It’s fitting that even the prologue I commence with an admission. Rarely for my posts, I sort advice on whether to publish this because it contains embarrassing, personal information that I felt that I would rather not make public if my confidants suggested that this article was unlikely to have any impact. I also was hyper alert and anxious to the possibility that it might add to the taught emotions of the time especially for women, in a negative and/or unhelpful way. That would be a particular disappointment because in all honesty it is my hope that this might in some way dampen some of the hurt by adding some tiny element of understanding. I also recognise that equally, being my story, it could be seen as narcissistic and self-absorbed. I then began to feel anxious that my opening might offend LGBTQ readers, or even other heterosexual men who are comfortable expressing their emotions. In the end I realised that, although I cannot expect of myself to perfectly read the mood of the nation and of the many subgroups within society, and knowing that my own self-awareness is imperfect, so many brave women and (some) men have stood up to talk about the most personal details to them in the hope that doing so makes a difference. Now that I have written this piece, I no longer have the right to squib through lack of courage. Any embarrassment that I might feel is utterly trivial in comparison with the bravery required of victims. I have not heard back from my confidants, but I offer forward this piece in the sincerest hope that it helps someone. Note that this is a very long piece of at least 30 minutes reading time.
From the heart with complete sincerity.
I consider myself an uncommon male in that I am a heterosexual, without any inkling of ‘metrosexuality’ or ‘campness’, who is able to connect deeply with emotions and is prepared to speak honestly.
That, I believe, is one important aspect of the courage, honour and authenticity I endeavour to live by and role model to my two sons.
I also admit to enjoying being somewhat of a ‘sentinal’ – in the sense of being sensitive to conditions within society – and exposing them to others who had not quite managed to put their finger on the trend; i.e. being ahead of the curve or contrarian.
What I hope to offer with this piece is an understanding of how to deal with the gendered violence culture by speaking plainly of my own development and experiences. Obviously, in doing so I assume that my history is similar to that of other men in many ways.
On the one hand I have been a victim of male violence, as I alluded to in “How I Remade Myself After A Breakdown” and which I explicitly stated, without detail, in “Nobody is Perfect: We men must keep trying“, when I was 15 – less than 2 years before commencing university in a different town to where I grew up – and when I needed to take action to prevent my father from harming himself as well as potentially the other members of my family who were also home at the time.
The scarring from that incident, and the general confusion of those times, caused extensive disturbance in my development along with some level of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I will draw on some specifics from those pieces, but wanting to minimise repetition in my writing I simply refer the reader to those earlier pieces for additional background. I also advise that it is my intention to post on the next R U OK Day my full recount of that most traumatic incident that occurred when I was 15 in a post entitled “How Farmers Lose Perspective On What Is Most Important”.
This was not the only male violence to which I was subjected, however. Coming from a multi-generational, poor farming family on my father’s side, and he being the youngest of 5 boys (with 2 older sisters), male aggression was an aspect of our inherited culture. When my brother was young he witnessed our father being beaten up by his eldest brother after he had pulled Dad up while driving. My brother, who was in the car, once recounted to me the shocking details of the assault. Family folklore goes that my Uncle Charlie, who could by himself load 44 gallon drums full of petrol (weighing over 200kg) onto the back of trucks, and who was very close to Dad, retaliated and beat up his more aggressive brother.
One day when I was still 15, just a few months after the traumatic events we both experienced on that scarring night, working together doing one of the most frustrating and hardest chores we needed to do on the farm – loading 1t planting trailers with hairy, sharp-leafed sugarcane – my brother’s frustration and pain boiled over and he pinned me against the planter trailer and yelled in my face like a madman “don’t forget you’re still a little boy!” Eight years my senior, around that period it was clear my brother was struggling even in his 20s to process what was happening around and to us, and always appeared frustrated and angry.
Besides describing the haze in which I lived my adolescence, I also reveal in my writing my very real and almost debilitating awkwardness towards girls in my adolescence and early adulthood.
