Ostensibly, it all seems to be a completely innocuous and pleasant exchange – a middle-aged woman and a middle-aged man, who have not previously met, exchanging small-talk as they wait at an auction house for the auction to begin. However, this apparently benign chit-chit is the divisive precursor to the woman’s worst nightmare – being audaciously and expeditiously stalked, being one of the one in five woman who will be stalked in their lifetime.
Horrifyingly, the aforementioned scenario is most definitely not the stuff of fiction, but the planned, cunning and strategic beginnings of a real life Shakespearean-like pursuit by a stalker, of which Scottish poet and author, Ellis Gunn, was the highly perplexed and terrified, yet ultimately defiant, fighting (in terms of ensuring she addressed the predicament, aka nightmare) and stalwart victim (also survivor and ultimately victor). Ellis’s experience of being ruthlessly stalked, as well as other life experiences of being abused by men, are expertly detailed in her recently released memoir, “Rattled”.
“The Man”, as Ellis calls her stalker throughout this searingly well written and important book, first sees (or did he?) Ellis at the auction house, which is in Adelaide, where Ellis has lived with her long-term partner of twenty years, her teenage daughters and primary school aged son, for four years. The Man engages with Ellis by commenting on a piece going up for auction. The Man seems genuine, even kind. Soon, however, he begins making Ellis uncomfortable by unflinchingly saying, “Look, I’m not trying to find out where you live or anything,…but which suburb (do you live in)? I’m still learning where places are in Adelaide and I’m wondering if I know it”.
Ellis is made to feel further anxious when The Man asks, as Ellis is leaving the auction, “can you give me your phone number or email address? Maybe we could meet for a coffee”. Ellis denies this rambunctious request for such personal information, and doesn’t entertain thoughts of the distantly unsettling meeting too often after.
Eerily and perturbingly however, a configuration of ‘attacks’ by The Man start resigning Ellis to the fact she may never be free of the unrelenting harassment and insinuatingly sinister banter that The Man feels he needs to direct Ellis’s way.
After their first encounter at the auction house, The Man tracks down Ellis on the internet and sends an audacious email, yet again asking Ellis for coffee. Ellis ignores the email, but The Man then goes on to ramp up his strident and menacingly effective ‘missiles’ launched at Ellis by a) happening to ‘come across’ Ellis in the park where she walks her son to school b)turning up at Ellis’s favoured cafe, despite living across town c) turning up outside her son’s school and d) letting Ellis know he knows where she lives (Ellis thinks she sees him sitting outside her house in a car).
Ellis, saturated with understandable horror and mental anguish, approaches the police on more than one occasion, however as The Man has recently moved to Adelaide from Sydney, records cannot be readily accessed, and additionally, as he has not verbally threatened or physically harmed Ellis, their hands are very much tied by a system that does not often allow for the successful prosecution and conviction of stalkers, despite the fact that some stalkers go on to murder their victims. It is this statistic that haunts and taunts Ellis. She doesn’t really know her stalker, what his actual intent is (apart from to frighten her and disrupt her life), and what is going through his head when he objectifies her and diminishes her sense of self.
As well as being told about Ellis’s less than Utopian time being stalked in Australia, Ellis fills us in on her background in Scotland and England, times of great turbulence in terms of being raped by a boss, being in a verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically abusive marriage (one where she realises she will end up dead if she doesn’t leave), and enduring numerous “micro-aggressions” from men, such as when she has a man sit down next to her on a train, despite there being many empty seats, and has him talk lewdly and suggestively to her.
Ellis tells us of her mindset at the time of her being stalked in Adelaide, “I had swung so quickly from thinking I might be making mountains out of molehills to thinking there was a possibility my life was in danger……..Why were there so many rattling stones inside me? Maybe the stones weren’t just rattling for The Man. Maybe they were rattling for all the men, for all the incidents in my life when a man had treated me badly or taken advantage of me because I was a woman. Maybe they were rattling because of all the other women I had heard or read about, women who had been stalked, beaten, killed by men who thought, at the time, that it was their right to do these things”.
Ellis eloquently and tellingly discusses, in this poignant, heartbreaking, yet ultimately soaring memoir, numerous studies on trauma, PTSD, stalking and gender differences. Ellis informs us that “patriarchal/capitalist societies RELY ON the subversion of women and people of colour to function”. She goes on to say “we need to look at the way patriarchy operates. It’s important to reiterate here that ‘patriarchy’ does not equal ‘men’. Patriarchy is a system, one that privileges men over women and some men over others. It maintains itself through cultural reinforcement and the policing of behaviour that might upset the status quo”.
It is worth noting that not all stalkers are men (women also stalk others), and Ellis is definitely not ‘anti-men’ (she has been happily sharing her life with her much-loved male partner of twenty years, and she is raising her son to be respectful towards females).
Ellis is a certainly a victim, having endured a veritable torrent of abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional) throughout her life, but she is so much more than that. She is also a noble survivor, indeed a stellar warrior.
Congratulations to Ellis for writing a memoir of indisputable intelligence, bravery, wisdom and insight. Words cannot adequately express how important this book is for all women (and men) across the world to read.
Ellis, who has an extremely positive world view, has now not sighted The Man for years, and is optimistic about the future of the world in which we find ourselves. As Ellis tells us, “Social evolution tells us that societies get better over time: more tolerant, more inclusive, more aware of issues of social justice and equality. Slavery was abolished, women were given the vote, homosexuality was decriminalised, apartheid dismantled and segregation stopped because people were angry enough to fight for change and to call out injustice, even when it was dangerous to do so. And it wasn’t just those who were directly affected who fought for the changes. Men joined the fight for women’s suffrage, white people fought for the abolition of slavery, heterosexual allies fought for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Change involves listening to the stories of others and fighting alongside them for what’s right”.
Bravo Ellis for writing your own personal story in such a defiantly brilliant, illuminating and educational way. “Rattled” deserves to be and must be read by all. I loved this book.
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