It happened one winter evening when I was watching the State of Origin.
It’s the highlight of my year, that’s for sure. I’ve always been a Blues supporter and the start of the NRL season brings the promise of that legendary match up. One I anticipate with baited breath.
So this one night, my family and another family were watching it together. I would have been in late primary school or early high school. I remember, quite vividly, that both fathers were yelling at the screen. They both quite brash blokes. Loud and intimidating.
“Come on ref!”
“Give us a penalty! Who’s paying you off?”
That sort of thing.
Nothing unusual of course.
I decided, when a penalty was called for the other team, to chime in and share my disbelief. Because that was the way, right?
I remember the other father telling me to shoosh because I was speaking over the TV commentary.
I was quiet for the rest of the night. I was completely embarrassed and ashamed. I had interrupted this game. Their pleasure. The pleasure and peace that the men deserved. And I had given my opinion about sport.
It’s only now that I can see how gendered this is. This person had done this to me because I was vulnerable and because I was a little girl. What could I know about sport? Why would my opinion be valuable?
I felt, in that moment, that I couldn’t say or do anything right. So I stayed silent. Like so many women do.
Every single day.
Because judgement follows us everywhere. And it’s not just men that it’s coming from. It’s from other women too.
I feel like I can’t get anything right. Because when I bring up the fact that women are still paid less than men, I’m laughed at. It’s a myth, they tell me. The pay gap is a myth.
I feel like I can’t get anything right. Because every time I bring up the fact that women are more likely than men to be sexually or violently assaulted I’m told that, well, you know, men experience violence too.
I feel like I can’t get anything right. Because when I wear shorts or a crop top to the gym, I’m given dirty, greasy looks. What an attention seeker. A whore. Strutting herself around like that. Then when I wear three quarter length pants I must be insecure. I don’t make enough of an effort.
I can’t get anything right. Because whenever I get upset or cry I must be on my period. It’s my hormones. PMS.
I can’t get anything right. Because when I wear make-up I’m hiding my true self. I’m lying. Men like women who wear less make-up, they say. But if I don’t wear makeup I look tired. Did you sleep okay last night?
I can’t get anything right. Because if I lift weights at the gym I’m trying to attract the male gaze. I’m seeking attention. But if I run on the treadmill I’m not doing much.
I can’t get anything right. Because if I don’t like being whistled and yelled at by strangers I should just learn that it’s a compliment. Get over it. Don’t be so uptight for God’s sake. If I stand up for myself, I’m complaining about nothing. I need to stop being a bitch. I need to lighten up and stop being THAT girl. Because no one likes THAT girl. I’ve never heard a man being called a bitch.
I can’t get anything right. Because if I don’t send nude photos I’m a bad girlfriend or a prude. But it I do and the photos get on to the Internet, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have sent them in a first place. It’s slutty, you know.
I can’t get anything right. Because if I want to go for a high-powered job I’ll have to be working to a standard set by men. Because that’s the way it’s always been. I’ll have to work and punch harder than my male colleague to prove hiring a chick was worth it.
I can’t get anything right. Because I have to choose between my career and a family. If I choose my career I must be a child-hater. If I choose a family I must be weak. Unambitious.
God forbid I become a mother because then I won’t be able to get anything right ever again. If I breastfeed, I can’t do it in public because people don’t like bare beasts unless they’re in porn or on Game of Thrones. If I give my baby a bottle I’m taking away that precious connection between mother and child.
If I stay home with my baby I’m not getting enough time with my partner. I’m a bad wife. But if I go out with the girls or for some alone time, I’m abandoning my family. I’m a bad mum.
If my baby won’t settle in the cot I’m a bad mum because I can’t get my baby to sleep. But if I allow baby to sleep with me I’m putting them at risk. I’m a bad mum.
If I take time off work to raise my children I’m compromising my career. I’m not really doing anything. Just looking after a human 24/7. If I go back to work then I’m hurting my kids. They need their mum around to play with them and cook and stuff. But no one ever says that to Dad.
I wonder if I’ll ever get anything right. I am, after all, a woman.