I have no research experience in this field, but I cannot help but wonder whether, based on my own experiences, much of the discussion about ‘consent’ and education around it in the current national discourse misses the point – in some ways it may be responding to the ‘disease’ rather than preventing the condition.
To explain, and in the hope that it will genuinely help, I am prepared to embarrass myself and to delve deeply into hurtful emotions. Truthfully it should not embarrass me now in my 50s, well beyond my adolescence and happily married with sons of my own, but vestiges of the masculine peer pressure remains deeply enmeshed in my synapses still causing some level of discomfort and embarrassment. I do so in the hope that it helps all – women, men and others on the gender spectrum – by providing clues on a better way forward, and also in part to atone for my prior sins.
In “How I Remade Myself After A Breakdown” I discussed my awkwardness towards girls at university:
Even though I was popular, big and strong, no doubt a “real country boy” for the “city slicker” students who were common in my marine biology course, I was still extremely shy and unconfident behind those shoulders that could bench press 130 kg by the time I was 18 years. In my second year at college a meeting was held with just the first year students to find out why they were not joining in the social activities, and I snuck in with a mate and sat on the billiard table at the back of the room. After some discussion a common theme emerged, and then a young female stood and said that she was afraid of me. Virtually everybody agreed, and the story went along the lines that when walking along the long corridors towards them they found my size intimidating, and that I only “grunted” at them. A senior female friend assured them that I was really a nice guy if they just looked past the muscles. The truth was that I was more afraid of them, especially the girls, and the prettier I considered them, the less able I was to get out any intelligible words.
I had a good relationship with my mother and sister, but home still was not a supportive environment on how to develop healthy relationships with women.
While my parents generally were affectionate to each other, they also fought a lot because of the pressure on them due to financial precariousness with the farm. Moreover, while the ruminating thought from what I repeated over and over on that traumatic night was “how could you do this”, for my mother it was (as she repeated over and over that night) “I now know what I must do”. I have never doubted that it was to be subservient because my father was incapable emotionally of being challenged by her.
The challenges to my developing an understanding of how to have an intimate relationship with a female were more extensive than role-modelling issues, and are exemplified by my ‘birds and bees’ talk, if you would describe it as such.
At the dinner table one night when I was perhaps 12 the topic of sex came up. Somebody said that it should probably not be spoken about in front of me, as an ‘inside joke’ between the remainder of the family, because I probably did not know about the birds and the bees. It was an open question to me in front of everyone, to which I answered that my cousin 2 years older than me, who attended a private catholic school and was taught sex education, had explained it to me. With my whole family barely containing their laughter through gritted teeth, I was then ‘challenged’ to relay what I thought happened during sex. I said that “the man puts his peepee in the lady”, to which I was further challenged to specify where as laughter broke out in the room. I then ran downstairs to hide in the toilet, and as the laughter died down my sister was sent to confirm that I knew where exactly the penis goes. I do not recall how long I hid in the toilet that night, but as the youngest I often bore the brunt of laughter for my ‘shameful’ naivety and immaturity.
That was the extent of my ‘sex education’ as a teenager, but amongst my father and uncles with their mates there were other ‘helpful’ lessons such as assertions “it’ll fall off if you touch it too much” along with the threat of having my hands wrapped in barbed wire to ensure “[I] don’t touch it”.
Perhaps funny to adult men, it just added to my confusion. That together with the reality that ‘wanker’ is a derogatory term meant that, being a very impressionable and anxious boy and lad, I never did masturbate and it came as a serious shock to me late in my first year of uni that it is in fact a very normal part of most people’s development. I was so shocked about it that I could not sleep and I woke an older mentor at uni to talk about it to confirm it was true.
