More than a game
Whilst most commentators marvelled at the way Jelena Dokic cast off depression and an overbearing father in her inspiring comeback at the 2009 Australian Open, has anyone considered what her journey means for women at large?
To those women, too scared or too insecure to leave a violent or oppressive man, Dokic should be an inspiration. When she stoically told the cameras, with not a word of rancour or recrimination that it would take a miracle for her to be reconciled with her father Damir Dokic and they had virtually nothing in common, it was enough to make anyone cry. Yes, her racquet had done the talking, but when it came to telling the world something about herself, the grace and courage of her words dwarfed the tennis.
As a girl Jelena had fallen under the spell of an oppressive man, a father given to aggressive outbursts and childish claims of persecution. Against all odds, including the chronic body image curse that haunts so many women, she broke away and has now redefined her life. Yet she still felt the need to apologise to an Australian public that treated her so badly, as if somehow she, like women who blame themselves for a man’s violence towards them, was responsible for her father’s behaviour.
There’s obviously more to Damir Dokic than was revealed in his battle with the media. And I don’t think it was a one-way street. His antics made for great copy and were milked by some members of the media. He clearly didn’t have the skill or the temperament for such a public role. But the facts that matter are simple. Jelena Dokic drew a line in the sand and told ‘the man in her life’, an estranged father, not an estranged lover, that the relationship was over.
Not surprisingly, Damir threatened to make an appearance at the Open and thereby re-assert his control of her. Controlling men, whether they’re the ones who kill an estranged partner or those who refuse to let a woman get on with her life, believe they have a god-given right to act in the way. That’s why Damir or any TV station that invites him to Melbourne needs to be told in the strongest terms – if by way of an intervention order, so be it - that the relationship remains over until such time as Jelena decides it’s not over.
This isn’t a parable about what to do with pushy parents. It’s a story with much deeper meaning. Hidden away, far from the glamour of this story are hundreds of sad tales about unimportant women killed, bashed and humiliated by the man in their life. It’s blatant folly to worship Jelena Dokic for breaking from her patriarchal father if we’re going to ignore these women.
Jelena can only be an inspiration to women trying to flee bad men, as long as those women have the support - moral, legal and practical - to leave with dignity, immune from retribution. Dokic is what every woman in a physically or psychologically threatening relationship wants to be, a survivor not a victim. At a time when violence against women is an acknowledged scourge, Jelena’s story makes her a star in every sense of the word.