On Sunday I marched through the streets of Edinburgh with thousands of other women to mark 100 years of suffrage in the UK. We strode in formation across the meadows and streamed across the new town to parliament. We held hands, we sang songs, we raised banners adorned with smart and sad and sarcastic slogans and we shouted. We were so loud and so strong. Two days later, ten thousand miles away in the city where I’m from, a 22 year old woman was raped and murdered while walking home from performing comedy in Melbourne.
Eurydice Dixon was assaulted while walking through Princes Park, a park I walked through daily when I was 22. A park I rode through nightly every April, returning home from the comedy festival. A family park. A park where historical battles are reenacted on Saturday mornings. A park next to the garage where I made my first comedy show. A well lit park. A park where I once saw the cemetery fox, her eyes calm and bright in the moonlight and the bikelight. A park I have walked around, a park I have lain down in.
It is also the park next to the university college where a good friend was raped in 2004. It is the park down the road from where Jill Meagher was abducted and later raped and killed in 2012. It is the park a few blocks from where a man held me against my will and rubbed his dick against my thigh on a packed tram when I was 14. It is the park around the corner from where, in March, a woman was sexually assaulted by a man who is yet to be caught. Melbourne is considered a safe city. Princes Park is considered a safe park.
In my dream last night I walked with her.
When I walked with the huge crowd through Edinburgh on the suffragette march, I remembered the many nights I had also spent walking through that city alone. For the last ten years I have spent each August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I remember the way the streetlights are reflected in the inevitable puddles along Jawbone Walk. I remember how dark the trees are and how quiet it is when the shows are over and the flyerers and the buskers have gone home. During my first festival, I remember a male comic insisting on walking me home through the meadows one night and me finding it both ridiculous and embarrassing. Years later I remember running across that same park at 1 o’clock in the morning desperately looking for a missing, suicidal stand up comedian, calling her phone and her name. I remember walking there with a drag artist and feeling that I wanted, but did not know how, to protect her from the throngs of men grabbing at her clothes and at her body. I remember being followed there. I remember crying there. I remember playing frisbee there. Having picnics there. Pushing a pram there. I remember, many times, feeling safe.
Today I walked through Hyde Park in London and thought about Eurydice. At Speakers Corner a woman was standing on a bucket shouting about the apocalypse. A man walked past me and told me to cheer up. I cried. I did not know Eurydice. I can’t imagine the pain of those who did. I don’t imagine at this time that they want to talk about feminism. They have just lost a person that they loved in horrific, tragic circumstances.
Eurydice’s death is not about me. But somehow it feels now like it is about us. About women. About walking. About comedy. About men.
And for me - a stranger, halfway around the planet, crying - unsure of the extent of my right to grieve - the only shape my anger knows to take is political. I didn’t know her. But the sharp, shocking, localized pain I feel reading the news of her death starts to spread out into a throbbing pain, a nebulous pain, a pain that expands and then spreads from the body into the surrounding air and quickly then, all around the world. I can feel it rippling through the trees, even here, on the other side of the world, where the leaves are a different colour and the parks smell of cut grass instead of eucalyptus. Pain streams through my facebook feed and infuses the streets - all streets - everywhere - with anxiety. I feel exhausted. I feel so tired for women, for Melbourne, for comedy, for her.
Women being able to walk through whatever park they chose in whatever city they choose at whatever time they choose seems suddenly the sum of everything. What is a park if you can’t walk through it? What’s a street for? Women have had the right to vote for one hundred years but we are still denied the right to safety, the right to respect, the right to move freely and unsmilingly if we choose through public space. And these rights are harder to win. These rights are so systematically ignored, abraded, invisibilized and abused in tiny and huge ways every single day that they start to not feel like rights at all. Unlike the right to vote, these freedoms are not the stuff of law. Legally, we are safe. Actually, we are not.
Why must women walk together, or only in daylight, or in certain clothes, or certain areas, or be escorted by men? Or else walk in fear, keys clawed between fingers, mobile phones in hand, eyes darting behind us, earphones in but music off? Why must we make imaginary phone calls, cross streets, listen for footsteps, adjust our routes? Why must we hear, again and again that we must be aware of our surroundings, when this is all we are doing, all of the time? Why must we walk in our thousands, flanked by police officers and council-stamped barriers, draped in green, white and purple and holding hands to be safe? Even then, are we?
When I returned from the suffragette march on Sunday in Edinburgh, a green, white and purple banner pinned to my chest with a rainbow badge, my uncle greeted me with a sardonic smile. Responding to his raised eyebrow, I explained that the march had been brilliant, moving, full of hope and anger and solidarity. I was flushed with pride and optimism. He asked, mockingly, if we had handed a petition into parliament at the end of the walk. I said we had not. He smirked and asked if we felt we had achieved our aims.
The #metoo movement rocked the comedy world, and I was happy to see it shake. Like most women involved in comedy, I have tried to clear space for myself and other women. I have fought with misogynist comedians on twitter and I have boycotted sexist gigs, bigoted promoters and prejudiced reviewers. I’ve changed the channel. I have sat with my arms crossed, seething, when male comics have careered into sexist materal, into rape gags or light hearted banter about wanting to kill their wives. I have walked out. I have taken friends to task when they have said they just don’t find women funny. I have pulled performers aside after gigs and asked them to reconsider where their laughs are coming from. I am, in short, an OK feminist and a terrible friend and audience member. My comments have rarely been met with empathy or understanding or a willingness to engage. And I do understand that I am breaking the rules. In comedy, nothing is more sacred than laughter. Second to that is money. It is clear that we do not yet value women’s safety more than men’s right to joke about it and to profit from it.