It is only really now in my middle-age that I can fully comprehend the shortcomings of my senior mentors. It would be remiss of me, here, to not mention the bravery of my cousins’ daughters in exposing and legally pursuing one of those mentors, my father’s brother, their grandfather, for sexually assaulting them as children. His actions tore apart their family and had major repercussions through our extended family by unearthing varied opinions on the significance of such crimes which led to split allegiances.
My confusion on what it was ‘to be a man’ was compounded by attention I received from a man in an influential position in rugby league circles as I entered ‘manhood’. Once when I was naked in the dressing room after a game when I was 13, and another time when I was 14 or 15 when I was standing beside my father in a packed clubhouse after senior football on Sunday, he tickled my penis for a few seconds. I was left with a ruminating thought – is this really what men secure in who they are and in their heterosexuality do to others to show affection? It might seem odd to be confused by that, but it appeared common for professional sportsmen especially to act in ways which seemed odd to me, personified by the antics of the cricketer Merv Hughes who was fond of patting his teammates on the backside and kissing them. To be honest even now I question what was at play – was it grooming, normalising his touch even in public, in front of my father who probably did not notice it, in case an opportunity would present for him to actually molest me; or was it an ex-footballer with reduced inhibition due to alcohol consumption and likely concussions from his playing days as my therapist had suggested.
Many might assume that all of this stuff comes naturally, but for me it did not, and perhaps for many others it does not, especially when nature clashes with societal pressure from peers and mentors.
That is not the only aspect of my sexual development which did not come as naturally to me as many believe it does or should, and certainly not easily.
During my second year at uni, then 18, I was the most consistent with weight training I ever was. Through genetics developing strength and muscle came very easily to me and while I did train often, I was nowhere near as committed or as regular as many who used the poorly equipped campus gym. I had rowed for the local surf club over summer and the good conditioning together with a training partner who made my training regular saw my strength increase significantly. We sort support from the student union to attend the Australian university games to compete in power lifting, and were rejected, but when the results were published I was lifting heavier in training than the gold medal winner in my weight class (89kg).
My training partner was a former ‘legend’ of our college, around 3 years older than me, and he still hung around because he was hung up on his ex-girlfriend, a stunning aerobics instructor. In actual fact she was one of the first girls I saw at uni – after being given my key at the office, and carrying my bags up to 3rd floor with Mum and Dad, she bounded past us in the shortest shorts I had ever seen. I always reckoned Dad must have been thinking “half your luck, son” but Mum still talks about “leaving her baby boy there with scantily clad girls running around”.
I still recall the pep talk that my training partner gave me which was essentially a handing over the torch to me and went along the lines that there’s always the big guy in college, and that was now me so it’s time to take advantage.
I have no doubt it was in part because there was talk that I was yet to be with a girl. I had ‘made out’ with a few girls but still was very much a virgin. I suspect that some were starting to question my sexual orientation – and that was confirmed the following year when a mate from another college confided as much to me. But in that second year I had developed a crush on someone who had an older boyfriend back home. The pep talk was meant to tell me to step up and be the alpha male that my size ‘suggested’ I should be.
The truth is I had developed a very embarrassing problem which continued to happen well into the following year when I was then 19. When with girls I had become so anxious that, well let’s just say, what happens naturally for boys when excited did not happen. I even convinced the girl that I had a crush on to come with me to see a doctor about it – even though we never had or did really progress past ‘first base’, but we did have an emotionally deep connection. She was in effect my ‘first girlfriend’, but I was only her ‘uni boyfriend’.
It was not just anxiety causing my issue, however. It might have had a little to do with alcohol, because of course, like many guys, I could not really talk to girls, and certainly would not dance, unless drunk.
More significant, however, was the reality that I had basically gone along with any girl who liked me – and for a while after my first ‘girlfriend’ I did the same – I basically allowed myself to be dragged in like a puppy dog. So I was with any girl that wanted to because I felt pressure to gain experience with girls and most especially I wanted to lose my virginity because I did not want to feel like a hopeless loser any longer. And the fact that I was with girls that I barely knew, or felt more like friends with them than genuinely attracted to, or even felt like I was not deserving or good enough to be with them, or because they too were so inexperienced that neither of us knew how to build up the intimacy and first enjoy being together, I kept on failing so that I felt even less confident with girls. I even wondered whether the more experienced girls at college might be laughing at me like, I assumed, most of the blokes were.
