HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: As a mother of a girl, how do I explain the current news cycle?

 As. A. Mother. 

They're the most loaded three words. The lead-in to a million mum-splaining statements about how the world looks so different after parenthood. You couldn't possibly understand, non-parent. Pat on the head for you.

"As a mother... it really upsets me to see children suffering." 

"As a mother... I just had to dash out and grab that falling child's hand." 

Eugh. I know. Provocative, patronising, boring.  

But today, I'm doing it. 

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Because "as a mother", I don't know where to start talking to my children about this latest crowning wave of reckoning about sexual assault. Around schools. Around workplaces. Around the most powerful office in the land. 

"As a mother", I'm specifically struggling with how to explain the news cycle to my 11-year-old daughter, who's interested in everything, all the time.

The radio's on in our house in the morning, playing in the kitchen while breakfast is made and lunchboxes are packed. I'm multi-tasking, being across the news is part of my job, and Brent is distracting himself from trying to untangle inexplicably looped shoelaces. 

It's on The Quicky headlines, and it's on ABC news radio, and this week, neither of them have helped me when it comes to my daughter, who's skulking around, hoping to influence snack choice. 

"Mum, what's rape?" 

"It's sex against your will." 

"Why would anyone do that, Mum?"

"I guess it makes them feel powerful." 

"Does it?"

"No. It makes them criminally dangerous. And cruel." 

They're hardly big enough words for the weeks when we've heard that a young woman in Parliament House was found semi-dressed by security guards on the lounge of a Federal Minister's office with no trace of the man who brought her there, talking his way past the protectors. 

As the nation now knows, that man allegedly raped Brittany Higgins and left. Apparently, no-one thought to ask where the woman he arrived with had gone. 

The news is also on at bedtime, in that period when the kids are meant to be in their rooms but keep popping out, like meerkats, any time they sense there might be a tremor in the force... or a teaching moment that will keep them up and out of bed for a few more minutes. 


"Mum, what's the Prime Minister got to do with it?"

"Well, people say he didn't know that this woman was attacked in Parliament House."

"Did he know?" 

"He says not."

"Why does Daddy call him a spineless prick?"

Time to change the channel. 

Listen to Holly on This Glorious Mess, Big Kids. Post continues below.

There's nothing fresh about the debate on whether to shield children from the horrors of confronting news but there's something that feels particularly urgent this week. And it's something about young girls and what they need to know to arm themselves for the world that's waiting. 

"Mum, why are they talking about schoolgirls?"

"This young woman has started a movement to expose stories of sexual assault in schools." 

Oops. Shouldn't have said that. M's eyes go wide, her jaw drops. 

"What? In what?" 

"Don't worry, darling. Do you want some chips in your lunchbox?" Backtrack, backtrack. 

"People get sexually assaulted IN SCHOOL?" 

"Well, not just in schools, M..." I say, taking a deep breath for my considered take on Consent and education, that I had over-stepped the mark with the word 'schools'. 

"Where else?" And my daughter's eyes are flashing, and she's standing up, and she's so outraged by the very idea of people doing this new word she has just learned, to women. Women and girls. 


And I don't want to tell her the truth.


In bars, darling. At your swimming pool, darling. At cafes and bars where you might go to have fun. And at work, often at work. Sometimes, in your own bed, or in your own house. Darling, girls have been sexually assaulted in church.

None of us can live like that. And least of all an 11-year-old who is just beginning to put her itchy feet outside of the door without her parents' continual vigilance. It's the start of her autonomy and independence. And it's glorious. 

But... "Was this Brittany at work, Mum?" 

"Yes, darling. But it was late... work had finished...."

Where are you going with this, Holly, As A Mother? 

"And why didn't anyone help her?"

"They say they didn't know," I said. 

More words not to say: "Because they didn't think there was anything even remotely high-risk about a senior man signing an obviously alcohol-impaired young woman into the nation's most secure building and then leaving without her. Because young women have very little value. Especially drunk ones. Especially drunk ones working in a competitive, intense, all-male environment. Fresh meat, and all that."

I didn't say that because it's terrifying for a young girl to stare down her worthlessness. 

"Is the Prime Minister going to get in trouble?" 

"Probably not. He's the one who gets people in trouble, darling."

And my daughter wanders off to find the dog, blissfully unaware of the rumbles beneath our feet that might just shake the status-quo loose, but are equally as likely to be smoothed over and dismissed as the actions of a few bad apples. 

"As a mother", I don't know what to do with all the signs my daughter is internalising that young women's voices are only raised in fury against horror.

I don't know what to do with the information that caring about violence against her is somehow a politicised choice, not a legal issue.

And I don't know what to do with the glaring failure that sits with my own generation of women, who may be guilty of raiding an entirely new generation of young, privileged boys who think that sex is something to take from a woman when she is unable to protest otherwise.

But "as a mother", I have to figure it out. My daughter's generation deserve it.

Feature Image: Instagram / @wainwrightholly

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