It has become so apparent to me lately that violence against women has to be a male issue. It has to be, right? Because if it wasn’t wouldn’t we females have sorted it out by now?
I feel like I have spent my whole life fighting with men. Not literally of course, but fighting to get myself heard, fighting for space as a woman, and fighting to just be treated and afforded the same as them.
Why does a woman take a man’s name when married? Why couldn’t girls play rugby? When was a girl’s skirt too short and why was it too short, like who made the rules? Why did I have to sit like a lady? Why was doing handstands in front of boys inappropriate?
As a child, I had so many questions. Questions that were really never answered, and if they were It was just a ‘because it is’ kind of an answer or even worse because it ‘wasn’t ladylike.’
At school, I fought at every point to be treated the same as the males around me, causing a commotion when anything seemed unfair. Like, why was I given detention for pulling my socks up in front of a male teacher because it made him uncomfortable? His uncomfortable feeling at my 14 years old legs was absolutely not my problem. Apparently, girls couldn’t play rugby because they had boobs (it was the 80’s). We had to wear running knickers not shorts because we ‘just did’ and skirts were compulsory because ‘they just were’.
I’m sure I was one of those children that teachers groaned and hid from when they saw me coming. I was feisty, angry, and armed with questions they couldn’t, or didn’t, want to answer.
I looked at the adults around me to answer these seemingly important questions but they couldn’t, and “that’s a boy thing” and “that’s a girl thing” became commonplace.
Angry and confused, I rebelled at every corner, screaming at men who hollered at me in cars, telling blokes to f*** off when they asked me to cheer up, and generally being pretty disagreeable with anything that felt in the slightest bit sexist.
I was labeled a troublemaker by men, women, girls, and boys alike.
Some women apparently liked being cat-called so it was ok, if you wear something like that what do you expect? If anything, I was gaslit into thinking these things were normal, acceptable, commonplace, and I might as well just shut up and get on with it because nothing was ever going to change.
I think at some point, I must have conformed on the outside or perhaps given up fighting as I didn’t blink an eye when a group of males tried to drag me into a house from a bus stop when I was 19. I’m still eternally grateful for the passer-by who pretended to be my boyfriend. Why do men only leave you alone when we have a boyfriend? Is it because we are now the property of another man and therefore can not be touched?
I think perhaps what I learned was how to use my femininity. Because if I was going to suffer, I might as well use it to my advantage. I began to find the whole ‘male thing’ hilarious. How easily they could be manipulated, how predictable they were, and how if you played the game you got away with everything.
Inside I was still angry, annoyed, and lots of other words but I was also exhausted.
I felt like I had been fighting men all my life without getting anywhere.
I eventually joined the police where to get by, you really have to be one of the boys and you quickly learn to follow suit. And if you want to progress in any way, you have to be ten times harder and less emotional than any male around you. It was an interesting time, one I spent 10 years of my life in before being spat out the other end unsure who I was and what I believed in anymore.
It was only when I had my own children I began to think about this again. I guess I thought things would have changed perhaps, but no. Girls still had obscenities shouted at them when they walked to schools, boys could still be mean because they like you, girls were still sent home because their clothes were distracting and rugby was still not an option. Oh, and that personal favourite of mine, ‘cheer up luv’ was still commonplace.
How could so many years have passed by and yet nothing changed?
It perplexed me, infuriated me and it lit a passion in me again for how girls and boys, men and women, are treated differently.
And as I began to speak out again I was shocked that men and some women still reacted in the same way they had in the 80’s to my rantings.
‘It’s not all men’
‘Some women like it‘
‘You are too sensitive’
‘It happens to men too’
‘It’s harmless fun’
I’d somehow forgotten how exhausting the fight was. I could see the younger females taking it on, and I remembered being them, and here I was old, wiser, perhaps, and still unable to make myself heard. Still getting so frustrated at trying to explain things I’d cry. I mean, what was so difficult to understand, really? Women didn’t want to be treated constantly as sexual objects. Why was that so difficult? Why did men have to centre themselves in the middle of the argument always !!!
