A preface, if you will permit, to this week’s entry. A caller to an open-line radio show, one of those cerebral lightweights who seem to have designated slots on the airwaves, almost caused me to veer off the road in outrage recently with an inane complaint that his biological plumbing would not permit him to participate in the Take Back the Night march in St. John’s.
His attack on the organizers of that event has provoked these words (although, needless to say, the women involved are quite capable of defending their decision to march without men).
One of the “advantages” of being a journalist for an extended period of time — nearly 40 years, in my case — is the opportunity to bear witness to much of the underbelly of society, exemplified in the most hideous fashion by the physical abuse of women.
I can’t even come close to estimating the numbers of stories in which I’ve been involved, either directly as a reporter or producer, or indirectly as a journalistic manager, that told of the sickening crime of male bullies, often the spouses, cruelly taking advantage of a physically weaker person, beating her to a pulp, and altering forever her life, and that of her loved ones.
And sometimes, it was a story of a man treating a woman in a demeaning way that was often as gut-wrenching as even the most hideous form of hands-on assault.
It’s not necessary to deliver here a litany of such examples to prove the point, but a documentary I produced nearly 25 years ago on the incredible case of abuse inflicted on Judy Ryan of the Goulds can still give me the cold shivers.
Ryan endured a lifetime of physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of her husband, whom she eventually stabbed to the death (she was acquitted in a sensational case that utilized what was at the time a unique defence: that she had to resort to homicide because she feared for her life. Danny Williams successfully defended Ryan and gave the courtroom performance of a lifetime in a successful plea for his client).
But what I’ll long remember are the police photographs of Ryan’s battered face, taken after her husband had used her for a punching bag. (As someone who had, in my younger days, seen a fair amount of barroom violence, I thought I could no longer be shocked; I was wrong).
And there was Ryan’s horrific, nauseating description of being dragged by the hair across the kitchen floor and violently raped, as her young children huddled in fear nearby.
Or of her watching in shock as he took a pair of scissors and mockingly cut his daughter’s flowing locks of curls.
Or as he slowly and mercilessly cut into tiny pieces the only picture she had of her parents’ wedding day.
It was all hideous stuff.
So it’s the Judy Ryans of the world I think of when the annual Take Back the Night marches are staged in various parts of the province.
And although I realize I should ignore the before-mentioned cement-headed contributor to the brilliance of the open-line circuit, I just can’t help myself, especially when such misogynistic crap is barely hidden in the guise of an argument that the entire issue of abuse of women would be better served if those narrow-minded feminists would just let the penis population participate in the march.
But it would be a fruitless venture, indeed, to try and explain to those Archie Bunker types the symbolism of having women and their children march without men. You just know he’s the Neanderthal sort who would argue that a woman being abused in her home should simply up and leave, or that a young woman dressed in anything “revealing”— a word those pious, brainless priests of days past would use in talking to innocent boys like me about sinful girls — is just “askin’ for it.”
The message? It’s their own fault.
So why would I bother?
Well, for one thing, to make the point that there are jerks like our open-line caller still out there, providing even more reason for the Take Back the Night marchers to continue their annual event in any way they feel appropriate.
And, for another, as an excuse to let Judy Ryan and the other women who’ve shared their horrific pasts with journalists know that I, for one, have not forgotten.
And never will.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.