Why Clementine Ford is so important to men like me

Clementine Ford’s defiance and determination not only provides inspiration, encouragement and strength to women who face abuse and intimidation from men, she provides a critical insight into the experience of those women to men who are prepared to hear and understand.

Clementine Ford speaks for women with clarity, reason, humour, and honest emotion. She is brave, forthright and determined in the face of intense and sustained abuse and intimidation. On Wednesday 2-Dec-2015, Koraly Dimitriadis wrote about her regard for Clementine Ford. Dimiatriadis explains how she and other women like her are inspired, encouraged and strengthened by Ford.

Those same writers are also critically important to men. Ford’s forthright, honest and heartfelt writing, her intellectual rigour, her courage all serve to inform, confront, and challenge men. Men like me. Her writing communicates the experiences of women at an emotional as well as intellectual level. I can feel the pain, the anger, the humiliation, the sense of combined injustice and powerlessness. It’s that combination of feeling and knowing that constitutes understanding. Understanding is crucial for action.

The attack on Ford in the social media has recently gained a foothold in the public conciousness, and perhaps it will fade again soon. But the truth is that it has been sustained for a very long time. Ford has largely borne the abuse in silence until now. In my opinion she is entirely justified in concluding that without action, it will never stop… not for her, not for the other women who are the targets of such poisonous vitriol.

My first encounter with Clementine Ford felt very much like a slap in the face. And not a playful slap either. It was like she’d grabbed me by the shoulders and belted me with a truth I’d not comprehended before. That article (Male Privilege Extends Beyond the Airwaves) was the first article I’d read in a long time that made me stop reading partway through so I could think and absorb what I was learning.

Once I had finished the article, and thought some more, I decided I would write to Ford to thank her for the insight she’d given me, and describe say what I’d taken away from the article. But when I checked her profile on the ABC Drum website there wasn’t an actual contact address, just a reference to twitter. I despise twitter for reasons I won’t go into here… this article isn’t about me. Instead, I went looking for other articles in search of a direct contact method.

It was in the “comments” and “responses” sections of these other articles that I had my first encounter with the nature and the extent of the abuse directed at Ford. It was variously blunt, savage, abusive, unreasoning and staggeringly offensive! Then I understood why Clemetine Ford did not publish any avenue of direct contact.

The particular insight that I gained from the article – the first of Ford’s that I had read – was this: abuse in the workplace, like abuse in the home, is delivered secretly. The quiet, vicious threat delivered in private like a cowardly knife cut. It is unlikely that I will recognise which men in the workplace are the abusers. They know their behaviour is shameful, wrong, and would never be accepted in the workplace or wider community; so they hide their cowardice behind the mask of social acceptability. That’s why most men like me will never hear the kinds of comments exposed by Ford.

I have an awareness now, that I didn’t have before, of how isolating and disempowering it must be for a woman to have to hear a steady flow of casual, belittling, dismissive comments and humour around her. For any woman. But for one who is already feeling threatened and afraid, how much more so. It would tell her that anything she said would be discounted, dismissed. Particularly when her abuser is somebody who is probably generally popular and admirable.

How will my own behaviour be read then? Am I approachable? Do my humour or comments convey the message that I would wish to help, or even care? Or am I as the abuser hopes, part of the unaware, unquestioning, inadvertently complicit herd?

Clementine Ford’s articles can only help to break the isolation; helping women to understand that others have also experienced the injustice, share their anger, are standing up to confront the abusers, and are exposing their shameful, cowardly behaviour.

Men also need her work to reveal the behaviour of the abuser, to provide insight into the effect they have on their victims; to challenge and confront men’s assumptions, their complacency and their behaviour.

So thank you Clementine Ford for this article, and others I’ve found and read since, and yet others I haven’t yet found. Don’t stop. Bring it on. Push our faces into the ugly, brutal, unbearable truth until we clean it up.

Control your emotions

Have you ever noticed that the people who say things like, “you have to get your emotions under control”, are the very people who have never in their lives had an emotion that really needed to be controlled?

If you point that fact out, you will get a smug response about how that just illustrates their point.

But the truth is that is the smug people have totally missed the point.  Emotions cannot be controlled!  Emotions wash over you.  Emotions are experienced.  Emotions are not something you choose to have.

Tell me you can control that black feeling that sucks you down like soft mud.  That covers your eyes, your skin, your ears so there is nothing that reaches you but blackness and coldness and aloneness.  That oozes into your nostrils and your mouth and your lungs until it fills you, until there is nothing inside you except black, vile mud.  You can just as easily choose not to breathe!  And perhaps you would choose that just as gladly if you had the option.

Tell me you can control that white hot rage that explodes inside you and will come pouring out no matter how much you want to clamp down on it.  It can’t be swallowed.  Some inner part of you might be screaming in horror, weeping at the carnage you’re wreaking, terrified at how far you might go… this time… next time.  But it’s a small, weak, frightened part of you and powerless against the dragon.  So small, weak and impotent in fact that nobody believes it is even there.  They turn away, they guard themselves from you, they avoid you, they’re careful with you.

