhaps what’s significant is we all need to recognise that propensity in us and understand how NOT to give vent to it. It is across the socioeconomic spectrum and perpetrated by children, teens and adults gender, race, religion, sexual diversity and nationality irrelevant. Whether one can eradicate violence is debatable, but at least if we’re aware of our own tendency to behave in this way is a start to stopping it. Too many people are quick to blame others for their provocation trying to justify their behaviour when there should be none.
This leads me to the issue of sexual violence which I certainly experienced with Richard and at Thames TV albeit manifesting differently but the preoccupation with sex, about sex, at work and at play, was paramount. The issue hit the headlines in October 2017 when Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, was accused of rape and sexual harassment by several actors in his entourage. Following this revelation other women alleged similar abuses by other actors and leaders in the community, in America, the UK, and Australia. In Britain in November 2017, the Herald Sun reported that a list of 13 House of Commons’ MPs, including ministers, was circulating accusing them of harassment towards staff with an emergency debate following. This revelation was reported in a British weekend newspaper and the Speaker of the House, John Bercow warned there must be “zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying.” Prime Minister Theresa May called for tougher rules on MPs’ conduct after one of her ministers was accused of asking his secretary to buy sex toys. One minister allegedly called his aide “sugar tits”. “MP after MP stood up in the chamber yesterday to warn the problem was deeply rooted in the culture of Westminister.” Labor opposition equalities campaigner politician, Harriet Harman, said it a “good thing” it was now being discussed. “No one should have to work in the toxic atmosphere of sleazy, sexist or homophobic banter. This is not hysteria- this is something which is long overdue for all the parties in this House to deal with.” This report possibly makes my experience at Thames TV more credible and likewise, the many women who’ve consequently banded together to form the #MeToo movement online, encouraging women to “speak out” about harassment and abuse in the hope they would now be believed.
The articles, letters and discourse that have ensued in nearly 12 months don’t stop as more and more men are highlighted as sexual predators and harassers, including several top executives at Fox News in America and the CEO of CBS in New York. Moreover, the CEO of the Miss America organisation was suspended after 49 former Miss Americas signed a petition demanding he be sacked. This followed leaked emails revealing he and pageant officials name-calling, slut-shaming and fat-shaming previous winners and contestants. In his defence, he claimed: “Much of what was reported is dishonest, deceptive and despicable.” Weinstein himself was voted out of his company, checked himself into a rehab clinic and is now facing criminal charges of rape of three women in the American courts. Other men are still fighting the charges in courts across the world. And it’s not just heterosexual men being named but the actress who accused Weinstein for misconduct, Asia Argento, is now facing sexual misconduct allegations by a 17-year-old boy. According to the Herald Sun in August 2018, Argento denies “any sexual relationship” with a man who says she molested him in 2013 when he was still a teenager. In an article in The Australian on Monday 27 August 2018 it is reputed that Argento paid former child actor, Jimmy Bennett, $US380,000 in hush money after he claimed she assaulted him in a Californian hotel as a 17-year-old. Bennett’s lawyer described the encounter as “a sexual battery” so traumatic that it undermined his career and income and threatened his mental health. Argento had played his on-screen mother. In a statement, Bennett says he worried about the stigma of being a male victim of sexual assault, but also: “I didn’t think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenager. The reporter on The Sunday Times claims “It seems he is right”. There is a perception, she writes “that men cannot be pressured into sex…(making) it harder for them to share their experiences.” Furthermore, she posits Bennett’s accusations “suggest #MeToo should not be a battle over gender but a takedown of all abuses of power. Bennett’s story is not a chance to undermine female victims. It’s a reminder that #MeToo must include #MenToo in its concerns.”
In September 2018, an article in the Herald Sun detailed the sexual shenanigans of an ex-star Collingwood footballer, Dane Swan, 34, and a 20-year-old female, Georgia May Gibson, the latter charged with filming a nude romp with Swan and sharing the footage on social media without his consent. The footage is alleged to have been taken in Melbourne during the 2017 AFL season, a year after he retired. She has been charged with the visual capture of genitalia and distribution of an intimate image and could face up to two years in jail. Furthemore, the footage was allegedly taken while Swan was in a long-term relationship with his partner, Taylor Wilson. Swan reported the X-rated video to the police. Gibson has apparently received a threatening text message demanding she remove the footage or the sender would “take you down with me”. It seems it’s not just men who perpetrater sexually explicit images nor are they the only ones involved in sexual harassment. Journalist Tracey Spicer wrote in Sunday Life in The Age in 2018 that according to the headline: “It’s not just women who are victims of sexual harassment.” She asserted: “Boys are teased, taunted or bullied for showing the slightest femininity.” She referred to a survey by Paula McDonald at the Queensland University of Technology and Sara Charlesworth at RMIT University who analysed 282 formal complaints of sexual harassment in Australia during a six-month period almost four out of five-78 per cent- involved a man harassing a woman. The next largest category was men by men- 11 per cent- women by women-5.7 per cent- and men by women – five per cent. Spicer investigated sexual harassment in the media and entertainment industry finding that serial predators who targeted women also bullid men who didn’t fit an alpha male stereotype. “This underpins why such men are reticent to come forward: doing so draws attention to their nonconformity. What seems to be at issue here in the enforcement of long-held norms.” She continued that the McDonald and Charlesworth research showed men experienced sexual harassment if they deviated from traditional male roles and were pro-feminist, regardless of their sexual orientation. “They are far less likely to report it and receive little support if they speak out.” #MeToo now equates with #MenToo or so it seems, though with far less information available because the men are reluctant to report it. Maybe both women and men have problems with sex and harassment of others, be it of same-sex oriented men and women or heterosexuals, it translates into harassment. The Swan/Gibson situation suggests another dimension; Gibson might have been proud of being in bed with such a star attraction and made sure she could boast loudly about her conquest. This is something some men have done in the past and no doubt, women are now doing it too. It does take two to tango!
So is the torrent of abuse finally being exposed and acknowledged realistically by both genders or are men more vulnerable to accusations of harassment or misconduct if they so much as look lecherously at a woman? And what of the female accusers? And the odd male? What started off as seemingly genuine concern about sexual assault and abuse opened the floodgates of sexual harassment allegations when sometimes all that apparently was involved was a grope on the breast, a hand on a thigh or a sexual comment or joke; the latter accompanied by howls of misogyny, abuse of power and sexism. Former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, lost his position due to such claims, checking himself into a mental health clinic too.
Following the Weinstein scandal, in October 2017 France introduced a new law banning cat-calling, wolf-whistling and harassment of women on the streets with men fined for lecherous and aggressive behaviour, its women’s minister said. The law is to be voted on in 2018 but I have not seen what’s transpired. According to the woman who piloted the legislation, 34-year-old Marlene Schiappa, a feminist and early supporter of French President Macron, said: “It’s not women who don’t speak, but society which does not listen to them. Personally, I find such a proposed law an anathema because it could mean wny man who dares look lustfully at a woman he passes in the street could be charged, even if he says and does nothing. The extreme consequence of even a wolf-whistle and I heard many when I was young seems all out of proportion proivided the whislter does not try to engage in a non-consensual way with the woman he has whistled at. The men who whistled at me did only that and I used to smile back, somewhat bemused by them but certainly never angry or outraged. I was happy they found me sexy enough to whistle at. The French law seems like madness of an altogether unrealistic manifestation about more problems for women with their sexuality.
