Hidden beneath the calm exterior of so many women, lie deadly secrets. With two very prominent cases involving public figures, Rolf Harris, and the ‘Hey Dad’ actor, Robert Hughes, I mused on the possibility of sort of iceberg experiences, all stifled and forgotten. Hidden deep below the surface.
For good reasons sometimes the mind does not let us dwell on bad happenings, it in fact tries to bury them. But having worked in dementia wards and in mental health for a short while, I know that many of those experiences bubble to the surface. Particularly in dementia I had it once described to me a sort of ‘incontinence’ of the mind, where all the things that happen in our lives are sifted through, and are then aired, bursting out, a final sorting of our affairs.
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Why mention this? Because I had hidden experiences, things that happened and I never told my mother or never sought to tell anyone for a long time. Like the man who molested me on a crowded metro train in Paris when I was fourteen, or the man who exposed himself when I was walking the dog on a lonely lane in the country. I didn’t know how to deal with it, what to say. I just ran from it. All the years I worked in hotels or restaurants there were chefs and waiters or over eager customers trying to force me into cupboards or grab me. I survived, and came through relatively unscathed.
I realise my bubbly friendly attitude gave them the wrong impression – because I smiled they thought I was easy prey. Once, I was running for a train in country New Zealand with two small children in a twin pushchair. A man on the railway helped me and I thanked him. Next day he was at my door offering some fish he had caught, but quite obviously wanting more than that. So it goes on and we either learn to deal with it or become a victim.
I learned to be stronger, to laugh at them, or turn them away with clever words. I also learned that what I wore would always be my choice – if I wore clothes that were attractive I would make an impact, but the attention need not be sexual. Women often feel “It’s my fault” and for a million reasons they blame themselves but we must stop doing that.
We have rights; women who went before us fought for them. In some countries where the men still dominate, women are held back in a mediaeval stranglehold as bad as the chastity belt. Those countries will never move into this century until they give women their freedom.
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Things have changed in the last generation or two. We can talk more freely about these things now and not hide them away.
I have found great strength in my women friends and hope I have helped some of them in return. If the experiences still hurt too much there is professional help. So if you were a victim, seek that help. Having heard some of the stories I sincerely hope all women can be free to live their lives and not have this secret eating away at them forever.
How have you or friends overcome challenges you’ve faced because you’re a woman? Share your stories with us in the comments below…