Beery Queenslanders harass Global Cancer Presenter

It was a balmy summers evening. My wife, Grace, a globally accomplished speaker, was about to give a talk at a breast cancer fundraiser in Eumundi, Queensland.

Grace has spoken to audiences across Australia, EU and in the UK, including numerous appearances on the BBC. I had previously attended one of her talks after she had been asked by the actress, Olivia Newton-John, to address a Spa Asia conference. Olivia Newton-John later said it was one of the better talks on health and wellness she had experienced. The audience agreed.

Back at Eumundi, the cancer fundraiser room in a large restaurant was noisy as the crowd consumed more and more alcohol. I was concerned that the various speakers all lost connection to the audience, drowned out by the chaos. I became more alarmed for Grace when a very experienced radio announcer, despite trying all the usual tricks for audience engagement, was also unable to hold the crowd.

Admittedly it was a hard place to give a talk.

The configuration of the building meant that many participants were unable to see the speaker unless they moved their chairs. As well; there was the background noise of waitresses delivering food and jugs of beer which were noisily consumed.

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To make matters worse, when it was Grace’s turn to talk, I was unable to get our PowerPoint working on the venue’s audio-visual equipment. Her presentation was designed around our PowerPoint which we had carefully prepared over some weeks.

My heart was beating for her as she took the stand and began speaking quietly and deliberately. Her voice was drowned out by the rowdiness of the crowd, especially the male drinkers who had partnered their women in the breast cancer group.

Then amazingly, the chaos began to subside, and everything went quiet. I was surprised to note the increasing attentiveness of the audience. Even the men who were charged with alcohol, presumably to mask their discomfort from being present at a talk about breast cancer, surgeries and mastectomies, became more engaged.

Needless to say, Grace’s message was remarkably well received, and she was mobbed by throngs of men and women when she finished. I was impressed that she was the only speaker on the evening to overcome the situational problems and connect deeply with her listeners. Even the local DJ asked how she pulled it off?

On our short walk back to our motel, I asked Grace the same question. She said that years ago she learnt a martial arts technique which involved building one’s energy or Chi, as the easterners call it. She had employed the technique on many occasions in order to make her cancer presentations more effective.

Our euphoria was short lived. While walking past the Eumundi hotel, Grace was subjected a barrage of wolf whistles and catcalls from lots of male drinkers on the hotel veranda. I heard the normal crass comments common to alcohol charged Australian men. I was furious and wanted to defend her, but Grace seemed unfazed. I wanted blood.

Wisdom prevailed, and we walked on. Back at the motel I ranted about all the men, who after a few drinks, believed it is okay to verbally harass women.

Grace said she had experienced this kind of harassment all her life and had learned to ignore it. She said it was clear some of the men even thought it was okay. Some thought it was flattering to women. Other men made crude invitations for sex or comments of a sexual nature which I will not repeat in print.

Once again, poor male behaviour had tainted an otherwise amazing evening for a worthwhile cause. I knew the men would not do this if they were alone. They gained courage from the group and in fact, were bonding by putting women down.

The men verbally harassing Grace had no idea that she was a mother of four children and grandmother to five and that she had spent her life helping cancer patients to survive and thrive.

I have witnessed male disrespect for women over most of my 78 years on this planet, beginning with my own family. My accumulated anger about dysfunctional male behaviour continues to build. I can understand, but not condone, actor Will Smith’s behaviour when he slapped comedian Chris Rock after his joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss. Will Smith witnessed his father’s violence to his mother when he was a child and obviously the trauma remained in his body.

My wise mind does not blame men for their learned dysfunctional behaviour. My wise mind also knows that male social programming can be unlearned.

I made a vow that I would redouble my efforts to help reduce male harassment and other forms of violence against women. My upcoming book is one manifestation of my efforts.