In first year I liked a much more mature woman who was wonderful, and who broke my heart gently saying she was finishing her degree while I was just starting. Then I liked another first year who had lived at another college and moved in across from me, initially to live nearer her boyfriend (a senior) but they had broken up. I had no idea how to start a relationship with her so I asked her out – she seemed so mature and classy – still it is not exactly how it was done at uni. The night before our date, she invited me to her room for coffee late after she had finished studying. She wore a nighty with a lace gown. Later that night trying to go to sleep in my room I wondered if she might have wanted me to ‘make a move’ – to move over and sit next to her and maybe even ask for a kiss. The next night on the way to the Chinese restaurant she said we were going out as friends and soon after she was back with her boyfriend.
Towards the end of my first year I liked an attractive girl, younger like me, who had had a footballer boyfriend and her brother was a good rugby union player, also a front rower (so big like me). Her group of girlfriends was fairly close with my group of mates but I had no idea how to talk to her, not even when drunk.
The truth is I had convinced myself she was too good for me.
In fact, I had been placing girls, especially pretty girls, on a pedestal. While that might sound like respect, and it was at first, the consequences became that they felt entirely out of reach for me.
At high school I liked the same girl for almost all of the 5 years and never spoke to her once. It might seem odd that you could like somebody you don’t know at all but this sort of thing is common with young people. As a father of young boys it amazed me how they continually chose to invite popular boys to their birthday parties even though I knew they spent no time with them at school and when our restrictions on numbers meant that boys they did spend time with were not invited.
When it comes to ‘romantically’ liking someone, I am reminded of what Curley said about his only true love in the movie “City Slickers” – on seeing her for the one and only time he turned and rode away safe in the knowledge that she was and always will be perfect in his mind.
For me the idea of liking a pretty girl gave me something to think about and to romanticise about a ‘perfect’ girl. But I had no idea what to do about it, and I was not even sure I wanted to know her because I was afraid.
My school mates knew I liked her, and most of our group immaturely enjoyed sharing before long who was their current object of obsession, most often one of the popular girls in school, and we all derived pleasure in teasing each other about it. On occasions my mates would intimate to the girl that I liked her, and even on a few occasions took my bag and left it near her amongst her group. It was an embarrassment to her, so it led towards her disliking me, but like an attention-deprived child chooses being in strife rather than receiving no attention at all, it was better she know who I was and acknowledge my existence than nothing. She played tennis often next to where I played football on Saturday, and being the dominant player I usually scored many tries, but I always made sure I scored on that end of the field when she was playing in the hope she would see and be impressed.
Briefly I was besotted by a very attractive girl who I met on a family camping trip. I never spoke to her as I swam with her in her pool with my cousins, just lifting my cousins and showing off my physical prowess. Several weeks later I wrote a letter and sent it to her at her boarding school confessing my love for her. I never received a response, unsurprisingly. When I saw her next I was in my first year of university, and still all I could do is show off my strength from afar, and I was too shy to approach her to speak.
The only attributes I possessed and could use to be noticed by girls were the very primordial characters of strength and power. In fact, being so shy, those characters were in many ways counter productive to initiating relationships.
At the end of first year of uni this girl who had an interest in football seemed like the ideal choice. But still I did not know how to go about getting her to be my girlfriend. So one night when I had drunk too much, which was the college culture that I was a part of for a year before reaching legal drinking age, I decided to wait by her door until she came back. I fell asleep and woke up in the early hours – still to this day I don’t know whether she had come back to her room and saw me.
