My high school had a strict uniform. White blouse under a navy blue tunic, blue socks, black shoes. A striped tie in winter. A mandatory hair ribbon — blue for the younger girls, white for the older ones — and a badge that indicated what house you were in. I wore it almost every day for 6 years. Ankle socks in the summertime, knee socks in the wintertime.
In late March, news broke that my old school was embroiled in a nightmare scenario: a 15-year-old student allegedly raped by a student from her “brother school,” the all-boys school up the road. She was passed out when the alleged assault occurred, and another boy filmed it on his phone. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported that the video was passed around on a private Facebook group, and that the alleged victim didn’t know what had been done to her until someone told her about the video via text.
In a letter to parents, the principal of the girls school called the alleged rape “abhorrent,” and called sexual assault “a gross violation of a person’s dignity and personhood.” She lamented the misogyny that women encounter “daily,” and reminded parents that sexual assault is “not a story of alcohol consumption or revealing fashions,” but “a story of violence and crime.” She urged parents to take seriously the issues of consent education and digital literacy, and to teach their children about the effects of alcohol.
“It is vital,” she wrote, “that we engage these topics and issues and not shy away from uncomfortable realities and hard conversations.”
The news of the assault reached me a few days after the letter was published, on a Sunday evening. I was tidying my apartment and setting out my clothes for the next day, a habit I picked up in high school.
I sat on my couch thinking about that 15-year-old girl, a girl who gets up every day and puts on the very the same uniform I did. I thought about how she could have been any of my friends. She probably was; even in a small class like ours, statistics suggest that a good number of us were sexually assaulted during adolescence. It could have been me.
That was Sunday night, though it was already Monday in Sydney. I went to bed, and I got up in the morning. Showered, dressed, walked out into the world.
On Monday in America, yet another man walked into another school and shot more people. He shot his estranged wife, a Special Education teacher, and two of her students, then himself. She died, as did one of the children.
It doesn’t take much experience observing these sorts of incidents to know that when the initial reports read “murder-suicide,” the murderer may well turn out to be a man, and the victim his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend or wife or ex-wife. So it was this time.
This man had a record of weapons charges and domestic violence. He married Karen Elaine Smith in January, but her mother said she decided to leave him after only a month. This is how so many mass shootings begin, something that links so many acts of public violence across age, race, and location: the shooters are often men with a history of private rage, taken out first on women.
In fact, if a mass shooting is defined as one with four or more victims, most mass shootings happen at home.
I sat on my couch, thinking about how a woman and a child were dead because of how our culture teaches men to think about women: as things, as theirs, as threats to their own masculinity and identity when they do not comply and obey. A woman and a child were dead because we don’t take domestic violence seriously enough to stop it before it spills out of the house and into our streets and schools and health care clinics.
That was Monday night, though it was already Tuesday in Sydney. I went to bed, and I got up in the morning. Showered, dressed, walked out into the world.
When feminists talk about the daily grind of misogyny, this is what we talk about. It is relentless, even for those of us who don’t spend our days paying careful attention to headlines or waist-deep in breaking bad news. It’s the catcalls, the interruptions, the down-up glances as we walk to work and try to work. It’s the knowledge of how many rapes and shootings don’t make the papers because the victim didn’t go to a fancy school or the shooter didn’t also hit nearby children. It’s the thousands of women whose lights are dimmed or snuffed out entirely, day after day after day. It’s the knowledge that it could have been our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our teachers. It could have been us. It could have been a 15-year-old girl who wore the same uniform.
A rape on Sunday, a murder on Monday. What’ll it be today? We know it’s coming, a when and not an if. It is relentless. It is exhausting. So I went to bed, exhausted, but shaking with rage and flooded with sadness. And, like millions of other women, I got up in the morning. Showered, dressed, and walked out into the world to do it all again.