real life

Dear girls in the cafe. That's not what men are like.

‘Dear girls in the cafe, men aren’t like this’

Trigger Warning: This post could cause distress for survivors of abuse.

….

“He was so pissed off when he came home last night. I was having a cup of tea and he grabs it, slams it down on the counter so hard it broke. So I was all: ‘What are you DOING? That’s my favourite mug!’ And then he throws the handle at me.”

“Ugh. I hate it when guys are LIKE that. One thing sets them off and then everything is suddenly a disaster.”

“Yes! But all guys throw stuff and break stuff. It’s just their way of blowing off steam. He’s never punched me. He would absolutely never do a full on punch. No way would he do that.”

“Of course he wouldn’t. I know Mark. He’d never be full-on violent.”

….

I am sitting in a cafe, taking advantage of their free-wifi-with-any-purchase policy. Next to me are two girls; neither can be much older that 21. Judging by the giant textbooks sticking out of one of their shoulder bags, I’m pretty sure they’re uni students.

One is dark haired and heavily eye-line-ed; wearing an ironic hipster-style nana jumper, boots and black leggings. So Melbourne. The other appears to be of Vietnamese descent but with her shiny black hair coloured red at the ends. She wears patterned tights and black thick framed glasses. She has the shoes I’ve been coveting in Mimco.

I’ve been listening in for a while. Not intently, just enough to grasp snippets of their conversation.

They move seamlessly from topic-to-topic as only women are able to do. They giggle about spending money they don’t have on accessories they don’t need. They complain that the cream on their iced coffees came out of a can. They make new years plans: Byron Bay or Gold Coast? They exclaim over the fact that one of their sisters is about to graduate year 12. “I feel so OLD,” one squeals, as the rest of the cafe’s customers roll their eyes.

They talk casually about their abusive relationships, except neither seems to realise that’s what they are.

….

“Don’t worry, babe. Ben’s the same. But he’s just messing around, you know? Grabs my throat and stuff. He wouldn’t hit a girl. No way. None of the guys in that group are like that.”

“It’s a man thing. It’s something they just have to get out of their systems sometimes. Girls process stuff by talking about it or crying but guys get all pent up inside and it just comes OUT. They can’t help it.”

….

But they can, I want to say. They can help it.

I rehearse an intervention (that I would never in a million years actually make) in my head.

Jamila: “I picture myself telling these girls that this ISN’T normal”

I picture myself striding over and taking one of these girls by the hand. I kindly but firmly explain that what the pair are describing as the normal everyday activity of the men in their lives, is not okay. It’s not normal. It’s not just what men are like. It’s not good enough. It’s a crime.

I tell them about the men I’ve loved and who I’ve been lucky enough to have love me. Men who work hard to look after their families, who are loyal to their friends, who would never dream of hurting, intimidating, controlling or scaring their partners.

I paint a picture for these girls of my boyfriend, my father, my housemates, my cousins… men who are special to me but who are, in reality, nothing out of the ordinary. I tell them that each of these men – in fact, the very vast majority of men – are good and kind.

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I want these girls to know that they deserve better than what they’re experiencing. That they need to break up, go, run, get away now, before it becomes harder and harder and harder to leave. In time they will find new partners; men who will love and respect them and protect them from (rather than bring them to) harm.

The girls look at me gratefully. Their eyes are slightly brighter as they accept what I am saying as true. It’s a light bulb moment, a turning point, the beginning of a better and a happier life. One free from violence; physical, mental or otherwise.

Yep. In my head I’m like a modern day f*cking Mother Theresa.

But in reality? I just sit there sipping my latte.

….

“When’s he moving in?”

“Well he basically has already, he’s just not paying rent yet because he has all this stuff on and people owe him money at the moment.”

“Yeah fair enough, it’s difficult with the sort of work he does, hey?”

“Yep. He does all this work and then clients mess him around and don’t pay him for ages. He earns good money but doesn’t have cash flow. You know?”

….

“The girls don’t live up to the television stereotype of battered women.”

Visually, the girls don’t live up to the television stereotype of battered women.

They’re young and well educated; perhaps even wealthy judging by the clothes they wear. They are well dressed, well groomed, well spoken. Well. Well. Well.

Neither bares the visible signs of being abused: There are no black eyes, no reddened patches of skin, no bruises and no scratches. To anyone not actually listening to the contents of their conversation, they appear perfectly fine.

….

“Yeah cool. Hey – did I tell you I’m thinking of dying my hair? Like a caramel colour.”

“That would look really great on you. Like Kim Kardashian.”

“Thanks. Hey – want to go halves in a piece of that carrot cake?”

….

I set about convincing myself of the merits of doing nothing.

I am staying silent because if I tried to intervene, they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. There is no point me speaking up – I’m a stranger. They’d just look haughty and tell me to mind my own business.

If I said something, it would really be to comfort my own conscience and not really for the benefit of the two young women sitting beside me. After all, what the hell can I do, or offer, or say. I have no experience with this. Who the hell am I to think I know about what’s happening in their lives.

Bullshit.

I don’t say anything because intervening would be awkward. And I’ve got an appointment to get to.

Editors Note: I should have done something, even though I’m still not sure what. One thing I know for sure is that far too many women live in relationships based on control and fear. You can donate to White Ribbon Australia to support those who are fleeing domestic violence here. Please share this post to raise awareness of this devastating issue, happening right here in our own backyards.

If this post brings up any issues for you, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or go to their website. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.

What would you have done?

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