Some time later at the university club when intoxicated I decided to tell her brother about the ways in which his sister is not as pure as he thought. That led to her speaking to me for the first time when she came to my room to give me a much deserved taking to about how that is not a way to treat girls. And it became a big issue around campus me facing up against the brother in the next football game – unfortunately it was his preferred code, not mine, but I acquitted myself well – that is not the point.
At this point of my life I was extremely frustrated that I possessed none of the skills I needed to enjoy the company of girls (even in the purest sense), that to me they seemed entirely out of reach for me, and I was embarassed that I was so sexually inexperienced.
Looking back now I can see that I was vulnerable and had become increasingly so, and if I had an aggressive constitution, I might have been to women.
The following year developing a crush on a girl, who reciprocated to the point of enjoying my attention and company all year, but never breaking up with her boyfriend, arrested that progression. But I was still vulnerable.
On a university holiday I visited her at her home and later that night went with my cousin to the nightclub where she told me she would be with her boyfriend and his mates. When my cousin left I stayed on, having a couple of dances with her, but mostly looking on from afar.
Earlier that term at uni I had been partying with mates when I began to miss her – my mates came to know that I would often go missing and I would be with her, increasingly drawing their ire – so heading into the city, only knowing she and her friends were clubbing, it seemed ‘meant to be’ when I walked into the first nightclub and she ran to me excitedly kissing and hugging me and was all over me for the rest of the night. And just a few weeks before those holidays she had chosen to spend most of the night with me while her boyfriend was visiting. When she left me in the early hours of the morning she said that she intended breaking up with him.
Now on holidays in that nightclub, the more I realised she was not going to break up with him, the more I drank, and the more sad and hurt I became. At the point that I felt my 18 year old heart could not bear any more hurt I impulsively sort to hurt myself as much physically as I was hurting emotionally. I smashed my glass with a headbutt. Thankfully it did not cut me badly. At that point a bouncer walked up and asked if I had had enough – I can only guess that they had been observing me, and realising I was not likely to harm others simply asked whether I was ready to stop hurting myself. I said yes and he walked with me out of the club.
I avoided my ‘first girlfriend’ for a few weeks when back from holidays until her friend came to tell me how much she missed me and wanted to continue our relationship. We continued our romantic but non-sexual relationship till she left at the end of the year after which she studied by correspondence presumably to be with her boyfriend.
She did return to the university once. One Friday around 18 months later mates were looking for me before heading to ‘bludger’s club’ – the weekly booze up – to alert me that she was there and that she had broken up with her boyfriend. We spoke but I had nothing left in my heart for her, not so much because of our history, but because I was already in love with the woman who was destined to change my life.
As soon as my ‘first girlfriend’ left, and well into my third year at uni, I went back to being a puppy dog dragged in by any girl who liked me. In retrospect it was the only path I could follow as I had no skills to understand my feelings let alone act on them. Some I did genuinely like but I just was too anxious, and we both were too inexperienced.
Some things had changed, however. First I had been in a relationship that allowed me to feel all of the love inside of me in such a strong way that I never could have hidden it. Being well-known in college, and elected sports rep and a part of one of the ‘popular groups’, everybody was well aware of what had played out with my ‘first girlfriend’.
More importantly, girls in college who saw what happened realised that I was shy not aggressive. And that broke down a lot of barriers.
I had a second girlfriend briefly but I still had the same issue mainly because I never felt really comfortable, partly because she was older, and partly because I did not feel connected with her. I took our breakup hard, though, because I wanted to be in a relationship.
The year before I am certain that my issue would have been resolved because I was in love with my ‘first girlfriend’, but by later on in the year – after all that had happened – I was so confused and insecure about where I stood that I never took her hints, talking to her girlfriends in front of me, that she had enjoyed our intimacy and that she would not mind if it were repeated and progressed further. Basically, if anything were to happen it would need to be because she was very explicit directly to me because I was incapable of taking the initiative.
