Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: I never realised getting groped was something to complain about

16 year old Deborah Hill Cone. Photo / Supplied
16 year old Deborah Hill Cone. Photo / Supplied

I know my father loved me. It just didn't feel like he did. I recently came across an old photo he took of me. I was about 16, sitting in the sun outside my room, listening to REM. I didn't want my photo taken, but Dad said he was going to take it anyway, as a record, because "you will feel so ashamed later in your life when you see it".

Granted, I looked like a small, angry, punk squirrel, what with my cut up pyjama top home-painted in Stephen Sprouse-homage graffiti, my dyed hair teased high with black death (hairspray) and overall, looking like I needed a good scrub.

My father loved me but it was hard not to realise he also found me too much: too messy, whiny, clingy, slutty, loud. I knew our rules: be brainy not emotional, work hard, play safe, don't be wrong and above all, achieve. Try as I might, I just couldn't seem to follow them.

Yes I know, it seems I'm having a Sylvia Plath moment. But it's actually not such a huge jump from this - Daddy's disapproval - to understanding why I particularly admire those women who have spoken out about being manhandled by Donald Trump. I admire them not for their courage in coming forward, but their strength of character in even recognising what happened to them was something to complain about. I didn't.

Not that I have ever met Donald Trump but I have certainly met a lot of mid-echelon grandiose businessmen. And for much of my life I would have felt rather chuffed if not downright grateful if one of them, any man in a position of power, found me attractive enough to grope with their short fingers.

Jeez, it really makes me a bit sad to write that. In fact not only would I have put up with being hit on, at times I probably sought out those kind of men. There is a certain predatory look- a cold primate stare - that marks some men as withholding enough to become a stand-in for my late father. A pathetic transaction of course: I was the young beggar tipping my cup and giving my coins to the old beggar.

And repetition compulsion seldom works; I was unlikely to get the love I didn't get from my Dad from some other random emotionally unavailable man in a suit. Compulsively seeking the role of "the special one" with some latter day representative of your father is a fruitless attempt to rewrite history. But that's what happens, as a girl, when you don't get the acceptance you need from the most important man in your life.

Hey any fathers reading this? Will you do something for me? Try to find an appropriate, non-cringey time today to tell your daughters they are beautiful, just as they are. Every daughter is entitled to feel welcomed, deserving and adored and to know she doesn't have to work hard to be loved. It's important.

I believe what makes Trump a toxic sleaze is the same macho culture that kept my father trapped, unable to accept me as I am.

I don't intend to sound like I'm blaming my father. He did love me, in the best way he knew, even though this tended to involve wishing me to be better or different or preferably, a Rhodes Scholar. But he lived, like all of us, in a culture that struggles with difference. And maybe I was just a bit different.


My father was nothing like Donald Trump. Nonetheless, I believe what makes Trump a toxic sleaze is the same macho culture that kept my father trapped, unable to accept me as I am.

Traditional masculinity is a coping mechanism that deadens a man's emotions. That is how Jared Yates Sexton describes it in a New York Times essay in which he explains how Trump's supporters hear in Trump's demeaning of women an echo of their own fear and desperation.

I believe the fear he refers to is a fear of difference. I also believe it is not merely a gender construct, but something that stops us connecting with each other, both men and women. For example, some of us are born with a tendency to feel emotions more strongly than others but our social norms don't value this difference. (Most people who struggle with dysregulated behaviours are like this.)

Unfortunately, instead of making space for people who are different our culture strongly favours those who are capable of accepting the world at face value and succeeding in the system as it is. People who don't fit tidily into the dominant mode of interaction are defined as needing to be fixed. This has to do with the terror we feel of own dark side, which we hate in ourselves and project onto others. Donald Trump's fear and shame-based politics feeds off this demonising of difference.

On a personal level, it's a life's work to learn that we're not wrong, we're just different. I found the photo that my Dad took the other day and actually, 30 years later, Dad, sorry but you were wrong. I don't feel ashamed of myself. I actually thought I looked rather cool.

- NZ Herald

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