In February 2018 The Australian newspaper published a letter I penned about the issue. It reads: “There is much to applaud about Janet Albrechtsen’s article (No sex please, we’re politicians”, 14/2) but may I suggest it’s not intrinsically “a new puritanical culture” that’s dominating debate about sexual harassment and whom you bed, but more disturbingly a denial of the beauty and pleasure of female sexuality and the freedom to express itself. The contention, by too many #MeToo females, is that some patriarchal perfidy is undermining this freedom- indeed, women’s moral integrity and human rights- when I contend it may just be that some of these women, be they in the US Congress or in Hollywood, are uncomfortable and anxious about sexuality per se. When I was an adolescent in the 60s, sex for girls was supposedly reserved for marriage, while boys could sow their wild oats. This was my understanding of the puritan ethic pervading my teenage years, but at least this attitude did not decry or deny female sexuality; certainly my mother and father didn’t. Now sadly, it seems even an innocuous sexual comment or any mention of sex between a consenting adult male and female is denigrated as derogatory to women resulting in pain, shame, self-pity and tears on their behalf. This focus is completely misguided, misunderstanding the joy of sex by subverting it as a sexist conspiracy by powerful men preying indiscriminately on vulnerable women. What we need is an honest, open dialogue about sexuality, with all its pleasures, in order to proscribe the current destructive diatribe of a debate.”
The same month, the Herald Sun published another letter in 2018 which reads: “AS the scourge of sex scandals, including infidelity, harassment, assault and child sex abuse, seemingly sullies social mores, why are people so obsessed with others’ boudoir behaviours? Are their own so unsatisfying and frustrating they need to express their disapproval and disdain in public against others for their private pleasure? Or more pertinently perhaps, why are sexual behaviours so susceptible to criminal abuse? Perhaps Freud was right in asserting sexual dysfunction represented more pervasive psychological pathologies, suggesting we should start to see sex as symbolic of a more significant and profound social malaise.”
And as much as I copped heaps of sexual slander at Thames TV by men, it was also women who abused me. Another letter I wrote published in the Sunday Herald Sun in March 2018 about women’s abuse of women reads: “As a young female at the advent of second wave feminism in the 1970s, I vehemently supported the sisterhood and women’s equal rights. Working in the media, here and in the UK during my 20s, I experienced much nasty and vile abuse from sadly, other women, at home, at work and play. It is refreshing to read Peta Credlin (Opinion, March 11) affirming similar experience that “it can often be women that most inflict damage on other women.” This reality suggests so-called feminists should re-examine their biased applause for women per se and acknowledge they can often be more inimical to other women than some men.”
What’s really evident is that the issues I faced 40 years ago are now surfacing as real; be it violence in the home, at work or at play and be it of the psychological or physical nature, focusing on sex in particular as an easy playground for its manifestation.
Realising no one believed me about my family, friends and work colleagues, it’s now at least fortunate that the issues are now in the public domain instead of being hidden by some kind of paranoid conspiracy. Of course, I cannot prove what was done and said to me, but I take comfort that my experience is not an isolated one in the media and showbiz. At the same time, one must be cognisant that sexism does exist but simultaneously, women can be their own worst enemy.
So I went it alone for decades, copping even more criticism for being odd, weird or abnormal. An article in The Age in February 2018 was headlined “Being on your own isn’t to be feared” by writer Kerri Sackville who asserts that many think “the notion that being alone is so heinous, so unthinkable because of course, this is completely absurd.” While she appreciates there are “wonderful benefits to being in a relationship” and some cons, there are also pros to being alone. “Choosing a new partner well is impossible when you believe that being single is unbearable. The answer is not to avoid being single. Good partnerships are borne of desire and choice, rather than fear and desperation.” Unsurprisingly perhaps, more people are opting to stay single for longer with women choosing to have kids alone with sperm donors.
One article in The Age Good Weekend in February 2014, headed: “No sex please, we’re equals” by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, writes: “I’ve noticed that no matter how much sink-scrubbing and grocery shopping the husband does, no matter how well husband and wife communicate with each other, no matter how sensitive they are to each other’s emotions and work schedules, the wife does not find her husband more sexually exciting, even if she feels closer to and happier with him.” This seems to sum it up, albeit very negatively in domestic bliss. She continues quoting a couples therapist, Esther Perel who wrote Mating in Captivity- “Egalitarian marriage takes the values of a good social system- consensus building and consent- and assumes you can bring these rules into the bedroom. But the values that make for good social relationships are not necessarily the same ones that drive lust.” According to Gottlieb, one woman, asking her husband to be more forceful and “rougher” in bed resulted in a “comical” outcome. He was so…careful, asking “Are You okay?” Author and journalist Daniel Bergner who wrote What Do Women Want? discusses women wanting to be submissive but that this tends to be inconsistent with the notion of progressive relationships. Gottlieb says “sex in any marriage is idiosyncratic and complex and if it’s consensual and enjoyable, it’s nobody’s business, frankly.”
It seems the fairytales have been upended with a new reality now rearing its head for public view and consumption. Yet, most people still celebrate marriage now as they did in the 70s, but at only 20, I didn’t want to adhere to that lifestyle of so-called togetherness, not then anyway. In May 2018, the popular Herald Sun daily Melbourne newspaper in its joke of the day, reported a breakfast conversation between a husband and wife, him asking her: “What would you do if I won on the lotto?” She replies: “I’d take my half and leave you.” “Great,” he responds. “Here’s $6. I won $12 yesterday. Stay in touch.” Another joke of the day in September 2018, was “A man tells a priest: I have a strong desire to live forever. What should I do?” “Get married,” replies the priest. “It’s that simple?” the man asks. “That will make me live forever?” “No”, replies the priest. “But the desire will disappear.” Both of these jokes were apparently from male contributors. These certainly made me laugh and as documented now, about 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. How many of the other 50 per cent are actually satisfying and reasonably happy is a matter of conjecture, with people often staying together for the kids, comfort, companionship and security rather than actually enjoying co-habiting with the person. These marriages are of “convenience” and it is interesting to speculate how many started this way in the first place; better married than copping the stigma of the sad, spinster stereotype or the lonely, dirty old man desperate for love and sex.
While I once believed I could have it all, though not for very long however, it was good to read Australian actor, Asher Keddie, who came out in early 2018 asserting this was “bullshit” as I realised too. In an article in the Herald Sun, she said: “No respect (is) given to the complexity of (a woman’s life.) It’s just bullshit. We shouldn’t expect women to have it all and manage it all and I certainly don’t want to be portrayed in that way-I think it’s a very negative message to send women.” With a son, 2, and step-son, 6, she realistically appreciates instead “I’m not juggling it all brilliantly. I’m doing my best.”
As the appearance mantra created havoc with my sense of self not just in my teens but throughout my twenties, especially at Thames TV where it was assumed I was a lesbian because of it, apparently appearance and looks still dominate young females’ lives. A report in the Hderald Sun in August 2018 of a Flinder University study of 220 female university students found looking at Instagram images with a high number of likes made them feel good about their own looks. “But being highly invested in getting likes on their own photos led to appearance comparison and dissatisfaction”, the report by journalists Susie O’Brien and Chanel Zagon asserted.
Study lead author Dr Marika Tiggerman said: “Women and girls should be dissuaded from actively seeking likes on their Instagram images and in particular, from viewing the number of likes they receive as an indication of their beauty or self-worth.” In this era with Instagram, a social media platform based solely on sharing photos, Dr Tiggemann said with the number of likes presented under each image for all to see acted as a form of peer influence.
