If I were a man, maybe I’d have spoken up this week. Or maybe I’d have been silent the way the vast majority of boys have been.
If I were a man I probably wouldn’t have a personal back catalogue of experiences of sexual assault, verbal abuse and physical intimidation.
If I were a man I probably wouldn’t have felt so triggered by events this week.
But I’m not a man, and I am triggered as all hell.
International Women’s Day
All week, I have been struggling to write my International Women’s Day post. I sat down last Sunday evening with the intention to write something about how interesting the date overlapping with schools re-opening was. I was going to talk about how the burden of home education had fallen disproportionately upon mothers. I was going to back it up with the study from January that found around 70% of women were denied furlough when they asked for it, in order to allow them to focus more on their government mandated educational roles.
Then the Meghan bashing started. There were the “royal experts” who were happy to record incredibly disparaging commentary about an interview they hadn’t even seen. Then there were the tabloids, and the people who believe what they read in them.
Just a year since Caroline Flack had ended her life after being hounded and vilified by the media. Just a year since #bekind trended everywhere as we all reminded each other that we didn’t know what was going on behind anybody’s smile. Remember all of those collages of photos that circulated with stars smiling? The stars who had extinguished their lights? Stars like Robin Williams?
And yet here we were all over again.
Last time, after Caroline’s death, there were comments asking why she hadn’t reached out for help. This time, we have a woman talking openly about her mental health issues and feeling vulnerable and…. she’s called an attention seeking liar.
Who is Meghan Markle? Well you’d think she was “just” an actress who was in a show once from the way she’s spoken about. If you dig a little deeper you find a woman who could have been born to be Harry’s partner. She started her career as an activist when she was 11 years old, fighting sexism in advertising. By 2015 she was addressing the UN Women’s conference. She was a Global Ambassador for World Vision, the world’s largest international children’s charity, from 2016 – 2017. She was an impressive woman in her own right, before she even met Harry.
And yet even when someone as accomplished as her speaks out about mental health and barriers to change, she is vilified and called a liar.
Triggered as all hell.
Some people question why so many women never report being raped to the police. If you have been in this position, you know exactly why. It’s because the burden of proof always falls upon the victim. It is because unless you have horrific injuries and are covered in DNA evidence, you know you have about a 5% likelihood of getting the predator convicted. You do however have a much higher likelihood of your name and personal history being dragged through the mud. Even if the press aren’t allowed to print your name, people who are friends with your attacker know exactly who you are. If your case gets to court, you know the defence will put a strong focus on discrediting you. By reporting the attack, you are opening yourself up to invasive evidence gathering and then a shredding of your character.
Triggered as ALL HELL.
And that was before they found Sarah.
Sarah Everard was a beautiful young woman who walked home from a friend’s house and vanished. Her body was found a week later and her murderer is believed to be a serving police officer. The swell of outrage from the women I know, and the wider community of women all over Britain was fast and hard to ignore.
We saw ourselves in her. We remembered times we had walked home from parties, far later than the 9.30pm walk Sarah took. We remembered the times we walked with our hands in our pockets, fistful of keys at the ready. We remembered the times we’d crossed the road to check if the guy behind us was tailing us or not.
After a year where going for a walk has been one of our only freedoms, it felt like an attack on all of us.
Some of us then thought about our daughters. I know that I do not want my daughter to have the same catalogue of experiences that I have had. I do not want her to ever feel that she cannot go where she wants to go and do what she wants to do.
All of that was by Wednesday.
Where are the men?
The rest of the week I spent looking for who among my male friends and relatives was saying something, saying anything to contribute.
Massive blank space.
I wasn’t the only one of my friends to notice this phenomena.
None of them seemed to be standing up to say “we must do better”. Simon Harris of Man Behaving Dadly was a notable exception, even if he did say he knew he’d be shot down for virtue signalling. Is that the problem? Are men afraid of being seen as trying too hard to be good guys?
Instead, the #notallmen hashtag trended with all the speed of the #alllivesmatter one last summer after George Floyd’s death. It missed the point in exactly the same tone deaf way as its predecessor.
We all know that not all men are predators, but the fact is they all could be. You can’t just look at ten men and know which one is going to be the baddie.
The vast majority of violent and sexual crimes are perpetrated by men. Whether the victim is female or male, the predator, the perpetrator is far more likely to be male than female.
The victims are not the problem, toxic masculinity is.
As my friend Amy Butterworth put it, “boys will be boys walked so #notallmen could run”.
If I were a man, I’d do better.
This mother’s day, I have been thinking about how we can break the cycles, change the societal norms, the system. The images of the police response to the vigil for Sarah last night made it clear we have a very long way to go.
Any ideas gratefully received.
Here’s hoping a better week lies ahead.