Heroes that Aren’t!

I realised early on in my life that the men I was supposed to look up to were not deserving of my admiration. To be fair, kids don’t always get the ‘full’ or ‘back’ story to a scene they witness, so may not have a rounded perspective on a situation. However, unlike adults, many kids respond instinctively to experiences; they haven’t learnt to intellectualise. For example if a child sees a man hit a woman, then the child’s fight or flight response is triggered. Other emotions such as wanting to protect the victim may also be evoked, but may be secondary to the child’s need to survive. They will not think about whether there is a valid reason for that act to take place (there isn’t) or that the aggressor is deserving of empathy. (Knowing someone’s story does not excuse their behaviour, but may be useful in preventing further violence). They are afraid of the aggressor and act accordingly. If the child is a victim of an adult’s abuse or aggression, they are not going to analyse the actions of the aggressor except in relation to themselves as being somehow responsible for what happened (they aren’t).

The results of childhood abuse are many and if perpetrated by a trusted adult then that violation of trust incurs an understandable suspicion of other people who may fall into the category of a potential abuser as identified by the victim. Whether or not they are abusers is not the issue; if trusted, respectable, powerful men abuse, then any man can.

With the second wave of Feminism in the 1960’s to 1990’s and the establishment of Rape Crisis Centres, Women’s Refuges and Women’s Health Centres, women broke the silence surrounding abuse and began speaking out about their abusers. Feminist lawyers and advocates lobbied for Australian law reform, reflecting the wider community’s call for more just and equitable treatment of women under the law.

The long held belief that women and children lie has been challenged and proved wrong. This notion was enshrined in Australian law as sexual assault complainants (mainly women) and children were not considered reliable witnesses by themselves and needed corroboration. Corroboration warnings by judges about the potential unreliability of categories of witnesses are now recognised as discriminatory and based on prejudice rather than empirical evidence.

While the fight for justice for all women in both the criminal and family law courts is by no means over, the process of exacting justice has meant that many myths about sexual abuse and violence have been shattered. The truth that resonates strongest in me is Rape is about Power not Sex.

Once that is understood then we are no longer surprised by celebrities, statesmen and leaders being abusers. Their use of sex as a means to threaten, humiliate and punish a woman or child is effective in reinforcing their power. The fact that they may derive sexual pleasure from their abuse is an added incentive for them.

 The exposure of more abusers has come to pass not because there are more of them, but because the victims are testifying to that abuse. More women are feeling empowered to speak out. In our own families and communities we may offer our support personally to the victims of abuse, and in the world-wide community we may send messages of support, but how do we respond to the perpetrator, if he is a celebrity?

Do we separate the abuser from his work? It was easy for me to deal with Gary Glitter. Yes I loved his songs as a teenager, but I don’t listen to them now. Rolf Harris was harder. I had grown up with his songs, his personality on TV shows and I often performed his songs. I will never sing Six White Boomers at a library christmas party again!

I am sure there are many artists who, if I knew what they did in their personal life, I would turn my back on. As a musician I am clear on not performing material that is created by abusers. (I may do so unknowingly but upon discovery I literally turn my back on them as a protest at their acts.) But what about the ‘good guys’ who turn out to be ‘bad guys?’

I had a recent experience with liking the work of an ‘environmentalist.’ His social media presence was a positive one…many photos of him doing good work. Until I discovered his role in one of the grossest acts of racism perpetrated on the Aboriginal people of Australia. He told lies about the perpetration of sexual abuse of children by community members and numerous other malicious tales of abuse that served the political agenda of a government who enacted the Northern Territory Intervention over a decade ago. The community he slandered is still suffering from the damage caused by this man and nowhere have I seen him take responsibility for his actions.

Is his present work an attempt to redeem himself for the suffering he caused to so many Aboriginal people?  Unfortunately not, because for all the animals he purports to be saving, he has used his privileged position to deny that deforestation is a key factor in the destruction of habitat and subsequent endangerment of wildlife. He continues to serve a lobby group with an agenda at odds with conservation, protection and justice, in much the same way he did a decade previously to impel the Northern Territory Intervention.

So I have ‘unliked’ his facebook page! The equivalent of turning my back on him. Given that I have written primarily about sexual abusers in this post, it may seem odd that I have included him. I have no evidence that he is at all, and I do not make that claim, however for my purposes he fits into the realm of men who abuse their power and inflict  misery on their victims, and profit from it.