Andi Lew, a wellness coach with 10,000 Instagram followers, said “It’s all about balance- don’t get caught up in the ‘picture perfect’ showbiz side, be mindful of who you are following and how you are spending your time”. Seemingly, obsessing with appearance hasn’t changed for decades, not just for females but males too now. With the increase in obesity among adults in this country, two out of three are either obese or overweight, both women and men are affected in who wants to know them by their size and appearance, health being another issue altogether. Indeed, in September 2018, the Herald Sun reported a stunt in London that highlighted appearance and image once again when a giant balloon of London Mayor Sadiq Khan in a yellow bikini was launched over British Parliament. Mr Khan had defended the flying of a similar blimp depicting Donald Trump over the capital during the US President’s visit in July. Campaigners claim crime has risen sharply during Khan’s reign as Mayor. The yellow bikini comes from his decision in 2016 that Transport for London would not allow ads on its network that could create body confidence issues. The decision was sparked by a protein shake poster that featured a model posing in a yellow bikini. It seems the west is dominated now by decrying any display of trim, taut and terrific looking models supposedly because it would impact negatively on too many people, particularly of course females. While teenagers are struggling to achieve a positive body image, it seems older females are also caught in the same conflict about appearance; just like me in my twenties when I became overweight and hated my appearance. The positive for me is that I embarked on a get fit and health campaign and after shedding 20 kgs in my late 20s, never looked back. At 68, I am even slimmer than then, healthy and with reasonable energy for my years. I don’t stress over my appearance, indeed, I receive many compliments about how attractive and amazing I look and I love it. The secret for me was learning to love myself on the inside and turning that to the outside to resolve my conflicts to eradicate any sense of contradiction and confusion about body confidence issues.
This brings me to my continuing relationship and/or friendship with Alexi. Yes, it’s still on-going, now three and a half years later, much to my surprise and joy. So why and how has it worked so far? Maybe because we don’t actually live together and maintain our own independent lives, coming together when we both have the time, interest and disposition. We still talk about almost everything and anything, enjoy the same sorts of cuisine and cooking, listen to music, watch TV programs, laugh at the same jokes, agree to disagree if we argue, have different voting patterns, pursue our own interests, mine sport mostly cricket and football which Alexi has little passion for and he snow sports and roller-blading which I have never experienced, and more importantly perhaps, for the past twelve months we’ve enjoyed great sex together. So do I love him and am I even in love with him? Honestly, I don’t like the word “love”, increasingly so as I’ve aged to become more realistic about using that word, but I certainly like him very much which suffices for me. And I am in lust with him and if that translates as “in love” then so be it for readers. Furthermore, I occasionally worry that he might be knocked down by a car when he’s roller-blading down the footpath or street, might have a heart attack (but then, so might I) or maybe too he might just tire of me. Yet, I live in the here and now without extrapolating on what might be, simply enjoying seeing him when I do and the time we share together. The one disappointing development is that as his music gigs expand and is in more demand as a teacher with scant spare time, he no longer reads my blogs. I have confronted him about my disappointment but he said he just doesn’t have time as being virtually self-employed as a muso, he has paper work and bureaucratic details to attend to. However, when a letter or article is actually published in the mainstream media, he will read it. Moreover, I do ask him to critique some of my writings and he is always interested, providing me with clear and interested, thoughtful feedback. I accept he is a busy man and as I mostly write for myself, I am content about him not reading everything I write, including this book. Maybe he’ll read it one day.
The sex with him is without doubt the best sex I’ve ever had and that’s certainly an important reason we still see one another so enjoyably. We have sex sometimes four times a week and in my late 60s now, I find it incredible that I have the lust to want to do that as he does too. Writing in Sunday Age Life magazine in August 2018, journalist Wendy Squires wrote about a relationship she is having: “Liam and I are enjoying our time with each other, content not to take things further. We have a close, passionate and respectful relationship that we are enjoying day by day.” Moreover, she adds: “People are taking their time because they can. And some are not just content to remain unattached and unencumbered but actively choosing it. Relationships are being redefined.”
She continues: “Women have been indoctrinated by centuries of societal conditioning telling us that marriage means security and that legal commitment is the best way to ensure it. But I find such funnel vision limiting, unnecessary and archaic….It’s naïve to believe in the “happily ever after’ cliché.” She echoes my sentiments entirely, but she is probably 20 odd years younger than me and what I espoused at her age was pretty much perceived as abnormal. The bonus is that I’m now enjoying my time with Alexi in a way I just never thought probable, let alone possible.
I’m going to try and write about what makes the sex so great comparably with all my past indulgences, even with Richard and a couple of others, as they pale into insignificance, though at the time, that wasn’t the case. My sexcapades at different times for different reasons and in different contexts makes all my experience relative.
The really pertinent factor with Alexi is the sheer, immense and intense sensations of transcendent pleasure I experience with him, though no two occasions seem the same. Sometimes we smoke dope which heightens the sensations even more, but stone, cold sober we both enjoy orgasms and hitherto unknown pleasures. Maybe both our encompassing experience with many men and women individually accounts for us both knowing our bodies far less ignorantly than in our twenties or even thirties. Probably too we are very comfortable with each other, feeling safe, secure and sure about wanting to be together at the time of sex. There is nothing contrived or coerced. Indeed, I coined a “safe” word when I’m exhausted: “Enough already!” and we both laugh. Indeed, bedtime is often jocular as we indulge, oft laughing, smiling and always in good cheer. Wanting to pleasure each other is paramount for both of us.
So what are the components of the sex? And why does he touch the parts of me no other man has ever touched? Maybe as in the book The Ethical Slut he bought me is because he is adventurous, always exploring my cunt and other parts of my body seeking to give me new excitements which he tells me excites him simultaneously. Making my juices flow as I’ve never heard them or felt them is a big turn on, for me as much as him. As the Yellow Pages ad remarked in its punchline: “Let Your Fingers Do The Walking”, he uses his fingers inside me discovering new spots that engender orgasm. No other man has so explored me, no other man has so made me come and come again so many times I lose count. And what exactly am I feeling? Finding the words isn’t easy; it’s a deep, tingly and “whole body” sensation, or sensations, sharp and sensual coming and going inside me so that I don’t want him to stop except when I feel totally exhausted. They’re spine tingling, my body tenses and then the release with orgasm is as if I’m floating in an ethereal space somewhere; peaceful, calm and absolutely content in myself. The feelings are amazing, euphoric. After making me come many times with his fingers, when I’m often playing with his cock, he’ll get hard and fuck me too so I come again and again with intercourse, even more deeply because of coming before with his fingers. It’s like my whole body is in another realm; transported and transcending this planet Earth to some other space where beauty and pleasure reign sacrosanct. I twist my torso all around him, my legs and feet oft on his shoulders and he fucks me with my legs wrapped around and up around his chest so that his cock thrusts deep inside me and it’s as if I’ve discovered the Fountain of Youth in my lithe agility and orgasmic outcome. As the woman wrote in “No Sex Please, We’re Equals,” about what she wanted her husband to be, Alexi is usually forceful and sometimes rough; tending to me as a woman not a porcelain doll. At the same time, I am usually submissive in our sex, happily consenting to him taking control and leading the way, though I do also initiate sex on many occasions and grab his cock to fondle in the early hours of the morning. Because I work at home and for myself, we have sex in the afternoons, at night and in the early hours of sunrise depending on his music commitments. As his own boss, he is oft around for a couple of hours some afternoons. At night he is often working. It suits us both brilliantly when the mood descends. He also uses Sorbolene cream on and in my cunt which is a great pleasure source too, the cold cream on my hot cunt feels sensationally pleasurable and while he doesn’t do much cunnilingus, I do fellatio quite often, making him hard for intercourse. I also like the taste of his fingers in my mouth after they’ve been inside me and he now seems to want to kiss me on occasions as well as kissing my ears and playing sometimes with my tits.
As strong and forceful as he is, he can also be tender, soft and gentle with me as I’ve learned to be with him as I’ve hurt him a couple of times too. The most salient point is we also talk about what we do with each other, both during the sex and after, as we feel our way unconsciously to greater pleasure While we have played with sex toys together and some vegetables- a long, thick firm cucumber-I no longer feel the need for them as what he does to me and with me surpasses the need for toys. Because he knew my clitoris went inside my cunt and he so often makes me come playing with that inside, I no longer feel any want or need to masturbate myself as I so often did with Richard without any understanding of why. In retrospect, I look back realising how frustrated I was too often though my ignorance of myself and my body inhibited any cogent understanding. I can only feel sorry for the women and men who don’t enjoy sex.
