I’M AN old white male who lives in a stable and prosperous country and I’m afraid of nothing.
That is, I have no special fears that keep me awake at night.
There are things that bother me. The aches and pains of getting old, the future of my grandchildren, the increasing cost of living, that sort of thing.
But nothing that creates any sense of panic or great foreboding.
I know my ancestors lived with real fears, perhaps even my parents did, but I seem to have lobbed into a blessed fear-free time zone.
It’s only when I watch the news on television that I realise how lucky I am and how lazy I am in taking my situation for granted. I’m not alone in this, most Australians don’t realise how lucky they are.
Not that I ignore all the carnage and strife in the world. But it doesn’t make me fearful. On the contrary, I regard it as a kind of collective stupidity in which humans seem to excel and which a little common sense and humanity might fix.
So, because fear doesn’t figure prominently in my life, I’ve become rather blasé about it. I appreciate that it can be a potent weapon but it doesn’t apply to me.
We have fear-mongering politicians in Australia on both sides of the fence, but what they trade on is not really fear, it is more like anxiety; not gut-wrenching, bowel-loosening, naked fear.
There are people where I live on the Queensland coast who have real fears of course. Fears of violence, poverty and homelessness. But they keep themselves well-hidden and don’t impinge much on my benign existence.
The women in my life have some fears but not ones that dominate their lives. Perhaps their most common fear is unprovoked assault and rape. If they are sensible, however, and don’t go to certain places, especially at night, it is a fear that is controllable.
It’s not the same in Papua New Guinea however. There are a lot of frightened women who live in constant fear in Papua New Guinea. They fear violence, rape, sorcery, childbirth, poverty and a host of other things.
What they probably fear most though are their men.
Their men encapsulate all their collective fears. And the men know this and many of them don’t want to change that.
Unlike where I live in Australia, in Papua New Guinea fear is a powerful and often used weapon primarily directed at women.
It is a way of controlling women and a way for men to placate their egos.
Parents sometimes use fear to control their children, the fear of a slap or banishment to a corner of the room, but that is trivial compared to the earth-shattering fear that Papua New Guinean men thrust on their womenfolk.
Sadly, many women accept this situation as normal.
Fear is something that has always existed in Papua New Guinea. In traditional societies it was the fear of the tribe in the next valley. And within one’s own tribe, sorcerers used fear of the supernatural as a bargaining tool. Menstrual blood could strike fear into men. In those old days there was a lot to fear.
However these fears have not been subdued by modernisation. In more recent time, in fact, they have been exacerbated. What has changed though is the target. The new target is women.
The thing that jolted me in my comfortable little nest was reading Lapieh Landu’s poem, A Fear Unbearable, a contribution to ‘My Walk to Equality’, the first anthology of PNG women’s writing to be published next March.
In this poem, Lapieh captures all the fear she holds for her young daughter.
It is both a sobering exposition and an appalling revelation. It is also a devastating indictment of many men in Papua New Guinea, the so-called warriors who when stripped bare are nothing more than wife beaters.
I can’t begin to imagine what life might be like for a woman in Papua New Guinea. I am, as I have said, a comfortable white male living in a secure environment.
Perhaps if I was a man in Papua New Guinea I might try to do something about it but I’m not and I can’t.
So I guess I may as well forget about it.