“We fluff, we fluff and we fluff, and that’s all we do,” the short haired woman sitting in the front insisted in a degrading tone. Wearing a light button-down shirt and dress pants that were too big, she was so scrawny she looked like a 10 year-old boy trying on his dad’s clothes.
From my seat on the far right side of the audience, I could see her sitting in the front row. She was dead center, right in front of the moderator and panelists at the Socialist Alliance’s Resistance Center. One was Bree Carlton, a Monash researcher of women in prisons, and another was Karen Fletcher of the Socialist Alliance. The public meeting was titled “Violence Against Women: False Solutions and Real Alternatives.”
The woman with short hair sat quietly during the panel discussion. She was more controlled than the male social worker down the row from her, who with clearly good intentions just couldn’t stop wanting to interrupt. The mediator with bleach blond hair and tall, black velvet books had to intervene: “We’ll be saving all questions until the end, sir, thank you.” He continued to nod in agreement when the panelists said something he liked. He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head when they said something surprising.
He caught my attention immediately, with his kind eyes and demeanor that showed he was dedicated to the cause. It took me a few minutes of scanning the audience to notice the woman and her over sized pant suit. I would have seen her eventually, though. As all panelists must know, the Q&A section isn’t so much about questions. Most of the time, the audience doesn’t seem to care how much the researchers know. My many years of attending university lectures only taught me that the audience wants to show how smart they are. And typically, it comes in the form of a rant. Short haired woman was no exception.
“We always plan our marches, on a Saturday, in the park, with our kids, so we don’t have to take off work and disrupt anyone,” she continued in a condescending tone. “See, we’re all just fluff!”
I sat on the side, uncomfortable with her force. It’s not that I have a fear of the “angry feminist.” I have a fear of unwarranted hatred. Of arrogant accusations, unfriendly remarks and ignorant assumptions. As if Bree Carlton, the researcher who spent her life at protests was “all fluff.” As if her twenty years of studying statistics of violence against women was simply “fluff.”
After her first outburst criticizing activism, she played the quiet game for a few minutes. But not for long. It only took someone to say something that she agreed with the blow the lid off again. A middle-aged Indian women standing in the back, who I grew to admire during the Q&A, mentioned she was unfamiliar with many of the terms the researcher was using. The Indian woman appeared to be someone of stature in the women’s rights movement, referencing her work with domestic violence victims and name dropping politicians with whom she had conversed.
“YEAH, I DON’T KNOW ANY OF THE TERMS YOU’RE USING!” short hair belted. “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” This is an example of the divide between popular and academic feminism, where terminology and ideology separate rather than unite. It’s an issue that must be addressed, but not by staring at the panelists and ridiculing them.
Over the course of the 40-minute Q&A section, I learned less about how Australia responds to violence against women and more about short hair’s hostility towards all others in the room: insistence upon telling the police to f*** off, telling the Socialist Alliance that their marches are worthless and a complete disregard for all history of activism.
She took it too far during one of the last comments. A young, nervous member of the activist group stood up behind me to discuss the popular reality show To Catch a Predator. He critiqued the way the show makes a monster out of the men through entertainment, something that he argued was not solving the structural issues of violence against women. As he said “There is a reality show from America…,” short hair cut him off.
“Get off your reality show, that’s the reality!” she seethed, “How many rapists actually go to jail? THAT’S YOUR REALITY!”
The young man tried to continue explaining his point. He stumbled over his words, but it wasn’t in a response to short hair. It was all he could do to stand up and speak in front of an audience. “Well, it’s a reality show…” he continued in a quick pace.
“What are the statistics on how many rapists go to jail?” She interrupted the man and asked the panelists. “What are the statistics?” she repeated, “YOU’RE THE EXPERTS, what are the statistics?”
To my surprise, the panelists stood without making a move. Their facial expressions were the same as they had been during the entire Q&A: removed and distant. Then, one admitted that she couldn’t remember. I stood in my seat, shifting my eyes nervously between the man, short hair, and the panelists. Other audience members weren’t bothered by this disrespectful exchange, another shocking twist to the story.
“I’m sorry about your reality show,” she repeated. At this point, I wanted to slap her. Then, I thought about the irony of wanting to physically hurt someone at a discussion of violence against women. The cycle continues. I considered interrupting her and making an argument. I stopped myself when I realized that you can’t argue with someone who will never be humble enough to listen to your point of view.
She made another remark about how everything we’re doing is “fluff” and we’ll never get anywhere with our current activist strategies. The audience, despite their lack of acknowledgement to this woman’s impoliteness, showed they had had it by starting to pack up their things and rustle around. Just then, I was so relieved to hear the middle-aged Indian woman speak up: “Everyone is doing what they can, everyone is trying to make change in their daily lives!”
“Alright, thank you all so much for coming!” the moderator said abruptly. We all filed out of the room.
This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Featured photo: Wigs at the Queen Victoria Market.