Exhausted, I gave up again, retreated and decided to leave the fight to younger people, people who could find the energy within themselves to fight for something that really should be so frigging over by now.
I instead immersed myself in the words of drag, gay icons, and people who bend gender norms because I found it fascinating and somewhat comforting to know I wasn’t the only one who found the present situation shit. And while I’m well aware I will never, and have never, suffered as much as a more marganisled person, I somehow felt akin and at home in these environments.
Then Sarah Everard happened.
And then the outcry happened. First, I was pissed. Why did something like this have to happen for people to start talking about this? And secondly, are we only bothered because she is white and he is white? I watched, I listened, and again there were men with their fingers in the pie. A woman was murdered and they still felt the need to tell us that we were over-exaggerating and perhaps we were. But honestly, it’s exhausting dealing with this shit constantly.
Now, while this murder was at the extreme and clearly committed by a disturbed individual, I don’t think that is what women were speaking up against really.
We were speaking up about how we feel generally unsafe, a concept apparently most men can’t get.
Catcalling isn’t a compliment, it’s freaking uncomfortable at best, scary at worst. Harassing us when we have said no to a date 30 times isn’t persistent, it’s just harassment. Telling us to cheer up or smile isn’t a nice thing, it’s freaking condescending. Not agreeing with your sexist joke doesn’t mean we are over-sensitive, we are just sick of you having a laugh at our expense.
We are sick of it. We are sick of you putting yourself at the centre of our trauma. Every day women make decisions on their safety, how we keep ourselves safe from men and you still want to make that about YOU!
Here is the low down. We know it isn’t all men.
But 97% of women say they have been harassed on the street, but only 4% report the abuse. I in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence and I in 5 women will suffer a sexual assault.
….It’s enough men, right? It’s not just two and three going around causing havoc up and down the country.
And now you are probably going to tell me that males are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime. And yes, you would be right. 2 % of the male population and 1.3% of the female population are likely to suffer a violent crime. Not a sexual crime, but a violent crime. Oh, and 85% of the perpetrators will be men. I in 5 women will suffer a sexual assault the corresponding male figure is 1 in 71, still very high but not 1 in 5.
It’s not all men. But it’s also not all men who call out one of their friends or work colleagues when they objectify a woman or say something sexist, is it? There isn’t enough of you stepping in when other men make us feel small, embarrassed, or have a joke at our expense?
It’s not all men then!
We don’t think every man is going to sexually assault us. We know that’s not true. But we believe from our experience that a lot of men will make jokes on our behalf, will objectify women, and will make comments about a woman’s body. You know, that low-level stuff you think is harmless? It isn’t.
It’s our daily lived experience.
It happens, it still happens. Men make women feel uncomfortable every day when women are just going about living doing normal things.
How is that OK?
Ok before I go on, I know this is not every female’s experience, everyone is different but it is enough female experience. Ask your daughters, colleagues, friends you will be disgusted by the things women put up with daily. You will also be surprised by all the things we all do daily to keep ourselves safe.
Have you ever taken a picture of a taxi license plate, or pulled out a hair and left it on the seat for DNA purposes in case anything happens to you? Have you ever stood on a packed tube or bus and felt another human being rubbing themselves up against you? Have you got out your mobile phone to pretend to talk to someone while walking alone? Have you carried hairspray to use as a weapon? Have you changed at the last minute because you remembered how when you wore this shirt at the last meeting Steve from accounts looked down your shirt every time you lent over the desk?
If you haven’t, you are privileged please don’t forget that.
And while saying this, I never want to make women feel like victims. We are not and I never want to downplay the fact that sexually motivated crimes happen to men too. In fact, they probably go more unreported than they do for women.
Sexual harassment and violence affects both males and females but females disapporiately. And this is an issue men need to be taking seriously because it is both damaging to males and females.
If we are ever going to solve this we need males to start to see how serious this is and take a vested interest in making it better.
