One in four, or three in five?

I went out to dinner on Saturday night: a group of intelligent dinner companions, some strangers, some old friends. Curries and several bottles of wine in the middle of the table; conversation, debate (at times quite heated), the clash of mind on mind, but underpinned always by respect.

It’s a nerd’s idea of a treat: at one end of the table a debate about cultural imperialism and poverty; at my end of the table, a debate about gender politics in Australia. Only problem was, the debate about gender politics morphed into a debate about gender inequality and violence. And then one of the people around the table raised the issue of domestic violence: that one in four women will, over the course of her lifetime, face physical or sexual violence.

One of the men around the table didn’t believe us. He challenged us – forcefully – on the statistic that he said couldn’t possibly be true, had to be made up by feminists or skewed by violence that isn’t really violence: a gentle shove, a mutual tussle. He said that domestic violence simply doesn’t happen to that extent in this country: not to people like us anyway – intelligent, resourceful, professional people. He simply couldn’t accept the truth of what we were saying – until the woman sitting next to me asked us to raise our hands if we’d experience violence – physical or sexual – at the hands of a man. Of five women sitting around a dinner table in suburban Newcastle, three of us raised our hands.

Three of us. Three out of five.

Three intelligent, professional women – women with resources, with respectable jobs, with “together” lives – raised our hands. Three people like him. Three people able to articulate the frightening, soul-destroying reality of domestic violence in this country, to make it real for him. And three of us watched his world transform, just slightly. Because if that terrifying statistic is true – and he was forced to acknowledge that it just may be – then some of the women he knows, personally, are victims and survivors of domestic violence. And some of the men he spends time with, he’s even developed friendships with, are perpetrators.

On Saturday night, among other things, I watched a man’s mind open, slightly. I watched his world rocked, just a little bit. I watched his comfort shaken, his illusion of safety challenged. A little bit more of my story is out there, out in the world of real people, of innocents who don’t actually realise that this sort of thing goes on behind closed doors. And there’s one more person in this country who knows about the darkness that lurks in the illusion of light.

Not a bad night’s work, really.

Plus the food was good.

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