Being human together. Showing up for what matters.

#MeToo, #NotAllMen – these topics are exhausting and full of fear, pain and shame on all* sides. I’ve both longed to and avoided writing on this topic. So with fear, vulnerability, wariness and weariness, here I go.

The list of men who have or attempted to violate me sexually or physically is long.  It started in childhood when an elderly man in a park thought he could stick his tongue in my six-year-old mouth.  It includes intimate partner violence, assaults from strangers and “friends”, and extends across my entire lifespan.   However, the list of men in my life who are kind, respectful, generous, and abhor violence perpetrated by any people towards all people thankfully far out number the monsters in droves. One of them is my father, and at least two of them – a sweet boyfriend, and my husband, were a large part of my healing journey. When I attempt to write anything on this topic I hold all of these experiences together.

#NotAllMen are monsters. My husband has never sexually or physically assaulted another person. He doesn’t hang with the types of men that rape and murder people. He doesn’t break bread with guys who think sexist jokes and sexual remarks are funny or clever, and would challenge them if he heard them. He met me when I was wearing a super short skirt and a top with only one button and he made absolutely no attempt to have sex with me, consensual or forced. He doesn’t support the pornography industry or watch women strip.  He is happy to walk women to their cars and keeps a steady distance from women he doesn’t know at night to help them feel safe. He is representative of many men I am privileged to know.

DSC_7618My husband is not the problem. But I need him to be part of the solution.

Before we get there, let’s quickly review some data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS):

  • MEN are more likely to have experienced violence. 42% of adult men have experienced violence; compared with 37% of women.
  • One in four men have experienced violence by a stranger, compared to only one in eleven women.

When we’re having this conversation about violence we must not forget these men, we must keep them with us. We need each other.

Here’s some important finer-grained statistics:

  • One in three Australians have experienced violence by a MALE perpetrator, compared to one in ten who have experienced violence by a FEMALE perpetrator.
  • One in four women experienced violence by an intimate partner; compared to one in thirteen men.

When the perpetrator is male:

  • Men are most likely to be assaulted by a MALE STRANGER (66%) away from home (56%)
  • Women are most likely to be assaulted by a KNOWN MALE (92%) at home (65%)

When the perpetrator is female the most common place to be assaulted is in the home, by someone they know.

Violence is a gendered issue because most perpetrators are men**. However, most men are not perpetrators. Sisters, we need to remember this, because we need those men who are not assailants to stand with us.  They may be more fearful of strangers when we’re more fearful of partners; they may be more fearful of a coward’s punch, while we are frightened of rape.  But we are united in our fear and loathing of violence towards all people.

As I’ve watched many conversations unfold across media platforms, I have asked myself what is it I would have men do. I know women are doing plenty; and women are tired, and scared.  The thing that I see the most is that perpetrating men are loud and virulent across social media platforms – and many, many (not all) kind, generous, beautiful men are silent. If you are with us, we need to know you are there.

This is what I would ask of men who are already doing as much as my husband:

  • Engage in these conversations. You are not the problem, please help us.
  • Be aware that both men and women pay more attention to messages and ideas that are communicated by men – use this to all of our advantage and speak out against all forms of violence perpetrated by all people.
  • SHARE, LIKE and COMMENT on articles like this one, both on social media, and through your email networks. Comments as simple as “I’m with you,” or “I’m listeningmake a difference. My husband’s comment on this point was, “It doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything to fix the problem.” Trust me, it is. In fact, don’t trust me – try it anyway, and see what happens with the women in your network.
  • Talk about it when you’re with other men.
  • Challenge victim-blaming where you see it. It is insidious, and believe me, you will be missing it. So are women. Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper’s recent call for us to be more situationally aware is a clear example, but it’s everywhere, sometimes disguised as men advocating for women.  For example this clip produced by Jay Shetty, one of Forbes “30 under 30” starts out brilliantly by calling out emotional abuse. Then he turns straight to camera as he explains it’s a woman’s job to leave. Ah, no. It’s an abuser’s job to learn how to not abuse. That protects not just the current partner, but all future partners too. Excellent bang for your buck, and it can be done (see these three studies).
  • When women try and express how they’re feeling, give them grace and listen.  Women are tired and frightened. Many women feel this has just been left to the sisterhood. So they may sound angry about this. We ARE angry.  Try not to take it personally. Recognise this is a long term cultural issue none of us chose, and all of us live inside. Also listen if they tell you that your well meaning act of support didn’t quite land where they needed it to. We are all going to make mistakes in this – allow women with lived experience to guide you. If you also have lived experience, help guide us too.
  • If you’re like my husband, you’re already paying attention to your communication with women. Men have been culturally trained to interrupt, ignore, and dismiss women, whilst women have been culturally shaped to speak less and allow men to dominate.  That’s not yours or our fault, though it’s often a blind-spot. Look out for it, help your colleagues and friends notice it, and make room for women to speak.
  • Be willing to experience the discomfort that comes with being a part of this movement of change.

Finally, to my dear sisters – I know you are exhausted and frightened. I know you’ve been doing this a long, long time.  Maintain an awareness of these systemic patterns, but try not to personalise them. We have many miles to go yet, and there are male counterparts that would like to be our companions on the road.  There are more of those than there are monsters – and plenty of them are feeling helpless too. Let’s not cut off the people who have the potential to be our greatest allies and partners in ending sexual and physical violence.

* I acknowledge that gender is non binary, and apologise to those who identify with non-binary genders for the lack of inclusion in this piece.  I imagine these issues become even more complex and fraught for you. I stand with you, though I feel unqualified to write about your experience.  

** Obviously this article is not an exhaustive commentary on this complex issue. Rather I hope that it adds productively to an important, painful conversation. Yes there are other gendered issues involved in this. Google them, and by all means share, like, and comment on those articles too.

Photo Credit: © 2018 Luke McKenna

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