Where this friendship will lead is not something I consider as like Wendy Squires I am enjoying the time we spend together and I live in the moment; the here and now without any projection of what may eventuate. Nearly 69 years, I cannot believe my good fortune and even Alexi has said he too didn’t really think he’d experience great sex again. My understanding that I’m still learning and discovering new delights of sexual ecstasy alongside finding new reservoirs of energy and lust. I find Alexi so gorgeous and sexy that sex is on my mind a lot of the time compared to just a few years ago. It’s never too late!
So what of men in this 21st century? Where are men at now and has anything changed for them in how they feel about themselves and relate to not just women, but to each other? And how do they see their roles now? Do sexual stereotypes still dictate superficial reality? Is it all about appearance for them too, albeit not just what they look like but how they are perceived as living? Does the breadwinner status still permeate public perspectives in relationships? Have they changed since my mother’s years and my youth too? And moreover, should we generalise about men anymore than about women? I have written this book as “one woman” because I have suffered miserably for not adhering to general norms during my younger years and I am loathe to generalise about men because Alexi is not a man like most others I’ve known and met in my life. I do believe we are all unique and individual and have come to appreciate that highlighting gender differences can be inimical to all of us whatever our gender. But I will quote from recent articles about what social commentators and journalists understand about men and as a reader, you can make up your own mind. I will include some of my own blog posts and begin by trying to encapsulate what Alexi encompasses as a man for me.
Firstly, I feel completely comfortable in his company without having to be anyone other than myself which significantly means I can be as imperfect as I am; be it my opinions, my ideas and the way I look, dress, do my hair and apply my lipstick. Indeed, Alexi doesn’t like make-up particularly, and he too I hope can be himself with me, sometimes falling asleep on my couch in the afternoon or early evening, splashing water all over the bathroom floors after a shower, or expressing a belief I don’t concur with. I feel respected and I respect him without either of us imposing our views about how to be onto each other. I accept him totally as he is as I feel totally accepted by him for who I am. I certainly don’t want to change him in any way and he has shed more than 6kg since I’ve known him because he wants to be healthier, fitter and live longer. I never raised the issue; it was his choice and he looks even more gorgeous if I’m allowed to be so superficial. But appearance is important, however imperfect we all are. Certainly while he once married, the proposal was from the woman and he agreed because he thought they’d have a great party. Like me, marriage, children and living in domestic bliss was not on his agenda; it still isn’t. He abhors suburban living as I do and has a strength of self I so admire….indeed, his sense of self was stronger than mine when he was young and even though I did not succumb to conventional norms, I did have some angst and conflicts about them all. He doesn’t seem to have and that’s what I admire about him: his commitment to certain principles and his integrity to live them out. Yet, having had more than five live-in partners, he is on his own and I am so glad and lucky to have met him as he is not cardboard cut out of a 21st century man with all the external accoutrements of material success, happy family and proud father. A man on his own as I am a woman on my own, adhering to many of the same beliefs without being impressed by outside symbols. He is so secure and sure in what he thinks and believes and yes, partly I love him for that. That’s my security with him; that we both enjoy our strong views and sense of self so that Mr and Mrs Average are irrelevant to us both. We both had our hard times financially, romantically and emotionally and he also undertook therapy CBT to help understanding and knowledge of self. Like me, he wants to go on learning about himself and all this world can offer and while he smokes dope as I do too, he hardly drinks which thank god, I also love about him, having had too many alcoholics in my life. Moreover, he is positive towards me and I don’t feel put down, or treated as anything but an equal, albeit with different skills, ideas and achievements. Perhaps the truth is I do really love him though have no idea whether that’s mutual. I do know he enjoys my company, lusts after me too, and that makes it all good.
What of other men? While International Women’s Day was conceived in 1975 on March 8, it wasn’t until November 19, 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago that International Men’s Day was inaugurated and although UN representatives expressed support, it is not an official UN observance as is IWD. Its aim is to improve gender relations,promote gender equality, produce responsible males, highlight positive male role models with a focus on parenting, families and healthy life choices. It is interesting I had no idea such a day existed until curiously, I came across it in an article I perused only recently as it’s received scant publicity compared to IWD which has had thousands of words scribed over the past few years. Men may need to symbolise their cause with a special day, but the fact the UN doesn’t observe it and few mentions are made of it reflects the reality that in this perspective, men are the second sex. Maybe it’s because so many people still think and believe men do not need any advocacy or assistance to be who they are as they still run the world and enjoy power in an international patriarchy. Some men might actually live with the security and certainty of their power, status and prestige to assume their roles in the elitist echelons of our world, but these men are not representative of most men as are the women who live as ‘superwomen’ with the love, sex, power and money. More men might be leaders in politics, business, the arts and science et al than women, but the issue for me is why? Do more women really want this notion of equality in the bedroom, boardroom, laboratory or parliament? Those that do and are prepared to work as hard as the men can achieve their ambition, but I contend most women just do not want that competitive and challenging lifestyle, opting to spend their lives more devoted to being mothers, homemakers and wives. I too opted out of wanting a lifestyle that was dominated by work in my late twenties having achieved what I thought I wanted in a male-dominated media in the late 70s. My reality, that I did actually get what I thought I wanted at that time reflects a woman can do it so why aren’t more women in supposedly powerful, leadership roles? My belief is that they just don’t want it as I came to appreciate too. There are many sacrifices and I pursued other avenues which I didn’t succeed in but I don’t believe it was all to do with my gender but rather the sort of female I was because I didn’t kow-tow to the right men or even bed them. My gender may have been significant in some ways but I gave up my pursuit of some of these things because the men and women who could have helped me achieve what I wanted weren’t people I respected along the way. My integrity and principles were far more pertinent than achieving my dreams with people I had no time for. It said it all about them, not me. I didn’t want to know them so I kept trying new pursuits and am now content with my own online magazine THE FEMMOSEXUAl and writing my books online, albeit for myself.
But back to men and sex particularly. I’ve written how so many men just put their cock in my cunt and although I don’t know definitively whether they thought that was how sex was an article in a magazine I bought in 1987 The News Internationalist seems to suggest the men I had such liaisons with may well have believed this was what a woman wants and needs as much as the man does. The September issue of this magazine, devoted to “The Birth of a New Man” and “The Politics of Masculinity”, has an article by Paul Ryan, a lawyer in Dublin, Ireland, who writes: “the idea that the only true form of sex is penetration is still with us-and, while it remains, it will make a new and better kind of heterosexual communication very difficult to achieve. ” He continues that according to recent studies of sexuality, between 64 and 80 percent of women seldom or never have orgasms from the sensations of penetration alone. He then refers to his own view of sex as penetration as “tunnel vision”, though he accepts “Being inside a woman is an immensely pleasurable feeling for man- you feel enveloped in softness and safety. ” So he is now exploring other sexual behaviours with his partner, making their relationship “less male defined….” by having “the most creative and challenging way to improve things is to explore sex without penetration…It is a positive step we can take to help our female partners- an to discover a whole new dimension of enjoyment in the process.” So as I have written, it seems men are just ignorant of how to pleasure women, believing as this male writer did that penetration was sex. Certainly, this is over 30 years ago, but I use it now because apart from Alexi, all my men still adhered to this sexual practice in the 21 st century and it seems that from what writer Nicki Gemmell articulated, most men still believe and indulge in this fashion of sex. The studies of sexuality that Ryan quotes suggest that the UK Health Council figure of 42 per cent of woman that Gemmell reports not enjoying sex may indeed be much higher.