The smug people can be smug because they have never experienced such a thing.  Their lives have been fortunate and easy.  They ascribe their fortune and ease to good self-management and their own prowess.  But it isn’t that.  It’s luck.  When the tide of their lives turns – a faithless spouse exposed, a hidden creeping disease discovered, an unexpected death – the waters of their emotions are ready to burst out and wipe away everything they thought they knew about themselves.  They will be looking at bridge pylons as they drive by and thinking how easy it would be to twitch the wheel a fraction.  Perhaps the only thing that will stop them is the thought, “what if it’s too late, and I’m staring into concrete through the windscreen from two metres away, and I change my mind…”

In the face of emotions the only thing you can hope to influence is how you react, and most of the time not even that.  Perhaps you can feel it happening soon enough to deflect it, do something else, divert yourself.  But most of the time no… you embrace your own destruction… and you try to deal with the broken pieces afterward.

Labyrinth

When I was in my early twenties, I was introduced to Honeycomb Cave, near Mole Creek in Tasmania.  My sister and her then-husband discovered it when they went out for a trial run with the local caving association.  One weekend they took the rest of us (my parents and I) out for a look.

The entry we used was at roughly ground level where a little creek ran out of an adjacent cave system (called Wet Cave) and into Honeycomb.  This entry brought us into the top of roughly three levels.  The whole cave occupied an area probably the size of a football field beneath a moderate sized hill.  But from inside, the scale seemed enormous.  The passages were often low, all narrow, and all winding and the short sight-lines made everything mysterious.  There were branching passageways leading off in all directions, sometimes just holes in the wall through which you could shine your torch and catch sight of an adjacent chamber.  Here and there were holes in the floor showing some glimpse of the next level down.  There were so many options and turns we were only able to see a small portion of the cave in the space of the afternoon.  It was tantalising, captivating… and I was besotted!

I went back whenever any of the family invited me.  I invited other friends to go with me and showed them around.  And when neither of those things were possible, I went by myself!  I couldn’t get the place out of my mine.  It seemed like every time I went there was some previously unseen passageway or connection I hadn’t tried before.  Going one way down a passage revealed turns and branches that I hadn’t seen when going the other way.

Inside the cave I felt like I was inside some breathtaking adventure story.  In The Lord of the Rings there’s a scene where the companions have just made their way inside the mines of Moria.  Gandalf risks a light so they can get their bearings.  The scene is realised quite well in the movie, but in the book it’s a transcendent moment.  Being in Honeycomb Cave felt like that except it was real!

Each level was different.  The top was dry and dusty.  The cave formations – stalactites, flowstone, and so on – were long dead and dulled with age and wear.  But this was the level where you came and went.  There were entrances all around the hill above.  From pretty well anywhere in the top level you could switch off your torch and be able to see a glimmer of light from one direction or another.  That was kind of comforting because the narrow, winding passages meant it was easy to lose all sense of direction.  Actually for me, with my amazingly poor visual memory, losing all sense of direction was completely unavoidable.  Often when I’d finished at the cave I’d have to pop out through some random entryway and walk around the base of the hill until I found the car.  The upside of caving with bad visual memory is that I could experience that shiver of fresh discovery in places I’d been several times before!  I guess you could say I got three times the excitement out of it than a normal person.

Even though it was dry the top level still had its moments of delight.  In one place you could walk out into what looked from the inside as if you were walking out of the cave.  But you would find that you were standing in the bottom of a deep pit, hung with leafy vegetation all around, still, quiet, warm in the sunshine, and completely inaccessible from outside.  Here and there were tempting chimneys or steeply inclined passageways leading up to the sunlight, probably somewhere high on the side of the hill.

The next level down was quite easy to reach; the openings in the floor of the top level were large and plentiful.  In other places there were ramps or creek beds that allowed easy access.  This level was much more like a typical limestone cave.  The formations were still moist and active; stalactites looking like dripping wax, glittering flow-stones, and stalagmites.  This was my favourite level; beautiful and captivating, like some enchanted realm completely removed from everyday life.  From the top level you could still hear the wind in the trees, the song of birds, even the occasional passing car.  But down here it was still, quiet, cool and secret.

The third level down was harder to get to.  There were few holes in the floor, and they were narrow.  This level was suffused with a sense of danger and threat.  The creek ran through this level.  There were deep pools where the passageway sank below the level of the water, which was icy cold.  The beam of the torch would reach down in to the misty, bluish water and peter out in glaring reflection before reaching the bottom.  Turning out the torch would leave you enveloped in a darkness so complete it was almost tangible, like being shrouded in black velvet.  Waving your hand in front of your face and being unable to detect even the slightest hint of visible movement was eerie, almost like being invisible or paralysed.  Your eyes begin to invent lights after a little of such complete darkness.  In some places there were the greenish-blue lights of glow worms.

Most of the time the creek was a small trickle, but the evidence was everywhere of what a torrent it could become after a rain.  Everything was scrubbed clean and smooth.  The rock was channelled and eroded with the turbulent flow.  There were no cave formations down here, the creek would scrub them away as they began to form.  Here and there were clumps of branches and other debris wedged in to crevices in the ceiling where the winter floods had jammed them.

I went there once with the family when the creek was in flood; a raging, bellowing monster pouring out through a passageway, cascading down a sloping cavern floor before thundering into another passageway draining into the blackness below.  I went back there in the dry and I could see the violence that the surging water had done to the rocks.

It took long and longer for me to get to explore Honeycomb.  So many afternoons spent underground for hours, to emerge tired, chilled, muddy, cramped from crouching, and ravenously hungry, into the bright, warm, golden, eye-blinking sunshine of a late Tasmanian summer afternoon.

I still like caves, and love to visit a new place to marvel at the formations.  But there’s always some part of me that wants to slip quietly over the railing that keeps the public safe, and go flitting away from everyone and everything into that darkness filled with secret wonders.