Monday, February 25, 2013


I was so alarmed when he said it to me, I was convinced that it was a mistranslation from the Dutch: "It takes a real man to hurt a woman." It was such a curious expression that I rushed to write it down, not wanting to forget it. When I asked what he meant by that, he went on to explain that it takes courage for a man to take responsibility for the pain he's caused. I said I agree absolutely, although he probably could have expressed it in a slightly different way.

I like to think of myself as an honourary man. I insist that the men around me treat me as such. I encourage them to confide, discuss and describe the way they treat women. I do not take particular offence when they generate an endless stream of seemingly sexist synonyms, ranging from the fat and the stupid to the needy and hysterical. I do not feel particular disappointment when they detail the hollow physicality of their latest conquest. It is a compliment that I know, it is a compliment that they tell me.

A friend often pleads with me to be careful with such confidences, she tries to convince me that knowing such truths will ultimately damage the way I perceive men. I always laugh, because there's no other way to react to such a suggestion. For me, it seems counter-intuitive to fly the flag for feminism when I'm privy to such discussions. Instead, I listen. I try to understand their motivations and justifications. I try to find the source of their cruelty and thoughtlessness.

When I was younger, my brother predicted that I would marry a wife-beater. I never asked why, I had always assumed it had something to do with his obsessive compulsion to punish, bully and control myself and my mother. For this reason, I'm unsure how we ever became friends, but we did for a short time. I was 15 and we would talk for hours and hours, all while listening to early Depeche Mode on our all-night drives to Nunawading. I once asked him if he ever regretted how he treated us: "I've never hurt either of you. I've never done anything wrong..."

Whenever I recall his brutality, I'm reminded of that moment. I'm reminded of that flippant, completely remorseless sense of entitlement. For whatever reason, he felt like he needed to do what he did.

He and I have not spoken in three years, although I find myself silently counting the years over and over again, as if I've made some huge mistake. I don't recall any words during that last interaction, I just recall the ferociousness with which he spat on me. I'm filled with curious feelings of disgust and self-satisfaction when he tells my mother that he misses my emails. He tells her that he thinks I write better than anyone else in the family. I know that I'll never speak to him again, in the same way that I know that I'll never forgive him.

Perhaps it makes sense then, that I should look for that illusive assumption of responsibility in the uncensored accounts of male friends and heartbreakers. Sure, I will always yearn for a sincere statement of remorse, I will always long for an explanation. The thing is that I know how they speak about us. I know how they think about us. It is a compliment that I know, it is a compliment that they tell me.