Nicole Lee is a FWF2020 panelist on Our Culture of Violence. Nicole is a family violence survivor, passionate public advocate and previous member of Victoria’s first Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council.
Is there a moment you recall that shaped your own idea of feminism?
Definitely started in my late 30s after leaving violence and making my way to university for the first time. Positioning theory into life experience was like lightbulbs going off in my mind and road maps were formed. Everything started to connect up. The more I learnt the more I want to know. Within this, feminism forms a base or the scaffolding in which I place everything. So putting critical realism into the context of women with disabilities experience of violence, and the world around them. How can feminism be part of shifting the way things are so that we can expand the way in which we know them. Ultimately broadening the community’s collective knowledge.
Disseminate this knowledge far and wide so that it trickles down to those who’ve been denied knowledge of their rights, and have every possibility of breaking free from the “you only know what you know”. But also upstream as well, so the people who write the policies and build the structures are able to understand and can take this into account when developing new systems and structures. Ultimately making way for radical progressive change that works for everyone in the community, and with less mistakes.
Feminism for me is making sure no woman is left behind, and remembering that the term woman is extremely board, so we need to start getting a bigger table so everyone gets a seat.
What do you think about when you talk about Australia’s ‘culture of violence’?
For me it’s the language that’s used. Stigmas and stereotypes are particularly relevant when we look at violence against disabled women. Then the language of victim blaming. This language is permeated throughout our communities, but it’s also deeply embedded within our courts as well. The words uttered by judges — victim blaming is not just a problem for the media. To understand where we must go in terms of changing this culture we have to understand where we have been. It’s not simply a culture of community attitudes, its structurally embedded.
Feminism has a history of making words count. What’s your experience of getting the language ‘right’?
Just looking at the language of vulnerability it’s been a journey for me. I’ve had to unpack my own understanding of it and where I’ve used it in the past. Our ideas have evolved and for me it’s only been the past few years that I’ve had the ability and space to be able to do that. I go to my trusted people around me and discuss ideas. Just having discussions and really challenging my thinking is all part of making sure my ideas, and the language used to articulate them are solid. It’s also important to hold language from the past in the context and time it was used, remembering that ideas and language shifts overtime.
What do you see as the biggest barriers for accessing adequate support for family violence survivors?
Wow that’s a big question. I can only answer from my own perspective and the barriers I faced.
Identifying my experience as violence. If you can’t see yourself in the community discussions of violence, or when the messaging is not encompassing enough it can become hard to articulate. Then there was fear, shame, being dismissed and not believed. Also people not understanding that for some of us (I was one of them) we are completely broken down, or have had a lifetime of disempowering experiences.
We have a system that’s built on women making empowered moves, asserting their independence and for the most part that’s really good. But that entails the individual knows they have the right be independent (critical realism ‘you only know what you know’). I feel a huge barrier is that we wait too long (or don’t act at all) for those of us who are completely disempowered to make an entirely empowered move, and then wonder why they fail to leave. I failed to leave.
Some of us need to be carried more than others and I feel we don’t do that well at all.
Some reading and listening recommendations from Nicole:
My Name is Why, Lemn Sissay
Podcast by Teri Yuan on stories that explore the systems, practices, and policies that enable gender-based violence and oppression and solutions to end it.
Podcast by comedian Nelly Thomas, whose trademark is a combination of intelligence and warmth.