There’s a unique discomfort at vigils. The sound of thousands of feet awkwardly shuffling; an almost-stifled cough; a single, uncontainable sob. The eerie vigil soundtrack is so familiar to me and many others now - we’ve been to enough of them in the last few years.
We held a silent vigil for Jill Meagher, a young Irish-Australian woman who was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered. We had a silent vigil for Eurydice Dixon, a promising young comedian who was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered. We had a silent vigil for Aiia Maarsarwe, a bright young Palestinian student who was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered after being attacked near her own university. We had a vigil for Natalina Angok, a ‘loving and caring’ South Sudanese woman, who was allegedly murdered by her partner, her body left in Chinatown.
We shuffled and silently wept in parks, holding candles in the night. We felt sombre and shed tears for women we’d never met. We mourned for another one of our own, lost to the scourge of male violence.
Our silent grief was intended to act as a form of heartbroken protest, a collective way to mourn and apologise as a community for failing yet another woman, and say, ‘this has to stop’.
But after the harrowing death of Courtney Herron I am at my breaking point, and I know that a lot of other women are, too. I can’t attend another silent vigil for another woman who has been permanently silenced. Our silence, meant to send a message of soundless, furious power, isn’t being seen or heard.
I don’t want to be quiet anymore. I can’t. I want to shout in the streets and scream and sob loudly. Grief is loud, and the sound of collective heartbreak is thunderous. 21 women have been murdered this year, and I want to rage.
We’re often told not to act in anger, but I believe this a time to. These feelings aren’t misplaced, they are wholly understandable and they need an outlet - otherwise this rage and fear and feelings of powerlessness and grief will manifest in negative ways. And since our message of silence isn’t getting through, perhaps letting the anger out and screaming at the top of our lungs just might.
Women are often told that we’d get what we want if we just smiled more, because you catch more flies with honey. If we just said it nicely, if only we were nicer to men rather than being an ‘angry feminazi’, then maybe they’d be more willing to join our cause. Our cause of hoping we aren’t raped and murdered when simply trying to walk home.
But predictably, the honey and the silence aren’t working. Women’s silence is rarely noticed. Women are still being violently murdered regularly, despite all our respectful silent vigils and our patient explanations and our smiles through the grief and the never-ending fear.
I thought the other day, ‘If I am next’, ‘If I am next, I wouldn’t want anyone to stay silent and mournful, I would want women to take to the streets and demand a safer walk home, a longer life, and less painful end than I had’. And I believe that’s a fair feeling to feel, because I am truly scared.
So, I’m done staying silent. I’m done smiling, because I am angry and scared and I, along with every other Australian woman, has every right to be. I will grieve loudly for these women whose lives ended brutally, decades before they should have.
I will talk to anyone willing to listen about these tragedies and how we can fix this utterly devastating pandemic of fatal male violence, and I will cry, and I will scream in frustration about the unfairness of it all.
I will shout their names loudly, and I will allow myself to get angry and I will encourage other women to be angry and scream and shout with me.
I think we’re owed that much, because our silence isn’t being heard.