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May 13, 2024

Man-washing - a story

Man-washing, like green-washing, relies on a believable premise. We want to believe claims that businesses are climate-friendly, much like we want to believe the men in our lives love and respect us

Content warning: Domestic violence, coercive control, surveillance
This content has a custom transcript:

‘Have you mentioned this to the family violence service?’ the counsellor asks.
‘No,’ you say, suddenly alert to the cascading consequences of your actions.
You hear your voice, breathy and shaky.

‘You need to tell them as soon as possible,’ she says decisively.

You sit in the chair dumbstruck. How could you have put others at such terrible risk? The shackles of shame and guilt grip your body. The crevices on your face and your stooping body reveal the wear and tear of an endlessly exhausting cycle of violence.

You tell the counsellor your partner has an uncanny knack for knowing your whereabouts. You shared the story of an incident that had occurred six months earlier when you had attended a face-to-face appointment at a family violence service. You arrived early, walking the last blocks to enjoy the dappled sunshine.

‘Where did you go today?’ your partner asks quietly. Your heart stops, and you feel a tightening dance across your chest. You can't believe you are being asked to account for your whereabouts again, yet here you are.

You tell him you were out and about on errands. As the words leave your mouth, you realise this explanation will not satisfy him.

‘What were you doing in xxx?’

You stall and feel yourself sinking. Your daughter is there, sitting at the dinner table, taking noisy mouthfuls of Spaghetti Bolognese. You chase spaghetti around the pasta dish and say that you dropped in to see a colleague.

The dinner conversation ends, but not the twitching worry and self-evaluation. You did what you have been trained and schooled to do. You minimize the event. You play it down and make a safety plan for future appointments. You decide to park near a lively strip of shops, where it can be easily explained that you are shopping or having coffee with a friend. After parking, you check that the location is switched off on your phone, and walk the last stretch to the appointment. You conclude that the confidential address will remain private, at least in your circumstance.

At the time, this seemed a reasonable course of action. Your risk-aware antennae triggered. You come up with a way to navigate this new domestic challenge to satisfy your concerns. Yet now, you are seeing this incident through the lens of an outsider – a counsellor trained in family violence. Alarm bells chime. Red flags fly wildly across the valley of your amygdala, buoyed by a hot and blustery wind.

Uncomfortable, unanswerable questions swirl around, threatening to drown you. You remember that you were once skilled at assessing risk. In another life, you were competent in such reasoning activities where the stakes were high. Now you cannot rekindle any trace of confidence.

With an angry self-loathing, you wonder what has happened to bring about this neglectful state. After a few fretful days of self-interrogation, you realise that a great and terrible transformation has taken place. You have become so experienced, and incredibly well-trained at turning a blind eye. You have done what you have seen others do - forgive and forget, making endless excuses and allowances for your partner. Not only are you minimising your partner’s controlling behaviour, but you are silencing yourself, and diminishing the impacts of these insidious patterns on yourself and your children. You are neglecting your perspective to the point your identity is adrift, like a life raft separated from the mother ship.

You have adopted a man-washing approach in almost every aspect of your home life. Born of survival instinct, and a timeless, womanly imperative to prioritise the perspectives and needs of others. Man-washing, like green-washing, relies on a believable premise. We want to believe claims that businesses are climate-friendly, much like we want to believe the men in our lives love and respect us.

The specialist family violence service helps you interrogate the tactics being used by your partner in your relationship, and your home. You begin to decode the strategies employed to keep you quiet and disempowered. The brutal crazy-making tactics. The dismissiveness, the gaslighting, the subtle insults, and the timely outbursts, all have the effect of systematically undermining you.

It’s a confronting journey of unlearning assumptions and expectations and undoing all the man-washing you have done by necessity to survive and endure. While you continue to climb the mountain of understanding, you want a new way of living. You long for a home where you are free to express your ideas and opinions.

As you reflect on these painful experiences, perhaps you can stand with others. Together we might begin to name controlling and manipulative behaviours instead of curtailing to a cultural narrative that so often minimises and dismisses gender-based violence and abuse.

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