A moment. Mother and son, home, alone and together, on a Saturday night. So rare. So dear. My only son, my eldest child. Almost 12, he is as if suspended — still child, yet flirting with manhood. There we sat; a packet of strawberry shortbread creams, two long glasses of milk, between us. We dunked and we discussed. Discussed a sexual assault. It took place on the film we were watching. No nudity. He wore pyjamas, she a nightie. No violence. Just a man, a husband, mounting a woman, his comatose wife. I wouldn't have let him see it, had I known it was coming. But it was so sudden, so unexpected. Over in a flash. Its brutality blunted by the magical realism employed to tell the tale. Oh gross, he said, is that like sex? No, I said, that's rape. It makes no difference she is his wife, and unaware of what he's doing to her. He doesn't have her consent. And that makes it rape.
While my son remains a boy, he is in peril of being sexually assaulted. One day soon, though, unless, touch wood, he ends up in prison, or is terribly unlucky, hopefully he should no longer be a target.
But neither I, my 8-year-old daughter, 61-year-old mother, nor 100-year-old grandmother will ever outgrow our risk of being raped. It is unlikely my son will ever have to modify his behaviour — not walk home a certain way or catch a certain bus, not jog because the only time he can is early in the morning or late at night, not drink too much or dance too provocatively — in order to avoid being raped. He will never live with the fear every female I know does, teetering on its rim, its edges coming in and out of focus with the company she keeps, with a loud noise in the dead of the night. Safely married, seldom exiting nightclubs in dark alleyways, it's been some years since I've felt the full force of that fear. But finding myself alone recently one night, in the middle of the country, I slept, if you can call it that, fully clothed, shoes on, keys and cellphone in hand, planning my escape route. Tormented. When I told my husband, he laughed. He didn't get it. Couldn't.
On Sunday afternoon, stupidly, I went to Countdown. The aisles were teeming with tense trolley-pushers. In front of the frozen fish fingers I bumped into a friend. A friend who always gives me cause to view a thing in another way. Did you see? she asked. Did you see that piece on dodgy health practitioners in the paper? I had, and had been mildly disturbed by it, before putting it aside. You know, she said, how it listed them. Osteopath licks breast. GP fondles vagina. And so on. Well, it never gave their gender. But then, she said, it wouldn't, would it? Because, of course, they were men.
Somewhere there is a switch we must reset. I worry, though, that we are shifting not up a gear, but down. Several schools I know of, either Catholic or private, all single-sex, hold socials for their Year 7 and 8 students, for 11 and 12-year-old boys and girls. The boys must ask a certain number of girls to dance, the girls are not allowed to refuse them, and they must dance together, hands on shoulders and hips. Aside from how contrived this all is, what it means for those children who will grow up not to be heterosexual, or even any kind of sexual, I wonder what exactly they think they are teaching them. That it always behoves him to make the first move? That she can't say no?
Last week I wrote of my anxiety. Cathy, a doctor, has learnt from her patients that "whenever a cause was fixed, the anxiety would latch itself on to something else". That "it was the anxiety that needed treating". Sonja gave an awful account of meeting her idol, Patti Smith, and being so worried she couldn't speak. "And I have now turned that 10 minutes of silence into a nuclear explosion inside my head. And, sadly, I am masterful at replaying disasters." David wrote: "You'll really screw up your life if you don't grow out of this bubble in a cesspool phase you're in with your thin skin ever ready to pop." "Cheers," he signed off.