⚠️ Content Warning: refers to domestic abuse, sexual violence and femicide
There seems to be a pattern when we talk about male violence towards women. We often hear – including from some women – that we shouldn’t “tar all men with the same brush”.
Many believe, including me, that not all men are bad. So what’s the problem? Let’s open it up.
Some might say the “not all men…” narrative is because those men – and women – simply want us to trust males and stop lumping them in with the baddies. But that implies that because not all men are violent, it’s not fair to raise the issue – and reality – that some are.
When we walk the streets, sit at our desk at work, go on a date, or visit a bar – where we should feel safe – research shows we are not. Latest figures suggest that 97% of women have been subjected to sexual harassment in the U.K.. In 2017, the latest year for which figures are available, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 3.4m women had been victims of sexual assault in their lives . This included one million who had been raped, or had faced attempted rape. If the argument is not all men are dangerous, how are women meant to know which men we can trust?
Many women have “safety tools” to help them feel safe in every day life. They have them because of the reality they face going about their business each and every day. They’re not “over-reacting”. They’re not being “hysterical”. They’re not being “over-sensitive”. The evidence shows women are disproportionately at risk, and have to take steps to ensure their safety.
But this is problematic. Women having to take these safety measures has become so normalised, that if they didn’t have or use these tools, they become the target for blame when they are attacked. It’s a problem because it puts accountability in the wrong place.
By saying we should “trust our instincts”, watch what we wear, not go out after dark, not wear headphones, it puts the focus – and responsibility – on women, to stop men being violent.
We want to be able to have a conversation that explains why that’s an unhelpful narrative.
We want to be able to explain that the only person responsible for hurting, controlling or killing is the perpetrator. That even though “not all men” are like that, that two women are being murdered every week, with reports that during lockdown a woman was killed every three days.
We need to have a conversation about male violence and why women are too scared to report it. We need to address rape myths that “she must be lying” when only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false.
We need to include a discussion with the LGBTQI community, including the fact that a quarter of trans people report domestic abuse. We also need to have a dialogue about whether or not safe spaces (like refuges) are accessible for people with disabilities, and why when black women go missing their safety is neglected – and ignored – in a way white women aren’t. Anyone that goes missing or is attacked should be a cause for public concern equally. We should be able to talk about it. And hope that people want to listen.
We need to allow this dialogue, appreciating the knowledge that men are victims too – including of domestic abuse (which many say makes it harder for them to report) – as well as on the streets.
For those that say “but what about men?”, we can acknowledge that men are dying, and their lives matter too. But then we need to address the fact that in those cases the perpetrators are also overwhelmingly male.
90% of murderers are male and 87% of crime against the person is committed by men. 97% of sexual offences are committed by men. Where the number of male homicide victims has decreased, the number of female victims has increased in the latest year. (ONS)
So we’re not saying all men are bad or violent. We’re saying all men can help us feel safe:
- By demonstrating empathy for this conversation
- Acknowledging and educating themselves on the issue of women’s safety and male violence
- Recognising their own biases
- Being an ally by learning, sharing and opening the dialogue
- Intervening when they hear or see others being inappropriate
- Not engaging in “banter” that objectifies women
- Teaching other men they don’t have the right to control or kill anyone.
To be an ally in the conversation around addressing misogyny in particular, a place to start is to understand the difference between sexism and misogyny, and help reduce the status of males who harass or make sexist comments against females; let them know that’s not what a good leader looks like. Because much misogynist language goes unchallenged, the assumption is that it’s societally acceptable; when men stay silent, they are saying “what you said was ok”.
When they call misogyny out it as it happens, it can stop there. This shows moral courage and integrity, and is good leadership.
We know men get hurt too. But this conversation is about women’s safety and male violence. And we should be able to have it. We know that 78% of men say they would intervene if they saw a woman being harassed – that’s an important statistic. But we also know that when men are in groups this will likely fail.
When people use the unhelpful “not all men” narrative, engage in “whataboutery” or say it’s “anti-men” to raise this issue, it minimises and derails the conversation, and shuts it down.
It says that because it’s not their experience it’s not their issue. It feels like they’re saying that “not all men can help”.
It is. And they can.
As Jackson Katz writes in “The Macho Paradox”, he “understands women’s skepticism, who for years have been frustrated by men’s complacency about something so basic as a woman’s right to live free from the threat of violence… isn’t it about time we had a national conversation about the male causes of violence?” I think so. I hope you do too.
If you or someone you know has been affected by these issues, here are some links that might help.
This post first appeared on the Let’s Talk Lady Business website. Updated July 21.
Copyright Delphi Ellis 2021