“You killed it out there tonight, man. You slayed. You destroyed.”
Comedy does not always feel like a safe place for women. There are many incredibly brave and brilliant pioneers who are trying in myriad ways to carve out paths for women through the comedy industry. Female artists learn, often slowly, the grim reality of the inequity rife in the scene. They find each other. Often they support each other, but not always. I believe Eurydice was a pioneer, and I also hope that she was supported by people in the industry around her. I wasn’t there for her. I was on tour, having doors shut in my face by male presenters, being overworked by male clients and underpaid by male venue managers and walking alone around cities on the other side of the world, being told by men to cheer up.
No matter how many women fight their way through the hostile professional comedy landscape, any success they achieve is in spite of their environment, rather than because of it. Comedy remains male-dominated and defined in incomprehensible ways by gender. This is evident at every level, and is expressed in different ways by comics, audiences, agents, bookers, venues, festivals, and producers. Media coverage of female comics is often disparaging, unhelpful and sexist.
Is this important? Does it have a broader impact? Does the state of the comedy industry have any bearing on the state of the world? Does how men act there and how women are represented reflect society as a whole? To what extent? Does this have anything to do with murder, or rape, or sexual assault or inequality in the real world?
I think comedy is a bio-indicator. I think it can reveal the health of its ecosystem. When jokes that derive their strength from the humiliation, pain or death of women are flowering in the comedy industry, it is likely they have their roots in soil that is full of shit.
Or, in less flowery language, comedy is a mirror.
If the comedy world is in any way emblematic of society, then we have not in any way, Uncle, achieved our aims. Women are outnumbered about 6:1 on any commercial television panel show you have the gross misfortune of flicking over to. And though abysmal, this ratio is only slightly worse than that found in most corporate boardrooms and International parliaments, but markedly better than that found in lists of company directors. Female comedians have to work harder for laughs, harder for gigs, harder for pay, harder for press and harder for audiences than male comics. Pick your industry and find your parallels. Punchlines commonly involve wives, exs, girlfriends, female celebrities, trans women, women of colour, mothers or female members of the public being humiliated, undermined, hurt or killed. So do headlines. The parallels between comedy and society are upsetting and clear.
And what does this have to do with Eurydice? Do I have any right to connect her to any of this? Am I politicizing a tragedy? Am I overreacting or undermining or side stepping or misunderstanding? Am I making the personal political? Why has her death created such a whirling grief in me, a grief that is both bigger and smaller than it feels it should be? I don’t know anything. I am trying to understand why these things all feel intertwined for me.
Eurydice was a comic. She believed in comedy. And somehow this fact fills me with sadness and rage. I wish that comedy believed in women. The same way I wish that society valued them. I wish that the path through the industry she chose to work in was an easier path. I wish that she could have walked down any path, in any city, at any time, and I wish she could have been safe. I wish she could have commanded any stage she chose. I wish she could have wielded her microphone and raised her voice in a society where both walking and talking are made more difficult for women. I feel angry that she would have had to fight her way through the comedy field, and would have had to keep fighting. That she had to fight at all makes me want to lie down and cry. I know Eurydice was brave because she was a comedian and she was a woman. I also know that she was brave because she believed she lived in a world where she would be able to walk home safely. As many people have pointed out, no woman is being careless when she walks home, she is being brave. Monotonously and incessantly brave. And the fact that Eurydice was so brave makes her death even more tragic, more senseless. She was embodying the rights we are told we have, that actually we know we have to fight for, and she was raped and she was murdered and she was only 22.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the digital environment is no safer for women than the built environment. In the wake of Eurydice’s death, I have been scrolling through hundreds of reactions from comedians online. Witty one liners and memes have for the most part been replaced with long passages about Eurydice as people grapple with her death. When I do see a dog video I am angry that it’s not a post about Eurydice and when I see a post about her I am sad. People are angry and sick and heartbroken. They are in shock. They are full of rage and shame, like me. And it took me a while to realize it, but I am not only angry at society, at sexism and at the killer. Right now, I am also angry at our ‘comedy community’, a community I consider myself a part of. I see Eurydice being referred to by comics as ‘one of us’, a ‘sister’, ‘a member of the comedy family’ and it makes me wonder where all these people were before. Were we there for her? Did we make space for her? Did we introduce her onto stage in the same way we introduced male comedians? Did we give her gigs? Did we recommend her for work? Did we laugh at her jokes? Shake her hand? Did we like her tweets, talk to her in the greenroom, see her show? I’m sad to say I didn’t. I comfort myself by saying I couldn’t have and then I question to what extent I am guilty of participating willingly in a culture that is unquestionably sexist.
Eurydice’s friends have organized a vigil in Princes Park and I wish I could walk alongside them there between the sports field and the cemetery. I wish I could hold their hands and raise my voice with them. I wish I could sit in the grass and cry with the people who knew her and people who wished they had. I wish a hundred thousand people would go and walk together there and leave their footprints across the soccer field and wear down the grass and form a huge path there that would stay forever.
When we are confronted with grief, a huge mindmap of memories and regrets and emotions and images starts to spread itself out beneath our feet. There are junctions where there weren’t before. New paths form. Old diversions dissolve and once small roads become major highways between this memory and that. The whole network shifts. There are jungles now where once there were parks. There is a new North. Things are grouped differently. Small buildings become skyscrapers. The light is different. I can’t tell if all of this is connected. I can’t tell if it should be. Perhaps my imagination is the only site of conflation of all of these things. Perhaps this new map is a labyrinth I am now set to walk forever. I don’t know how to change anything. I don’t know how to move these old mountains. But I do know that my personal landscape has been changed by the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon. And I want to make the world a better place because of it. And perhaps I’m not alone.