In 2018, the Age reported from South Africa that the 21-year-old recipient of the world’s first penis transplant will soon be a father according to the country’s News24 outlet.The surgery, six months ago, was three years after he lost his own penis caused by a botched ceremonial circumcision. Researchers reported progress in lab-grown penises built with the recipient’s own cells to avoid organ rejection and the need for donors. Members of the Xhosa ethnic group often practise adult circumcision, with poor sanitation leading to about 250 amputations a year. What next? I have not read whether the man did actually become a father but is the penis what it is all about, be it penetrative sex or just being a man? Furthermore, I read many years ago that in Singapore surgery was available for penis enlargements (sadly, I don’t have the article) and of course, most reputable adult shops sells pumps and toys for making penises bigger for supposedly to be better. Is big better? Certainly, very small ones don’t go deep enough for me, but how big is a matter of personal taste, satisfaction and desire. Whether a man’s satisfaction is heightened by having a big penis I don’t know, but most of my 80 or so men had penises that were big enough for me, even if I didn’t always come. Certainly, I could feel them inside me and that in itself felt good most of the time. I never did ask these men about whether the size of their dick was a significant issue, apart from hearing it from my former late friend Larry who cried over being so small. I just don’t know about the other men and suffice to think that if their dick satisfied them during sex, they wouldn’t have known how they would have felt if they were any bigger. Losing it however is another issue entirely and presumably the woman who was pregnant with the man who had the transplant presumably did give birth methinks as after conception, his dick would have been unneeded. Maybe however the sperm wasn’t strong enough to ensure conception was completed. I just don’t know.
In a column in The Sunday Age in August 2018, sex therapist Maureen Matthews answered a question from a male perturbed because female partners thought his dick was “too big” and often hurt and caused discomfort, ending his relationships. He wrote: “I feel like a freak show who’ll never be more than a big dick. I know sex isn’t everything but I feel I’m never going to find anyone who fits.” Matthews’ response was telling as she made it clear that maybe the female had other physiological problems such as being too dry, being too tense and not relaxed enough or simply not able to enjoy penetrative sex. Simply, she did acknowledge that “with a long penis the man has to control his thrusting to avoid hitting the cervix and causing pain. A thick penis can rub, causing soreness.(BUT) there’s no physiological reason why the vagina cannot accommodate a large penis especially, if the woman is in her 20s or 30s, when she is most elastic.” She quotes gynaecologist Dr Lauren Streicher, author of “Sex Rx:Hormones, Health and Your Best Sex Ever”, who writes “Given appropriate arousal and lubrication, most vaginas can expand to fit whatever size penis.” Matthews writes however that “the trouble is that not all women know, or believe this, and apprehension will prevent many from even trying.” Once again, it seems ignorance, for both males and females, coupled with some fear, interferes regularly in people’s sex lives. It is a lamentable state of reality. Moreover, an episode on the hit TV series Sex and the City I watched more than a decade ago, told a similar narrative when sexpot Samantha rejected a guy for also being “too big”. At the time, I pondered how valid that might be, but reading Matthews put it into a more believable perspective. Maybe Samantha just turned off him because she didn’t fancy him once they were naked in bed together and/or perhaps she was apprehensive and ignorant too. I’m unsure of course but possibly there is not such thing as a too big dick when I reflect back to the “long and thick bottles” inside me that Richard inserted. Moreover, because women carry babies which are long and thick too, it seems nonsensical that any man would actually be too big. Too small however could be really a problem, at least in my perspective.
So is great sex dependent on a penis? Or is it more involved and complex than simply putting a cock up a woman’s cunt? Sex writer Bettina Arndt, in an article in The Age in May 2014, detailed the work of Canadian psychology professor, Peggy Kleinplatz, who has conducted a series of studies over the past decade with 64 participants- many older people 60 plus- who referred to themselves as “experienced in great sex” to ascertain what she called “optimal sexuality.” There were also gay and bisexual volunteers and a group of sex therapists involved in the studies. Consequently, eight components were identified as contributing to optimal sexual experience. These are:
- Being present, focused and embodied-staying totally absorbed in the moment
- Connection, alignment, merger, being in sync-two becomes one
- Deep sexual and erotic intimacy- mutual respect and trust
- Extraordinary communication, heightened empathy-being tuned into each other’s feelings, needs and responses
- Authenticity, transparency, being genuine, uninhibited-stripped bare, emotionally and physically
- Transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation, healing – a unique “high”
- Exploration, interpersonal risk-taking, fun – great sex involves laughter
- Vulnerability and surrender- one’s entire being in someone else’s hands
Great sex it turned out had “little to do with sexual techniques, orgasms, erections or physical prowess. ” Arndt quotes a real life experience of a 55-year-old woman who had a new relationship with a man who introduced her “to a totally new level of sexual experience,” continuing “It’s been most unexpected…” and while she had”satisfying” sex before this…(it) paled in comparison with this new profound experience. “When I have this sort of sex I feel like the most beautiful woman ever…Every part of my body is sizzling and the bliss lasts, leaving a desire for more that is almost painful.” The Canadian study found this great sex can occur with friends, new lovers and even strangers as well as long-term partners. For me this is how I felt about sex with Alexi a long time ago when we first met, sizzling being a new but apt word to describe my responses. But the Arndt article also suggests that having great sex depends on “taking responsibility for one’s own self-knowledge. Being comfortable in one’s skin. Being authentically present and involved in the moment. Revealing oneself and taking a leap of faith with a lover.” Indeed as I have written, it took me many years to acquire my own self-knowledge and similarly, many men I believe are ignorant about themselves too. In fact, one of the older female volunteers in the Canadian studies opines: “As you continue to get older, you’re acquiring more experience, you’re becoming a deeper, richer, more complex person, your skills improve, your empathy improves and you can dance the dance a whole lot better.” Interestingly, Kleinplatz found the therapists “out of whack” with the rest of her participants. “Their perceptions were more negative, more focused on the role of erections, intercourse and orgasm,” writes Arndt. “Kleinplkatz says: “Sex therapists seem to be using narrower and less complex notions of evaluate the quality of sex.”
While sex now preoccupies many academics, psychologists and social commentators, an article in The Age in 2014 featured male escorts who earned up to $400-500 providing sex to older aged females in Sydney. Photos of the men revealed them as being “plastic” as far as my perception counts with tight, taut torsos, sun-tanned and muscular and fair or blonde hair. Their bodies as revealed from the waist up looked anything but real with these men talking about the women as needing and wanting intimate contact and affection physically which was as important as sexual foreplay and/or intercourse. The fact these woman were supposedly paying for ‘human contact’ seems tragic, one woman had been in a lesbian relationship for several years then deciding to explore what sex with a man might be like again. That she had to pay for it says it all for me, implying men, certainly many of them, are apparently ignorant about making love with a female partner that is satisfying and enjoyable. Maybe a woman like Nikki Gemmell, who couldn’t orgasm penetratingly, just met the wrong men, those ignorant and selfish like the women seeking out male escorts. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met Alexi as I keep alluding to.
It’s not just in matters of sex that the male condition is gaining media attention. In an article in the The Australian Review in May 2018, writer Kevin Lincoln posed with the headline :Next time you’re told to man up, for for the tissues instead.” As a young boy, Lincoln cried, “at bruises, mistakes, confusing situations.” But watching the Pokemon movie for his 10th birthday he “can remember being made aware, however obliquely or subconsciously, that my tears crossed the line between the harmless behaviour of a little boy and something more embarrassing.” Part of it came from, he asserts, was that he was “crying in public in front of friends and family and fellow moviegoers. But the message I was picking up was clear: boys don’t cry, and on those rare occasions when they do cry, it is definitely not over Pokemon.” This experience crystallised an awareness in him about “how I thought about my crying>” He continues: “It had already become apparent to me that crying was not a thing men did….” So over the years as he became a man, he “learned to stop crying.”
