THREE DAYS IN A LIFETIME OF BEING A WOMAN
TWs for sexual assault, abortion, abuse
I spent most of International Women’s Day in bed.
From a young age I have suffered from excruciating period pains that rendered it impossible for me to perform simple tasks for days at a time. At 18, a keyhole laparoscopy was performed on me to detect whether or not I had endometriosis. I did not. But the pain never subsided, and the doctors never looked into it again.
Between bouts of twisting pain & fitful bed rest, I opened my laptop. I logged into Twitter & lazily scrolled through content, most of which relevant to International Women’s Day & the importance of an intersectional approach to women’s issues. I took part in several interesting & insightful conversations with other women.
In the afternoon a high profile outspoken male feminist commented publicly that women should ‘seek other ways to get validation’ rather than using their bodies. A strange comment from a man who posed half naked for a recent campaign, sharpie scrawled on his abs proclaiming ‘My Body My Terms’.
When confronted about this comment he asked me and other women to be more ‘constructive and kind’ if we wanted him to listen, and provided a link to a reading titled Female Chauvinist Pigs in lieu of an explanation for his hypocrisy.
Many came to his defence, outraged that women could criticise him, of all men. Weren’t there worse men with worse opinions that we could be focusing on? At least he was trying!
I watched people whose opinion I trust and respect speak of his character, and assure us that ‘he had a good heart’ and ‘means well’.
I wondered if there was any use in male allies at all if they refused to listen to the women they were advocating for.
I spent Wednesday, the day after — in a police interview room, where I was asked in great detail on camera about a sexual assault that occurred 8 years ago. I was asked what I could hear, smell, see and how I felt at the time of the assault. I was forced to relay in excruciating detail how long the assault took and whether or not he wore a condom, or if he ejaculated. If I said no at any point, if anyone else had witnessed the event, if I had been friendly to him earlier in the night.
Why I had waited so long to come forward.
He had been a friend, and for years none of his victims felt like it was the kind of thing that we could take to the police. We had been drinking, and some of us had been in consensual relationships with him at some point. We thought we deserved what had happened to us, and going to the police was unfair to him — we couldn’t ruin his life like that.
Things have changed, I’m a different person now and have learned a huge amount from listening to other women who have been through similar situations. I knew I had to do what I could with the information I had to protect other women from a predator who operated in plain sight. I knew I had the support now to do so. I went to the police several weeks ago, and the video statement had been looming over me ever since.
It has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future — one of the hardest things I’ll ever have to do.
On Thursday I prepared for an appointment at the hospital. I had gotten a smear test done several weeks ago and the results had come back as ‘high grade’ meaning I had to go to the Women’s Clinic at the hospital to get further tests done, also known as a colposcopy.
On my way in to the hospital I passed the 40 Days for Life stand. The organisation are a pro-life, anti abortion group who gather outside the entry walkway to the hospital once a year, for 40 days. They hand out pamphlets and serve as a constant reminder to women entering the hospital that they don’t agree with their right to bodily autonomy. Abortion is murder, there is no grey area.
The stand was manned by a lone woman, who seemed bored and was looking at her phone. I walked past quickly, and decided against any snarky remarks. She was a woman after all, and I didn’t have the heart for it. I wondered how she came to be in that position, why she supported something which was so harmful to other women. I thought about the old men who usually looked after the stand, and wondered how they could possibly understand what it was like to be a woman in the position of an unwanted pregnancy.
Waiting at reception I glanced at the heavy locked door to the Te Mahoe clinic, where abortions were performed. They have an intercom by the door — you have to push the button and state your name so they can confirm you have an appointment before they let you in. It’s a safety precaution for both the staff and the patients of the clinic.
I know this because once, years ago — I was a patient of Te Mahoe. I had gotten pregnant to a man I hardly knew, although he professed his love for me after only two dates. I knew I was pregnant almost straight away. I purchased the pregnancy test, and upon the positive reading I immediately picked up my phone to arrange a termination.
It wasn’t a difficult choice for me. I didn’t know the guy very well, and I was hardly in a position to be bringing a child into the world. I could barely hold down a job, look after myself or afford to eat anything but two minute noodles at the time. The termination was quick and relatively painless, all of the staff of the clinic were incredibly kind and reassuring. I knew I had done the right thing.
Shortly after, the man I was seeing arrived at my house in tears. He told me he was upset because I had killed ‘his baby’. He had brought all of my stuff I had left at his house back in plastic bags. He didn’t want to see me anymore.
After around half an hour of Candy Crush in the waiting room, I was led through to the room where the doctor would be performing my colposcopy.
He read through my medical history, checking important details and giving me a brief overview of what he was about to do.
I sat in stirrups in a fancy electronic chair that lowered backwards, and he let me know that I would experience a certain amount of discomfort, as he was going to be removing a small chunk of my cervix for testing. He inserted the cold speculum into my vagina and I tried not to think about the sexual assault I had spent yesterday revisiting.
The procedure only took a few minutes, but It hurt a lot more than I expected. I winced and tried not to cry out while he cut and then applied silver nitrate to stem the blood flow.
Upon getting up to go put my pants back on, I felt faint. My eyes clouded over and I felt a wave of nausea come over me. I steadied myself on a wall for support. I had an overwhelming urge to break down in tears. But I still had to get home. I could wait to get home to break down.
On my way up the hill to my house I remembered the voting papers I had in my bag for the flag referendum. I had been meaning to put them in a post box days ago, but I kept forgetting.
I thought about how I had voted for the old flag, and how pointless & irrelevant it had all seemed now. I thought about the 26 million dollars that the government led by John Key had sunk into the project, and how a rape crisis centre in Christchurch had been forced to close last year because they couldn’t secure $30k in government funding.
I thought about the outspoken male feminist I had argued with earlier in the week, how I had checked twitter in the morning and he was still refusing to acknowledge women’s voices, yet was being heralded as his mates as a ‘great guy who does a lot for women’.
I thought about the men who had been privy to the behaviour of my rapist at the time of my assault & never did anything until they saw it with their own eyes. How I had called him a rapist for years before anyone bothered to ask why.
I thought about the old men at the anti abortion stand, who had reappeared as I left the hospital. I thought about how they claimed to know what was best for a woman’s body.
I thought about all the things I had been through this week, and how I only found the strength for it through the support and love of women.