In researching him, I was reminded of the following folktale about mischief-making.


More information on the Northern Territory Intervention and Habitat Destruction.






The Leopard Woman

Change. I am experiencing the change of seasons, metaphorically speaking, but I’m also in Switzerland during November, and can therefore witness the changing colours of the leaves and their subsequent fall as autumn or herbst as it is known as here, moves into Winter. It is a transformation, testament to the power and beauty of Nature. It is also a reminder of how my own life as a woman is mirrored in that of the apple tree; blossoming, fruitful, vibrantly clothed and finally naked. I too have experienced the seasons, although unlike the apple tree, not as an annual event. And yet even if my appearance does not reflect the season I am in, I can feel like Spring with the budding of a new idea, bountiful Summer when I have gifts to share with my friends and family or as vulnerable as the apple tree in Winter as the passing years take their toll on my body. My transformations are governed by my choices, with some concessions to hormones. The following folktale has always resonated with my belief that we always have a choice. I choose Life.

The Leopard Woman  – a retelling of a Liberian folktale

There was once a man and a woman who prepared themselves for a long journey. The woman strapped their child to her back, along with two gourds, one filled with water, the other with corn. She carried her favourite pot, a bag of medicinal herbs and a digging stick. The man carried his hunting knife and spear.

They walked for many hours, until the child wailed for food. They stopped in the shade of a mango tree and the woman transferred the baby from her back to her breast. When she had finished feeding him she returned him to her back and collected wood to make a cooking fire. As she prepared a meal, she sang a lullaby to him.

la la Udolo la la o

la la Udolo la la ay

la la Udolo la la o

la la Udolo yay dom o ay.

The following day they travelled again, stopping near a waterhole to refill the gourd. The woman lay the child down upon the ground to kick his legs, while she pounded the corn to flour. From the corner of her eye she saw a snake slither up to him.  She screamed, grabbed her digging stick and beat the snake, so it retreated to the bush. She hoisted the child up on to her back and continued with her work, while her husband slept on, in the shade. That afternoon they ate the last of the cornbread, but the man was not satisfied.

“We have one more day’s journey,” he said, “and I will die of hunger if I do not have meat.”

The woman looked at the herd of bush cows leaving the water hole and replied.

“You have your knife and spear. In half a day you could chase down and kill one of those bush cows and I will cook it for us.”

But the man sat and sulked. He turned to her and yelled.

‘You can change yourself into anything. Why don’t you become a leopard and catch a cow?’

‘Are you serious?’ asked the wife.

‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘Do it.’

‘Husband, are you sure that is what you want?’


The woman lay the baby on the ground in front of her. She removed her loincloth and knelt on all fours. Her body began its transformation. Downy fur covered her skin. Beneath her spotted pelt the woman’s muscles enlarged and lengthened. Her senses sharpened. Her hands and feet sprouted razor-sharp claws and her mouth filled with fangs. She bared her teeth and snarled at the man facing her.

Realizing that he was staring at a leopard, the man panicked and bolted to the nearest tree. He scaled its trunk and hid in the foliage. In a few bounds the leopard was at the foot of the tree. She ranged around it, staring at the man hiding in its branches. In an instant she could leap up and drag him to the ground. He crouched on a limb, deeply regretting the foolish demand he placed on his wife. If only there was something to distract the beast.  And then he heard the child’s cry.

The leopard left the tree and padded over to the waterhole. She sniffed the squirming bundle that lay on the ground in front of her. Feeling the animal’s hot breath on his face and seeing her toothy grin, the baby wailed. The man closed his eyes and looked away. But the leopard sprang over the child and ran after the herd. She singled out a small heifer and brought her down, then dragged the carcass back and dumped it at the foot of the tree.

The man called down to her.

‘Change back. Change back.’

The fur and fangs receded, her senses diminished and the woman returned to her self. But the man would not come down from the tree until she had put on her loincloth and picked up the baby. When he did touch the ground he could barely look at her.

‘You must never do that again,’ he reprimanded. ‘You might have killed me.’

‘Yes,’ said the woman, ‘but I chose not to.’

She smiled as she brought the baby to her breast.

‘The power of transformation lives within me. I can call upon it at my will, but it must always be my choice to do so.’

Source: African Folktales selected and retold by Roger D. Abrahams ©1983 Pantheon New York

Photo by Roman Schatz