He suggests “I became the type of young man many American boys grow into: one who could perform confidence as if it were a card trick but found his actual emotions growing increasingly foreign and puzzling to him. Either they were inaccessible, buried out of reach, or they would come erupting out in wild bursts, surges of anger or sadness or frustration that felt like a geyser pushing against the top of my skull.” This is so apposite for how Richard behaved on many occasions and his one-off crying when I left him briefly was never repeated while the wild angry outbursts often were. I realised how “out of touch” with himself he was, but as Lincoln writes so succinctly, it seems not just how American men learn to be, but many men worldwide. After graduating from college and moving to New York where he started writing about movies, something revelatory happened: “I remembered how to cry.” (he was alone watching the movies). Perceptively, he writes: “The ability to experience and process feelings rather than shoving them down a deep, dark hole may strike a lot of people as an almost toddlerishly basic one- but there really is something about male adolescence that thwarts this healthy instinct.Men he claims often receive the message “that to be a man is to act despite emotions, not because of or in tune with them. This imperative to contain feeling rather than express it creates a pressurised, self-collapsing psychology, devoid of outlets…It seems to me that many men could benefit from some emotional bodybuilding- and that shedding tears at a film can serve as the psychic equivalent of sit-ups or bench presses.” For him, crying at movies “helped to gently pry open the lid of my emotional self, giving me access to a vulnerability, empathy and honesty that has had a genuine impact on my engagement with the world. ” Furthermore, he claims:”By relearning how to cry, I’ve relearned how to feel deeply, without all the embarrassment and false stoicism…at the same time, I have fewer baffling geysers of feeling and more steady, readily comprehensible ones.”
This article underpins much of the current discourse about men in so far as they are written about as cut-off from their emotions and feelings to react spontaneously without understanding to situations that may anger, depress or even sadden them. Women, it is believed, as Lincoln also writes, seem “better” at venting their feelings to cry “surely because women grow up being explicitly told that they are responsible for the feelings of others, whether it’s their parents, their partners or their eventual children, who will depend on that empathy to live.” For Richard, his tears I later came to comprehend, were about some inner sadness from his youth, but it was as if he buried that sadness which later manifested with violence as he hated me crying and could not abide it. Moreover, the fact that he told me he could kill a baby that was crying only reinforced my understanding that somewhere deep inside his psyche was a sadness he couldn’t face. I don’t know enough about him, but his anger at my tears I believe said more about his sadness than mine.Yet, I too wrote in my diary when I was upset at my family’s violence that I felt like a “weakling” because I kept crying over it. In retrospect of course, I understood it was a genuine and real response for living in a unhappy and emotionally violent home, but as a teenager, like Lincoln, I learned to cry less and I don’t believe women are accepted for crying although the disparagement may be far harsher for males.
An article in The Sunday Herald Sun in Body and Soul section in 2018 was headlined: “Big Girls DO Cry” with writer Charmaine Yabsley quoting psychologist Paul Gilbert who believes in “teaching people how to feel more compassionate towards themselves and others.” Clinical psychologist James Kirby, co-director of the Compassionate Mind Research Group at the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology said “our bodies are designed to respond well to being soothed (as babies)…but as we age, it’s unusual to receive the same amount of compassion that we did when we were young. “We tend to become self-critical if we’re upset as an adult…(but) the way you speak to yourself can change the way you feel about yourself…to be more compassionate towards yourself, the way you would be towards a child.” Advice to the story maintains “acknowledge and accept” that “there will be times when you may feel sad, angry or disappointed. That’s life.” For Gilbert, tapping into your inner child is the key to happiness.
Discovering our complex range of emotional responses and understanding these is oft referred to as emotional intelligence and more and more women and men are trying to tune in to themselves from what I read. Moreover, in an article in the Herald Sun in July 2018, by Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University in New York and author and founder of The Centre for The Study of Men and Masculinities, the headline “Good Men Need to Call Out Sexism,” presuppooses that men recognise it in the first place. Kimmel writes that “a steady stream of anxiety” has ensued following the #MeToo movement with men not wanting to be jerks, but according to him, they “don’t know what to say and…they don’t want to offend anyone.” He suggests “We’ve all been in that situation where a guy says or does something stupid or sexist. There’s an awkward silence, maybe some embarrassed laughter as men wait to see if the woman affected will call it out….The good blokes might privately apologise to the woman later for the man’s behaviour in an attempt to show support. But instead of being grateful, the woman is actually thinking “Where were you when I needed you?” He says: “The obvious answer is that men could speak up, right then and there…but we don’t typically do that. Why not?”
“I think we’re afraid.We’re afraid that if we speak up, we will be marginalised, we will be kicked out of the men’s club, we’ll become, in effect, honorary women.Men know that doing the right thing sometimes has costs, and most of us are too frightened to jeopardise what we have. And so, we betray women, abandon our own ethics, and slink away uncomfortably..” Kimmel goes on to propose that while one man might be frightened on his own, if “two guys call it out (that) opens a space for the others to chime in.” Furthermore, he suggests “We men have to take some of this weight from women’s shoulders; it’s simply not their responsibility to act alone addressing sexual harassment and inequality.
“Men must challenge the sexist behaviours of other men because it’s wrong, and because it undermines women’s confidence and effectiveness in the workplace and the community.” What I want to reply is that many men don’t even recognise their own complicity and sexist behaviour unless it’s about sex per se but the discrimination of sexism may not be specifically about sexuality but other issues such as unconscious bias as I’ve raised before. Calling out a sexual affront or joke is merely just one manifestation of far more deeper social malaise and I also contend it’s not just men towards women. Women need to call it out against other women when often they are the perpetrators not of sexism, but discrimination nonetheless. I keep reiterating how Rebecca Carsons, CEO of an international tech company, said “women were harder on women” than men. So Kimmel needs to himself understand the reach of sexism far beyond harassment which as I’ve written, wasn’t the pertinent issue for me. It was about a job I didn’t get when I certainly deserved it at Thames TV. And sexual harassment isn’t necessarily sexist as I’ve penned previously. It seems many men, respected academics too, just miss the point and don’t even understand what sexism is, at least from my perspective.
So what now about feminism in this 21st century? On Q & A on ABC-TV on September 17, 2018, Germaine Greer was asked by a twentysomething female, if she still called herself a feminist. “How could I be anything else?” she retorted sharply to the questioner. Stupid question or indicative of how many young women either avoid the word altogether or have absolutely no idea what the word means? Do men either understand it? And how encompassing is it? So many women including Australia’s former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, eschews the word though I’m unsure if she similarly eschews the concept of equal opportunities and rights for females. It is disappointing that many prominent and successful women negate feminism as if it’s a word full of misandry and anti-men. Indeed, just a couple of years ago at the beach in salubrious Middle Park, I espied about six teenage girls about 15 years-old gathered chatting in the shallows of the water. Approaching them I asked if I could ask them a few questions about feminism to which they assented. They attended the prestigious Melbourne Girls Grammar where they told me there was a strong emphasis within the school culture of achievement, aspiration and ambition for girls. One of the girls however when I asked if she considered herself a feminist couched her positive reply by saying the word is loaded with an anti-male slant for many people and while she embraced the concept wholeheartedly, she was at times reluctant to use the word about herself. Moreover, she added many think you’re a lesbian too. A couple of the others girls who affirmed feminism as important and necessary, echoed the other girl’s sentiments as they too said they were sometimes cautious, even careful, about referring to themselves as feminists. Indeed, in the Victoria Police, several female officers spoke of “abuse” towards them for regarding themselves as feminists, some male officers also trying to besmirch them as lesbians and man-haters. The Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner is currently undertaking a review of the force to change the entrenched culture. Likewise, it’s been reported that surgery is another specialty field where female trainees are regularly bullied and abused for being female and calling themselves feminists. Has anything really changed since my experience at Thames 40 years ago? On some levels, it seems clear many attitudes towards femnism haven’t changed, but the problem, or one of them as I perceive it, is that it is not just males who disparage and denigrate female feminists. If the schoolgirls seem reluctant to use the word for fear of being bullied and/or abused, what of other women? And in this perspective it’s understandable why and how men can take the stance they do. I’ve also had female friends in the media just 20 years ago, women in their late 20s and early 30s, also disparaging the word. Can one word inflame such antipathy, abuse and animosity when so many young women now embrace exactly what feminism is and always was, for me anyway. I’m unsure men can change their attitudes if women don’t either! As I’ve written before, I too had my own issue with the word many years ago, eschewing it too because of the bullying and abuse I encountered, but I returned to it a couple of years ago as very significant and meaningful. Femmosexual or feminist is one and the same for me as they connote an independent and confident female determined to live her own life pursuing her own choices, desires and needs, at work, at home and at play and being accorded the same respect, opportunities and fairness that many men do without people even reflecting on what it means to be male. That’s not to say all men receive respect and a fair go; they don’t unless as I’ve written, they conform to a male stereotype that’s arrogant and condescending, a sense of maleness often replete with brashness and bravado but in image only. Many men I actually got to know in the media had cultivated a superficial persona that seemed confident, self-assured and clever, only for me to realise it was a facade. They couldn’t hold a conversation of import, didn’t listen to who they were supposedly conversing with (namely me) and their cleverness was based on academic studies rather than thoughtful and erudite understanding of some of the issues of the times. The sad reality is that many men still adhere to imagery, a false and fictitious fantasy of self that when you probe them a little deeper, their shallow sanctimony is manifest. Sadly, women have adopted some of these antics in order to be perceived as tough when they are no more than bully bitches masquerading as strong.