Late in my third year at uni I commenced my first sexual relationship with someone whom I felt comfortable with and who was nice. I still wonder at how it happened – some times I feel like I was almost guided. Yes, I had been drinking but was not at all drunk. I knew her a little, not well. We were together with a group in a room talking and having fun. We were sitting close, I think maybe legs touching. She left and went to her room. I soon followed and she was happy to see me at her door. We did not go out together, but on occasions went home together after parties. We never spoke of any sort of commitment. I think I was also her first and I believe it was a positive for each of us. The last time we were together we both knew it because I was in love with the woman who would change my life even though we were not yet going out.
As a grown man I came to realise that through my youth there were girls with whom I was friends and shared a connection. Some of them I had an affection for that could have grown if I first was able to recognise it and then had the skills to allow those relationships to develop and follow whatever course transpired.
One of those girls I knew for several years including at university. She is a lovely person, always has been. Years ago a mutual friend told me she had developed an eating disorder at uni and mention was made of something I said late at one of those many drunken, hazy Friday evenings at the university club – I immediately recalled telling her while dancing together that she “would be really hot if she lost some weight”. In my stupid 18 year old brain I thought I was giving a compliment to her – it was anything but! The truth is I should have had the guts to get to know her better to see whether the affection in which I held her might have grown and might have been reciprocated.
One of the biggest problem teenagers face is caring what other teenagers think of them, often no matter how stupid are those other teenagers.
There were few teenagers more stupid than me. And it is only with the love of the woman who changed my life that I can accept who I was before, warts and all.
It is true that none of us is perfect, and that we all must learn how to be good humans. It really does take a village to grow a person – a family, an education system, and other societal structures from mentors through to the system of bureaucracy. The scaffolding around each of us in a truly progressive and compassionate society must be strong enough to compensate for one or more of those pillars being weakened or even missing.
Protests and debates show that very many in our ‘village’ care deeply about female rights and well-being. The debate about ‘consent’ is worthwhile, but my experiences suggests to me it misses the point – it certainly missed the point over the basis and causes of how I personally hurt females.
In my view much more effort needs to go into providing environments where from our youngest years through into our late teens we learn how to have relationships (friendships) across genders. Of course I remember in those awkward pre-teen and early teen years this can be challenging, but I have little doubt that it can be normalised with concerted effort and thoughtful programs.
I am not saying that there should never be gender-specific activities, and I am well aware that many will argue that there are positives also to be gained from them. Men especially tend to be concerned about having a culture of teaching young men to be men. But I don’t see that a man is ever any less a man no matter what the gender composition of the group in which he finds himself. I believe that priority in society must be given to mixed-gender activities.
Note here that I wrote that passage not in reference to gender-specific schools or colleges, and I pass no judgment on them, simply saying that I attended both co-ed schools and colleges and I was still hopelessly inept with developing cross gender relationships.
Systems should also be in place to identify less socially confident individuals to scaffold them in improving these vital life skills. The importance of emotional intelligence to life success, through career and other general well-being issues affecting connectedness to society, is now widely appreciated.
I have said previously that I have been impressed with the experience of my sons at how modern education is equipping them with negotiating and conflict resolution skills. So I recognise that advances in developing emotional intelligence are being made in early education. We need to ensure that those programs also involve healthy cross-gender relationships, as well as broadening the programs so that the progress made in the education system is captured and translates through to a more cohesive, harmonious and healthy society.
The latter point is critical because even though early education has gotten better at teaching conflict resolution and general emotional intelligence, observations within society suggest that aggressiveness amongst adults may have increased.
Of course it is not all about the ‘village’. The benefits to the individuals from greater emotional intelligence and self awareness are significant and are being increasingly understood at least in professional workforces. As the fourth industrial revolution continues to result in the loss of low-skilled jobs, greater emotional intelligence will be a key determinant of financial security success on top of general life satisfaction, and by virtue of value to individuals will be of enormous benefit to economies as well as societies.
