aSo, this is a blog I didn’t see myself writing but given the media furore around the trouble some men have respecting women by not abusing them and the #metoo campaign I thought I’d jot down a few words.
If you’re reading this you probably know who I am but let’s rehash. I’m now 28 (how did that happen?), happily married with two cats, I’ve raised over £15,000 for charity, cycled Lands’ End to John o Groats twice, and I’m in two comedy groups. I also used to run a university comedy society and was a Students’ Union president. So, I’m a pretty normal-ish outgoing person.
It’s probably worth noting at this point that I’ve never groped, abused, flashed at, or anything else, a women (or indeed anyone). I didn’t really think that these were words I’d have to write, but it seems that every time I check my phone a new revelation about men with power using this to abuse women.
This. Isn’t. Right.
Just because I identify as a man does not give me a right to touch, leer, catcall, or rape. The fact that a major film producer (and, it seems, several high profile actors) have used their power and influence to sexually exploit women is just wrong. And let’s just be crystal clear – the people at fault are the men doing the abusing, not the women who were afraid to speak out. The fact that the President of the United States hasn’t apologised for using his wealth to grab women by the privates is, frankly, sickening. And then there is the #metoo campaign – highlighting just how widespread abuse is, and how “banter” is just one part of a scale of systematic abuse against women.
I’ve been thinking this week about all of the times that I have had power – if you can call being an SU President having power. I had an office to myself, I was (fairly) well liked, and I had the respect of lots of awesome students. Sometimes, students would come and see me one to one in my office to discuss a disciplinary, a complaint they were bringing, or just for a chat. Some of them were women.
And you know what? Not once did I have to restrain the urge to abuse anyone. This is because I’m not a dick. All women at some point in their lives deal with abuse from men, whether verbal, sexual or psychological and encounter men who believe that they have a right to invade women’s public and private spaces.
This should not be the case.
There was a time when I was trusted to host the annual university dance show for a couple of years. This entailed telling a few jokes, doing something to make you look stupid, and then waiting in the wings between dances. Sometimes people who were in the next dance would be getting changed next to me. You know what? They didn’t give me permission to look or to stare. So I would look away, to the stage, or the ceiling, or the floor. If it was me having to change down to my boxers I wouldn’t want someone staring at me.
Even when I was a man with power in a closed room with another young woman I was more worried about farting or not being able to help than I was about touching them. The only vaguely embarrassing thing to happen in my office is when a female friend tried to show me a tattoo on her upper thigh (with me protesting loudly and looking away) when a colleague knocked on the door and started walking in. My friend, trousers down, jumped behind the door, leaving me to explain that if my colleague looked behind the door there would be a woman with her trousers down and that there was a good reason for it.
I was, as you can imagine, beetroot red.
Now, I didn’t have to force myself to not abuse women. Being male does not make us inherently violent. It isn’t in our DNA. It is a learnt behaviour, and a choice that these men make every time. It is exploitative, it is wrong, and it needs calling out. And you know what?
It’s not bloody complicated.
These words won’t by themselves solve a problem. But let them remind us – there are men out there who think that they will get away with using their position to abuse and exploit, and it is incumbent on us all to seek to build a society where women and girls are safe from violence.
Men, it’s on us now. Call out your friends who make rape jokes or sexist comments. Don’t dismiss women who open up to you about the abuse they have encountered. Now is the time to keep these conversations going so that we create a culture where men cannot get away with predatory behaviour towards women no matter how famous they are. We also need to reflect on our actions – even when we think we’re squeaky clean, the chances are we’ve made a comment or stared too long or not called out friends who have been inappropriate.
I said earlier that I’ve never been one of the abusers. That being said, I am re-evaluating past interactions and actions to consider whether they could have been inappropriate or uncomfortable. I’m also thinking how I can best be a part of the solution in the future.
And one final thought. This blog focuses on discrimination against women. But let’s not forget that just this week statistics showed a huge increase in the number of hate crimes against Muslims and people with disabilities. We should try and tackle all discrimination and abuse wherever we see it.