I don’t know what the solution is for these complex scenarios but I do know that sex and one’s sexuality is often at the bottom of the angst; be it about a female labelling herself a feminist or a man disparaging feminism per se. How you change that on a broad social scale is beyond me except by me living what I profess. I can only live my life as I do and whatever people want to think I’m now certainly mature and wise enough to avoid those people in my life as I can. Age, as Edward “Weary” Dunlop articulated “shall not weary them” which at 68 years old, I can only concur with.
But so many women, including Greer on Q & A last week, reiterated that older women are invisible in our social milieu. I strongly disagree wit her as age is an attitude to self that need not be perceived as invisible; double entendre deliberate! There have been many articles in 2018 extolling older age in woman, none more inspiring than in Sunday Life in The Sunday Age on September 30, 2018, about a 90-year-old female still modelling on a catwalk. Nearly 70 years ago, in 1949, aged 21, Daphne Selfe won a fashion show competition in England to be on the cover of the Reading and Berkshire Review. A modelling agency took notice with Daphne moving to London and participating in big department store fashion shows on a catwalk. She said that as a model then, one advertised a product, doing your own hair and make-up. Five years later, she married and her career slowed down having three children with ideals changing. “I was not appropriate to the 60s, it was Twiggy’s turn”. She continued doing commercials, some artistic modelling and worked as an extra in theatre and television. In 1998, her husband died after illness and she received a call asking if she was interested in returning to the catwalk at London Fashion Week. She was then 70, receiving an ovation as she fronted the show. “The press hailed her appearance as a breakthrough moment for oler women in fashion, the start of a “greynaissance,””. A week later, Vogue called. ” They were running an article on how it feels to be old,” Daphne said. A scout from an agency, Models 1, was at the photo shoot who told her “We want you on our books. And that’s how it all began again.” While she thought she’d last just six months with the agency, she is still working for them 20 years on. “Instagram, needless to say, is a totally new part of the job., which Daphne has embraced,” journalist Caroline Leaper wrote. Joing at age 85, she now has 60,000 followers. She says her style has become more adventurous , now wearing “whatever I like. It’s very easy for older people to shock just by wearing nice clothes. It’s a shame when people lose interest in what they look like. Young and old have lost their sense of occasion-people walk around in their pyjamas which is terrible.” She added diet was very important for her and she’s never smoked or done Botox. Leaper asserted “For many, age is to feared. That’s propaganda, Daphne says. “I do realise the body is not quite the same, but I push myself. …I don’t do retiring though. When life is so interesting, why should I give it up until it gives me up?” Fashion and age is a common theme in the media I’ve perused with another recent article in The Age by Lynne Segal which was first on the London Review of Books blog. Segal writes “Old fashionistas are suddenly all the rage…(as) Living longer, old people can be encouraged to consume more, especially by cosmetic and fashion industires promising to keep us looking streamlined and elegant.” Contrarily, Segal writes that “The most terrifying images of old age- the witch, hag, harridan-have always had a female face, whether in myth, folktale or horror movie. This can have stark material consequences. They are twice as likely as men to live alone in old age, their pensions are generally smaller, they are paid less…”In September 2013, the British Labour Party’s Commission on Older Women “provided stark evidence of the continuing invisibility of older women in public life.” Eighty-two per cent of BBC presenters over 50 years are men. “In this dismal landscape, it is pleasing that “Fabulous Fashionistas”, older women with a flair for bright, distinctive dressing, were sought out and celebrated on TV last year. They were presented as role models for invisible women everywhere. “How to grow old gracefully (involves) …looking healthy and feisty, making few demands on others and least of all on the public purse.” From The Telegraph in London and reprinted in The Age, Linda Kelsey wrote in March 2015, that “as an older woman about to turn 63”, she “dresses to please herself (but is) aware of the critical undercurrents, especially coming from the media, when you treat age as a number rather than a rule book for sartorial behaviour. ” Kelsey quotes Twiggy 65, who at the launch of a government backed report on ageism in the workplace said: “I refuse to say women of certain ages should not wear certain things. It’s all about how you wear it.” Kelsey writes ” …with every passing year, I mind a little less about what others might think of my style choices…The only question women need to ask when they look in the mirror is whether what they’re wearing makes them feel comfortable and confident….(If) yes, the age appropriate question is, frankly, irrelevant.” That I relate to that is an understatement as I wear what I like too, believing I am anything but invisible as I receive many comments about how “amazing, gorgeous, even sexy and fantastic” I look from both younger and older males and females. I’m unsure how deliberate and contrived they all are but I enjoy looking good as a reflection of feeling good about myself.
As I wrote earlier in this book, they feed into each other and while Alexi rarely comments on my appearance, he does occasionally say how sexy I appear which is greatly appreciated. But the most pertinent perspective, is I dress for myself and my own sense of style and elegance, not for anyone else’s approval. I might occasionally look like mutton dressed up as lamb, but I’ve culled many clothes over the years to be more age appropriate. I don’t want to wear mini-skirts and tight sweaters as I still love the 60s fashion of skinny jeans, high, thin boots and loose sloppy joes and in summer, a man’s big shirt tied around my waist. Unequivocally, what’s most significant is being healthy, eating nutritious food, drinking moderately and looking after my well-being, both physically and mentally, which includes ensuring good sleep, regular exercise, interesting people to converse and laugh with, staying positive about ageing and leaving all the negative and destructive people out of my life, as much as I can. That’s my recipe for enjoying life for as long as I am blessed with good health in a holistic perspective.