I have been clear in my writing that I spent many hours with a therapist coming to terms with the events of my life. One statement by my therapist, amongst many, that I have used as a touchstone in my introspection and healing was that the trauma that I experienced when I was 15, even though I suppressed the processing of what happened for years, caused such a shock that I re-evaluated the role model that I concentrated most on. I have and will always love my Dad, but unconsciously I decided that his emotional framework was not one on which I could build a satisfying life so I ‘took after’ my mother more. I took on more of her nature.
My father is not a bad man, and in my estimation he is liked by women, of all ages. Like many of his age he did not have it easy. His mother, my Grandmother, worked in the sugarcane paddocks, and in the home garden, as hard as any man. His father was gentle, and the gentle side of my Dad – which is there if often hidden especially to those closest to him – comes mostly from him. Being the youngest, most of the nurturing my Dad received was from his eldest sisters who he describes as raising him. For the first few years of his life he only drank milk from their goat. Their clothes were washed once a week and gathering their clothes for the week from the line when dried was a Darwinian contest which meant that Dad, being the youngest of 5 boys, usually wore clothes that were much too big for him (that nobody else wanted). He left school to start working at 14 and he married when he was 19 after Mum became pregnant (she was 16). As my father, I never remember him playing alone with me because he was always working, though in groups when camping or at Christmas he would relax and join in games. He has only ever once told me that he loved me, that was after I told him first and I was surprised he responded but I was happy he did. Then again I never doubted his love. Once visiting, together with my sons we stood in a circle and passed the football. Later I confided to the boys that was the first time my Dad had played with me. I don’t blame him for anything. With other tools things could have been different, but he just never had those other tools. I have little doubt that, while he does not understand all that I do and all of my choices, he respects the relationships that I have built with my sons. The only time I ever felt Dad was truly comfortable with me and/or my brother was when we were working.
I am incredibly fortunate that I had a caring and nurturing mother. Even with her I still was challenged to find my way in how to have relationships with women. I honestly believe that there is something in that that needs to be learned to benefit our society.
I also want to say that I do not feel that my impact on women was from a basis of aggression or entitlement, at least no more than is ambient in the patriarchal society I was raised in. The alleged rape detailed by the woman, who was born the year after me and who took her life last year, which took place when she was 16 and the boy was 17 (and which he denies), involved anal rape. I am not in any way a trained psychologist, but it is my opinion somebody who would do that to another must possess a great deal of anger and entitlement and privilege which may be indicative of psychopathy or psychopathic tendencies. Thus I feel I should be clear that a person with that level of hatred towards women requires an altogether other level of intervention than what I have described here.
I have a final serious admission. I lay out my story with a high level of apprehension, not just because of the natural inclination to be embarrassed about the personal details I have shared, but because of the things I do not know as I write. Now understanding unconscious or subconscious bias, because it has impacted my life with my minority wife, I am a little afraid of what ‘unknown knowns’ might emerge. There may be other ways in which I have hurt women in actions of which I am aware that I still do not realise is hurtful. I realise beyond a shadow of doubt, being raised in a sexist patriarchal society, just as many Australians have much unconscious bias against minorities, many of us – me included – still harbour unconscious biases that affect my attitudes and behaviours, no matter how much I desire to unearth them and rid myself of them. Moreover, I know that my state of understanding of these issues has never been greater than it is now, so what “damage might I have done in the past that I did not realise?” is an ever-present thought.
