It’s a funny thing, this whole PhD process.
I seem to spend a huge amount of my time filled with feelings of self-doubt, and by all accounts, I’m not alone.
I’m just waiting for a tap on the shoulder, followed by someone telling me that somebody in admissions made a mistake a few years ago, and I should never have been allowed in.
Friday was one of those days.
How on earth has my research gone from sanitation in developing countries, to foreign aid and violence against women? Is that a sign that I really have no clue what I’m doing? Will my topic changes result in that seemingly inevitable tap on the shoulder?
Violence against women isn’t just a problem of “the other”. At least one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner in Australia. One in three Australian women over the age of 15 has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives.
I headed home with questions and uncertainty swirling around in my head, wondering how I could write about violence against women in a foreign country without being completely hypocritical.
As I waited at the train station, I watched a group of teenage girls say their farewells before the weekend. I smiled as they hugged each other, squealed over how awesome each other one was, and waved goodbye, shouting declarations of love to each other.
I watched as one of the girls boarded the train, her happy, carefree disposition changing in an instant.
She adopted a demeanour that was all too familiar to me. One I’d seen countless women adopt – one I myself adopt on an almost daily basis.
There was the quick, almost-but-not-quite subtle scan of the carriage. An iPod was quickly retrieved from her bag, the headphones shoved in her ears with expert speed. Head bowed down, shoulders slightly hunched. Arms folded across her chest, holding her school bag a little too tight.
There it was. The defense against Schrödinger’s Rapist.
The girl hastily shuffled past the group of teenage boys sitting to my right.
She kept walking to the other end of the carriage.
The boys laughed, one of them shouting after her to ask why she hadn’t smiled. Couldn’t she take a compliment?
The group of boys could have been no more than fifteen years old.
I turned to them and asked them which part of objectifying someone was a compliment. How was she meant to have reacted, when she may have been scared shitless by a group of guys who were much bigger than her had decided that they had right to comment on her body?
They laughed, told me to lighten up and mind my own business.
I’ve thought about my research all weekend. The incident on the train wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary, but it was also on my mind all weekend.
My PhD research will continue on its current path. I will keep focusing on violence against women, using Timor-Leste as a case study.
But it doesn’t mean I’m a hypocrite.
Violence against women isn’t a problem of “the other”.
It happens in developed countries, and less developed countries. To wealthy women, and not-so-wealthy women.
I’ll keep researching and writing about violence against women. Because it’s something that’s happened to far too many of my friends and my family – both in Australia and overseas. And it’s not just rape or violent beatings. It encompasses so much more, like the harassment of teenage girls on public transport, verbal and emotional abuse, to name just a few examples. And its forms are the same the world over.
I won’t doubt my research anymore.
Because violence against women, in all its insidious forms, is a problem. A global problem.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep waiting for that tap on the shoulder.