I have always been someone who believes in egalitarian equality. Which is why years ago someone was surprised by my response to a rape allegation in the news with a comment I made about how I hoped it’s “not a case of false allegations” and challenged me on it.
Now before everyone jumps up and down, it was a genuine concern. However It was not built from some misogynistic viewpoint but was actually based on a fear of authority.
You say what now?
Let’s go back to the seventies. A decade earlier Immigrants had arrived in Australia from the peasant villages of post war-torn depression Italy. They brought with them a culture steeped in traditional values and religious dogma. Part of this culture is an old patriarchal oligarchy structure. The eldest male of the family is seen as the caretaker, protector and responsible for the family and its honour.
Perhaps in a cultural background where such a structure is practised as a normal aspect of daily behaviour then things may have been different. However I was not raised in the south of Italy but in a heavily White Anglo Saxon Protestant based western outskirts of Melbourne.
A conflict of cultures was inevitable, I suppose, but not because the WASP community was any less male dominated. No, like a 1950s period drama, the little corner of the world my family moved into was a working class periurban town with the changes of an expanding population of the city making its presence felt and the blame for the ills of a changing society were firmly laid to rest at the feet of the foreigners. Unfortunately for me, we were the first of the “dago plague” to “invade” the township.
The conflict between the two cultures was not, however, on the streets where the children of the drunkard wife beater took their collective frustrations out on me by dishing out daily beatings nor in the paddocks where I was ambushed and pelted with rocks and discarded beer bottles. The reality was it was at home where a culture from another land could not perceive that people from other cultures could possibly wish harm on someone without somehow having triggered or caused the initial conflict.
This was my first exposure to what I now know as victim blaming. I was told that I was responsible for my own misfortune.
The message was repeated over the years. When teachers used the strap, priests utilised bottom slapping for supposed indiscretions or police officers did “random” searches it was all because I must have deserved it.
The lessons were not just limited to the supposed actions I had committed to bring on my own misfortune.
I mentioned the “cappo” aspect bestowed upon me purely as a function of my birth place in the family tree. I was the first born son of two families. The first born son of the eldest son and the first born son of the eldest daughter. I was destined to be the protector and caretaker for two entire branches of family.
My sister was born three years into my existence and like any big brother I was charged with the responsibility of her protection. However the responsibility did not stop there. The extended family quickly grew and by the time I was eleven, twelve cousins were somehow relegated to my responsibility whenever the family was united.
All mistakes were my mistakes. All wrong doing was mine. All fault was mine. No matter who had done wrong, I was the oldest. I was to blame. If no evidence could be found to pinpoint the crimes perpetrator, and then it was by default mine to bare.
These were my lessons in authority from my formative years: they were to be feared. They could and would blame you for your misfortunes, punish you for their prejudices, abuse you under rules you didn’t understand and the cherry on the top was that they would pin a crime on you and without so much as allowance of a single utterance of protest.
No, I was never afraid that a woman would falsely accuse me of rape, rather that some authority figure could and, more importantly, wouldarrest and imprison me because they decided to make their own life easier.
These lessons manifested themselves in a number of ways in my adult life. Whether it was through fear of admitting mistakes or voicing opinions like that iterated at the beginning of this entry. When one is used to being punished for things one has not done, do you expect anything less?
This enlightened understanding of what was at the root of my response took a long time to arrive at. It did however trigger a new question: how many others had gone through a similar upbringing and had similar fears? How many others were effectively proponents of rape culture and victim blaming not because they felt that way but because of a fear based response?
Feminism maybe the wrong word, but not having a better word for the egalitarianism our world needs then it will have to do.
However, it’s not just about feminism, it’s about fostering a better relationship with all members of society. We need to start at home. In the school yards and in the media. No aspect of it should be tolerated. We need to stop all forms of victim blaming so that other children do not grow up and, conciously or subconciously, perpetrate a culture of continued damage.
We each need to understand that there may be more than what meets the eye.
We need to foster change.