Worse still is the more terrifying thought that there could be some ‘unknown unknowns’ that might ‘surface’. On my first night at university, Valentine’s Day 1987 – when I was 17 and 1 month to the day – after having spent most of the afternoon after my parents left me at college in my room, the seniors in college went door to door getting everybody out into the corridors mixing and meeting, and drinking of course. It seemed so wild, so grown-up, so frightening, so exciting. I recall a guy doing tumbling passed down the corridors. From then until I fell in love with my future wife in the fourth and final year of my undergraduate degree seems a blur. In between I had become a bit more confident, at least outwardly, through countless pub crawls, college balls, every Friday arvo blotto at bludger’s club and then back partying late into the night, and ‘corrupting’ diligent first years heading off to lectures, any day of the week, by sitting on a balcony and calling them up to our rooms to party instead. My life seemed set in stone – I was to return to the farm after finishing my degree, to all of the stress and social stunting that entailed for me – so I had nothing to lose by partying. In fact by failing subjects I might, and did, gain an extra year of freedom at university. If I had studied diligently I would have finished my degree in 3 years, when I was still 19, and returned to work on the family farm with my father. I would never have met my wife.
For those three and a half years at uni before meeting my wife I partied at least every second night drinking so heavily that very many of those nights had blank spots in my memory. I would be lying if I said that I had no concerns that I might have done something more of damage to women which I do not recall. This, I suspect, is what many men fear when they hear of reports of incidents from decades earlier. That is why I have released a companion post to this on the involvement of alcohol with violence, and I note that much of the concerning coverage of what occurs in Canberra involves excessive alcohol consumption from the mostly university-educated staff and politicians, some into rather mature ages.
Critically, however, I know myself. I know that I did not have anger in my heart, and I know that when females are intentionally hurt by men, under the influence of alcohol or otherwise, it is done with aggression and anger. That is why I have the confidence to put myself out there in the hope that it can help.
If, as a result of my speaking out, I learn of other ways in which I have hurt women then I need to be prepared to stand in that truth and accept the consequences. After all, I know that the consequences of my stupid sexism have been real and long-lasting for others.
Moreover, we will never get to the root of the issues if we men remain afraid of opening our minds and our hearts to the truth of our impacts on women. Only that is authentic to the courage that we have been raised for millennia to believe is our preserve. The women in our society have shown just how courageous they are – now is our time to prove that we men are also capable of genuine courage.
Even though many transferred their perception of my physical presence onto my personality, I was a very immature, mixed-up, hurt, frightened, unconfident, young man. I was lost and fumbling around in the dark. I had a lot of love inside of me, but I did not know how to find my way to giving it to a woman I could trust. I was lucky, and there are so many reasons why I shudder at the thought of what might have become of me had I not met my wife when I did.
I do not seek to minimise or to resile from the impacts that my actions had on my female friends and women more broadly. Neither do I seek sympathy for the conditions or events of my life.
There are many others much more deserving of sympathy than me, such as Caroline Wang, but I suspect she also is telling her story in the hope of effecting positive change to help others.
Caroline, Grace, Brittany, and the teenage girls along with other woman and men who were victims of sexual assault and harassment and have found the courage to speak up, along with all of the other victims who have retained their optimism in humanity to endure scarred but defiant, your authentic strength inspires me and boosts my optimism that humanity will find its way in the Great Reset era to a better future.
I am grateful for the opportunities I have had in life to continually seek a better path, and I have implored my sons to continue that journey with and then after me. I have told them that I am proud in the belief that I have been a better father to them than mine was to me, and I sincerely hope that they will be better fathers – if they choose and are able to be – to their children than I was to them.
Still I must be careful not to burden them with the emotion and guilt I carry for my own mistakes. And I must grant them the space to be imperfect and to learn from their own mistakes as they continue to develop into proud, loving and strong young men.
To the women I hurt and negatively impacted with my prior actions, I am truly sorry. If I could take them back I would. Because I can not, I promise to continue to try to help with the changes we need in society so that you feel safe, empowered, confident, and most of all equal to all others – by listening, by believing, by working to understand, by being compassionate, by advocating for the change you seek, and by taking all of this into account when I decide to which political decision-makers I will give my vote. Above all else I promise that I am, together with my wife, doing my best to ensure that the two men who I brought into this world will be your allies and will fight alongside you and your daughters, support you, value you, respect you and love you in the purest of senses.
I am not, never was, and never will be, a perfect man, but I promise to keep trying.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021