But for others apparently revealing one’s age when you’re of older years is taboo, according to Valerie Morton, who wrote in The Age a couple of years ago that she was “bewildered to learn that age and ageing are still such sensitive topics.” She continued that while living in Los Angeles, there were “Some people (who)…kept their dreaded DOB a closely guarded secret from their children, partners and bosses. And I’m not just talking about women.” She asks: “What is so terrifying? Is this the last taboo subject? Isn’t it time we stopped diminishing ourselves by buying into this madness?” Indeed, while she recognises losing friends early due to accidents, diseases and drug overdoses, she refuses “to buy into the whole ageism psycho torture. Instead, I’ll celebrate, because being somewhere between juvenile and senile is not such a bad place to be.” For me, being 68 is a great place to be though sadly, Alexi certainly does have an age issue with himself. Despite eligibility for a seniors card, he refuses to obtain one as he doesn’t want to be reminded he is indeed a “senior” Moreover, he lies about his age to younger people because he believes if he told them the truth they would reject his friendship. He at least recognises his own stigma and has told me the truth (I think) but he is clearly hung-up about ageing in a way I’m not. I have never lied about my age except when I was in my teens and wanted a drink in a pub before turning 18 but once acknowledged as adult, it’s never been important to me. I adhere to the adage you’re as old as you feel and furthermore, embrace the understanding and insights I have learned as I’ve aged. I’m glad I’m no longer a naive and ignorant young woman but a reasonably mature and grown-up adult with some wisdom in my psyche. I am not crippled by painful aches in my limbs, can still twist my torso having sex, walk sprightly with ease and enjoy looking in the mirror, wrinkles and all.
One 89-year-old woman recently commented in The Age that “I don’t feel any particular age,” which epitomises my attitude to. How should I feel at 68? Over the hill? Desperately unhappy? Regrets at life passing me by because I can no longer enjoy being alive? Well, I don’t feel any of that as I enjoy eating my good cooking, having the best sex I’ve ever had, wearing stylish clothes bought cheaply at recycle shops and feeling comparatively fit and healthy. Moreover, the psychological problems that plagued me in my younger years have fortunately been resolved and are no longer pertinent in my life. Indeed, a University College London study found that people who feel younger than their actual age live longer than those who feel older than they really are. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, did not reveal why that was so, but the researchers felt that people feeling younger might have greater resilience, a sense of mastery and will to live more than those feeling older. Other research suggests that once people start to feel old, it becomes self-fulfilling. University of Sydney Associate Professor in health and ageing, Lee-Fay Low, said “AS long as you feel in control, both of your life situation and your physical health, then you feel younger.”
Former model Deborah Hutton, who is 56, just celebrated the 40th anniversary of her first magazine cover for the October 1978 edition of Cosmopolitan, and is adamant she will not get a facelift or stuff her face with filler. “Age is a really beautiful thing. There is a beauty in maturing, watching all the lines develop. To me it’s the essence of who you are. People can do little bits and pieces- I don’t mind a bit of Botox for a bit of correction- but to turn it into something else, to turn your face into something that it’s not, is not me.” But she looks after herself – clean diet, plenty of exercise, lots of water, ample moisturising- then embraces what she sees in the mirror and gets on with her life.She also appreciates, as I do, life gets better with every passing year. “Everything is so much easier because you are not fighting yourself. You are not second-guessing half the time. You are more at ease, more accepting. There is a freedom. You never know where life takes you. You take it one and do your best and somehow the universe delivers.” My sentiments exactly. Hollywood superstar Jane Fonda was recently in Melbourne on a talking tour and now 80, said she loved being that age. Despite indulging in plastic surgery and looking years younger, she acknowledges greater freedom to be who you are. Ageing is a plus if you have the right attitude and remain positive and look after yourself.
So is one ever too old to find a new partner? Have a love in your life and celebrate enjoying life together? In this 21st century, many women and men are scanning social media online dating sites for a variety of reasons and aspirations not just those hoping for a husband or wife but many are seeking companionship as they age and have passed the mother/father roles and raising children. People across the board, age, sexual preference, religion, colour and nationality are all irrelevant online where millions want a match in their lives. Personally, this way of meeting someone never appealed and still doesn’t but I know people who have gone online just for a sexual dalliance and others who want a friend to share activities with while others are looking for a more permanent and committed relationship. Sadly, it is the way people seem to meet these days and I’m glad I still prefer a face to face encounter in the way I met Alexi in a coffee shop. The online sites seem full of lies, delusions and distortions of the truth according to Alexi who used these sites just recently and reading between the lines about what a person really wants seems integral to a successful outcome. Moreover, research has illustrated that while people do meet a successful match online, thousands, if not millions of people worldwide are still desperately trying to find “love”, often lonely and miserable on their own. They don’t participate in real conversations with people, oft feeling isolated and depressed which led the British Tory Party to appoint a Minister for Loneliness; a really sad if not pathetic state of affairs. Clearly, something is very amiss and I believe that if people turned off their screens and invested their time in sipping a latte at a cafe, they would have greater opportunities for transcending their social isolation and could possibly meet someone they wanted to spend more time with. Screens lock people up in their homes instead of encouraging them to get out there to engage with the public. I still do it daily, walking 30 minutes to a local cafe for a coffee, media fix and sometimes conversation. Living alone and with only a couple of friends, I do not feel lonely, miserable or isolated, enjoying going out to engage with whoever I can meet. Sometimes it’s just the baristas I talk to but I’ve had some really interesting exchanges with young people from all over the world, learning new things and enriching my experience of different cultures.
I leave the final words of this book to another book, not of the 21st century but one I believe is still so relevant now. It is called “Lip Service,” and was written by Canadian award-winning journalist Kate Fillion and published in 1996. The non-fiction book details the myth of female virtue in sex, love and relationships, exposing many of the illusions and/or delusions I have tried to write about too over decades of my life. Most significantly, she writes: “The truth of the matter is that differences between individual members of one gender are far greater than group differences between the genders….(and) it is absurd to argue that ‘all men have this characteristic’ and ‘all women have that trait’ without reference to context or any allowances for individual variation.” This is exactly my perspective as I proposed for a documentary series five years before this book’s publication only to be met with rejection. To recognise I’m not the sole woman who believes this is in some ways reassuring but it’s sometimes saddening, especially with the #MeToo movement, that men are continually being singled out at the culprits and enemy, by both women and many men too.
Furthermore, Fillion continues that “Socially, women are freer than ever before, but psychologically we remain trapped. We are terrified of being judged, and shy away from telling ourselves and telling one another the truth about our sexual selves because we don’t want to be called sluts, prudes, whores, ice maidens, teases, deviants, or any of the other things we secretly fear we are…..We should be challenging this script (as I have tried to do in this book), not affirming it, and in order to do that we need to be honest with ourselves about who we are and what we’re actually doing and want to do sexually. Dishonesty is the last barrier to female sexual determination, but ironically, it is also one of the most difficult to surmount. The fear of judgement- especially judgement by other women- creates a vicious circle: we are afriad to tell the truth but silence will not change the stereotypes….Until we acknowledge our own sexual agency, we will never truly be free and we will never own sex or define it for ourselves….WE try to convince ourselves we only have sex to express love, and wind up causing more damage to ourselves than men ever could.” My book now was an attempt for honesty in acknowledging my behaviour, my attitudes and my pain too, sadly engendered by more women than men. At least I feel, and hopefully, I am not lying or deluding myself, that I am indeed free to understand and appreciate not just love but sex too as sometimes an inextricable part of the former and at other times my response to a human need and desire that has, and had, nothing to do with love.As Fillion elaborates: “women are required to deny their own complexity as individuals and to deny the complexity of sex itself which does not have a single, fixed psychological meaning…Sex can express almost anything and mean almost anything, not just to men, but to women, too.”
She concludes: “The modern script does not allow individual women to see themselves as they really are, and self-knowledge is the only way forward. If we want self-determination, we have to challenge the idea that agency is only present in happy endings. We have to resist, strenuously, the temptation to flee from responsibility because equality does not look the way we thought it would and power is not as glamorous as we’d hoped. Most important, we must reject entirely the notion of our own essential innocence…..(It is) our power to choose a new kind of future for ourselves, one in which we are more than victims and less than saints, fully human and the equals of any man” I hope you have read my book and can reflect on my life to recognise that’s exactly what I have tried to do and am still living it.
So what will life offer me next? Who knows but I live with some expectation that there will be as much enjoyment as I can find with whoever I meet. I hope my friendship with Alexi continues for his company, the sex, love maybe, but essentially, having a good time being alive for many years ahead.