Friday, September 28, 2012

the tragedy of Jill Meagher, brothers Grimm and the bogeyman

A lot of tears are being shed in this city today, for a woman that most of us never knew. For six days we’ve been rooting for a fairytale ending to a news story that has touched every woman who has ever walked alone in a city street at night.

Jill Meagher’s disappearance, the emerging CCTV footage of her conversing with a seemingly unknown man and the  breaking news overnight that the same man has been charged with her rape and murder, brings this story to a sickening conclusion.

This is a real person, a beautiful woman, a wife, daughter, sister and friend who has unwittingly embodied a modern Grimm’s fable, while the accused, personifies the bogeyman.

Who didn’t fear the dark as a child; have moments of gut wrenching dread that an unknown creature could harm them? As little girls grow up, the bogeyman takes form. It assumes the shape of a man, who can look like any male, wielding the power to rape, humiliate and ultimately kill.

This awful rape and murder taps into our deepest fears, despite the reality that although approximately 1:5 Australian women are subject to sexual violence, abductions are rare. The bulk of sexual assaults or murders are perpetrated by someone the woman known. Random, opportunistic attacks like this account for so few, yet in the media are the face of this kind of assault. This distortion keeps us scared.

So what happens next? For a short time we may be more vigilant. Tonight I predict there will be far fewer women in Melbourne choosing to walk home alone after a few drinks with friends. There will be talk of learning self-defence. The annual Reclaim the Night march next month may get more attention and record attendance.

We will rail against the power of men over women. But secretly, I suspect many of us will mine our own deep pocket of vulnerability. When I saw Jill on the CCTV footage, I saw a vulnerable woman. This is not victim shaming. It’s acknowledging that while the predator was out stalking that night he may have deliberately chosen a women not just on age or looks but her kindness, ability to run or fight and her perceived state of mind.

But maybe not. Catherine Deveny wrote a compelling post yesterday, detailing her own brush with a similar man in Brunswick, who was possibly the same one who attacked Jill. Deveny is in her 40’s, was on a bicycle, sober and not someone who, by her media profile alone, would be described as vulnerable. 

Most of the women I know, myself included, have been in a vulnerable state in public at some time in our life. I personally thought I was invincible for most of my 20’s. I took what seems now like incredible risks (hitchhiking alone, in a foreign country, where no one knew where I was would probably top the list). When I moved to Melbourne at 23, I walked the inner north all the time (and I still do). I was car-less, with a low income and would almost always head home alone. I remember the irony one night, leaving a gig and about to walk the kilometre or two back to where I lived. A friend asked if I felt ok about doing that. “I feel so safe in Melbourne”, I said cheerily. Little did I know, a similar distance away in the opposite direction, Julian Knight was killing random strangers in Hoddle Street.

The reality is none of us are immune to violence. Sadly that’s more likely to happen in or near our own home by someone known to us. Not on the mean streets of the city. But for now, our fears have a face, our vulnerability has a name and we’ll feel uneasy in places we once felt safe.

There’s no happy ending to this story. Even strangers need to grieve for Jill before we can find a coherent narrative for this event. In the meantime, blokes be super aware to give a woman alone at night a wide berth. And women, we need to remember that not all men are rapists. Society needs to change and we all contribute in some way to the environment that creates people who do not respect human dignity.

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Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Do you know, in almost eight years of blogging I've never received so much feedback about a post? There's been texts, emails, a bunch of Facebook comments and even old fashioned conversations, not to mention a spike in hits.

Am sorry you can't all share those same thoughts and feelings here, to talk amongst yourselves.

8:50 am  

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