And if you are one of the men already doing this thank you, thank you, thank you.
This isn’t a women’s problem. We have, for as long as I can remember, come up with all sorts of solutions to protect ourselves, from ignoring it to shouting like a banshee. And guess what? Nothing works. You still wolf whistle, tell sexist jokes, grope us, attack us… There is nothing more we can do.
Men, we need you here.
We need you to understand, to listen, and perhaps understand the part you do play in this.
You see, for me, the whole problem starts and ends with the patriarchy, a system that favors male traits over female traits. Think about how we bring up our children, think of the things we say.
Females are brought up to believe traits such as kindness, likeability, and caring are associated with women. Therefore, as a leader when they have to make tough decisions, they are often seen as difficult, angry, or a bitch. They are brought up to believe that their bodies are sexual, think of the fact they get told off for having shoulders and legs on display and led to believe that men can not control themselves around them. They are told boys who like them are mean to them. And the saying ‘boys will be boys’ not only gives boys a get-out clause, but it makes girls feel their concerns about male behavior aren’t valid and no one will listen to them.
Boys on the other hand fair just as badly. They’re made to believe they must be the providers, be brave, be strong and not be a ‘big girl’s blouse’. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot to live up to. Men are in fact three times more likely to take their own lives than women and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 30. Men are suffering too.
The concepts of femininity and masculinity are damaging and toxic for us all, and perhaps something we need to examine and think about more. In fact, the concept of gender is in itself a construct but that is for another time.
If we don’t examine what it means to be male and female in this world, how will we ever move forward?
What if males started talking about masculinity more and what it means to be a man, would it help? I think not only would it help the women around them, but it would help them to make sense of how the patriarchy is damaging to them and encouraging them to reach for unattainable goals.
What if, instead of sending girls home for wearing short skirts, we used it as an opportunity to talk about the sexualisation of the female body? What if instead of saying ‘boys will be boys’ we held boys to higher standards? What if we changed our language when we referred to female victims? What if we stop debating what women should wear? What if we just stopped saying “she was asking for it”? What if we stopped teaching consent around what an enthusiastic yes is, rather than debate a No?
Would these things help? Yes damn, right they would. If we were brave enough to ask difficult questions of ourselves and start having conversations with our young people at younger ages about the bias we, as a society, might begin to make some headway I feel.
We will only change the future by asking important and challenging questions in the now.
I personally feel most of the challenge here lies in how we bring up our children, and mostly we do this automatically, not thinking of the things we say and the impact they may have.
And men play an important role here, there is so much you could do to make the world better for the women around you. Things like:
- Helping create environments where misogynistic behaviour, sexist jokes, victim-blaming, and objectification are not tolerated.
- Challenging behaviour from men when they see it
- Stepping in and helping women when they need it and ask for it.
- Support the females in your life. Be interested and asking them how this is for them.
- Listen, Listen, Listen without having to put yourself at the centre of the conversation.
- Examining your own masculinity so we can stop this toxic cycle we are all in.
But you don’t have to, you have the right to ignore everything I’m saying and say not all men. That’s your prerogative for sure. But here are some figures for you?
9 out of 10 killers are men
98.5% of all rapes are committed by men
80% of high-frequency domestic assault are committed by men ( over 10 times with the most severe injury and consequences)
74% of domestic murders are of women
Still not all men?
I truly believe this situation is making men as unhappy as it makes the women around them. And if men do anything they need to examine what it means to be male. The world is beginning to do this with or without you anyway. If I were you, I’d get on board and be part of the conversation.
You need this as much as the women do.
And if nothing else, just think before you speak. If you wouldn’t say it or do it to a man. why are you saying it to a woman?
And just for clarity when I’m talking about violence towards women I’m talking about anything from street harassment, low-level micro aggressions up to the much more serious crimes. While for most some of these may not be considered violent to a lot of women they are, these low-level things scare them and make them feel under threat of violence. I am also not in any way suggesting that most aggressions towards women are the same as a violent psychotic attack. They are different. I know that.