Yumi Stynes and daughter Mercy at the Paddington Bear premiere.Photo: Getty Images
I refused to kiss a guy who'd given me a ride on his motorbike when I was 19 and in retaliation he punched me hard enough in the stomach that I doubled over. I was so shocked that one human would do that to another that I actually did not know how to react.
It was a bit of the same stunned immobility that took over when I was attacked on Monday by a newspaper columnist over my "weird" decision to take my six-month-old daughter to a film premiere dressed in nothing but her nappy. The column was a piece-by-piece takedown accusing me of being a dodgy mother making a "massive fashion faux-pas" with my infant. An accompanying photo showed me beaming proudly at the camera while holding my surprised-looking baby.
(Photographers seem to love a baby. I love a baby! I love nothing more that the rolls of fat on a baby's legs, than the smooth, downy head, the oversized eyes, the flawless skin.)
The ensuing furore was nothing new. I've been at the centre of a furore before and I have an idea of how it goes:
Someone says something that is designed to provoke "outrage". "Outrage" creates a delightful cocktail of anger and righteousness that gives the beholder permission to spew poison, insults and hate at whomever has provoked the outrage.
So in this case, the columnist created a two-pronged outrage. One - directed at me, for being so crappy a person as to take my child to a fancy event chronically under-dressed. How dare I? The other - directed at himself for being a judgemental douchebag who really has no right to comment. It's a win-win for the columnist, of whom no one has ever previously heard and whose worth is measured in clicks.
If someone at the centre of the furore weighs in - apologises, for instance, or adds a fresh viewpoint, or stands up for herself, the story has steam that will get it through to another day.
If you ever feel outrage at something you see online, I suggest you look twice. You're usually being played. And watch how far that outrage goes: sometimes the behavior of the outraged is far worse than that which provoked it.
Looking at that photo of my daughter and I now, I could cry. I want to warn us not to look so innocent! Someone is going to kick us! But there we are, frozen in happy obliviousness, snap, snap, snap.
Women I know encounter poisonous online attacks far more often than I do, and they laugh in the face of it. They sometimes share with their friends and colleagues the rape threats, the casual death threats, the graphic descriptions of planned violence and all with a shrug and an eye roll.
I don't find it funny: I find it frightening. It affects my ability to think clearly. I can't tell which threats are real and which are just words. I feel cornered. I feel I have foolishly endangered my family.
Did I do the wrong thing, exposing my daughter like that?
When you go to a red carpet event, part of the protocol is, you pose for a photo. It's part of the exchange. This was a family film, so the distributors want to show families attending. Most of the time the photos don't get used. Because why print a photo of me when Nicole Kidman is walking the same red carpet? (This explains why up-and-coming starlets work so hard to look devastatingly good on a red carpet - it increases their chances of exposure, and when you're starting out, that seems important.)
My husband was standing to one side of that red carpet with our two older girls, smiling with such affection and joy. His ladies. He said later that he thought we looked so sweet, posing together. He said, "Wasn't our baby brave? Not frightened by the flashing cameras at all!"
For what it's worth, I'm not in possession of the required sh--- to give to defend my decision to dress my daughter in nothing but a nappy. She's a BABY. If we have reached a point where that's an issue then we truly have all gone mad! It's a non-story and I'm sorry that it reached the news, the talk shows, the papers.
When I was 19 and that guy punched me in the stomach, as I was gasping for breath he tried to kiss me again. I realised I was in terrible danger. It was dark, I didn't know where I was and there wasn't another soul around for miles. With terrible clarity, I imagined myself the following morning looking at my battered face in the mirror having had the crap beaten out of me. I made a very clear decision to fight. Before then, in my mind, civilised people didn't need to fight. They resolved conflicts with conversation and kindness. Intelligence always won out over brawn. But I saw that this situation required me to fight. With fists and claws and biting and an undignified disrespect for the rules of the ring.
Is that where we're at now?