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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Not All Men but ALWAYS Men

Don’t go out at night. Don’t walk alone. Don’t wear that dress. Don’t talk on your phone.

Don’t smile. Don’t fight. Don’t go that way, there’s no light.

Don’t lead him on. Don’t be sexy. Don’t drink. Don’t forget to text me.

Don’t be late. Don’t shout rape. Don’t tie your hair up, easy prey.

Don’t be loose. Don’t be a prude. Don’t show skin. Don’t be rude.

Don’t take the bus. Don’t date. Don’t leave the house, it’s not safe.

Don’t use headphones. Don’t wear heels. Don’t run at dusk. Don’t forget the keys.

Don’t blame them. It’s #NotAllMen. So, tell us, which ones is it then?

Being a woman is exhausting.

Logically we know it’s not all men. But it is ALWAYS men and it is ENOUGH men. Just as we know all snakes aren’t venomous, we aren’t about to jump into a snake pit like Indiana Jones and hope for the best. Women have been shackled by a fear of being attacked. As little girls we are constantly told to protect ourselves by our parents, our teachers, our government. As we grow into women, it becomes instinctual. We are told that we are the ones who should stay indoors after dark because the streets are not safe, that dangerous men lurk in the shadows, ready to prey. Like many women, I was unsurprised by the hashtag #NotAllMen trending after the murder of Sarah Everard. It resurfaces time and time again in response to male violence. This is the manifestation of toxic masculinity, ingrained from a young age. A defensive reaction that makes it about men, and not women.

Stop telling women to stay safe.

At the very crux of this is the passive language used to describe male violence. Stay safe. The language we use around sexual predation is skewed. Perhaps the messaging should be: ‘Men, stop attacking, harassing, raping and murdering women.’ Yet another woman murdered and again the messaging is for women to be vigilant. To stay safe. This acknowledges that it’s dangerous to be a woman. Yet, then we are told that time and again that it’s not all men. So, perhaps those saying it’s not all men, like Davina McCall, could tell us which men it is, that would make it much easier.

How can women 'stay safe' when we have to constantly live on high alert, every movement ushered in fear, heightened after dark? I used to live on Nightingale Lane, Clapham South and I walked part of the route Sarah took every day. I took the same precautions she did. If it was late, I would text or call my flatmate, so she knew I was on my way. I didn’t take low-lit side streets. The stay safe rhetoric places the blame on the woman, as if she had somehow been MORE careful, she wouldn't have been attacked or might still be alive. Why do politicians insist on restricting women’s movements, making our lives smaller? It is men who seem to be unable to stop committing violence against women. Male violence is a symptom of a society that has accepted it as the status quo; boys will be boys. Yet, when women push back, we are met with whataboutery and more violence, as evidenced by the police’s response in London. When you tell women to stay safe, learn self-defence, this subliminal messaging tells predators to attack the other women who aren’t protecting themselves. The weakest link. Perhaps, as Green MP Baroness Jones suggested, there should be a curfew in place for men. Because #NotAllMen are interested in our safety.

We should be able to walk home.

97% of women in the UK say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment, yet men don’t seem to know any predators. Clearly a lot of men don’t recognise predatory behaviour. Violence against women often starts with misogynistic language, degradation of women, catcalling. It can lead to predatory behaviour like stalking, voyeurism, overt sexualisation, flashing. If this type of predation isn’t stopped, it can escalate to groping, rape and in some cases, murder. Why after exposing himself to a female restaurant worker was Couzens only given a caution? Who are the police protecting? Themselves? Or the public? There are too many failings. If a policeman, the very person we are told to turn to for safety, can murder a woman, how can any woman ever be ‘safe’? If you are a non-white woman, you face even higher rates of violence, rape and femicide. Too many women are murdered every year in the UK and Ireland and never receive justice. What happened to Blessing Olusegun? What happened to Raonaid Murray or Sophie Toscan du Plantier?

The only way to protect women and girls is through early intervention. Teaching young boys in schools about consent, healthy relationships, and boundaries. Gendered violence is embedded in a context of severe gender inequality. A lack of adequate comprehensive sexuality education around consent and healthy relationships further reflects this. A Rape Crisis report in Ireland shows that 37% of sexual violence in children is perpetrated by children themselves; again, 97% by boys. This needs to be addressed urgently. Conviction rates for rape are far lower than other crimes. Many women and girls don’t bother reporting rape because of the trauma of having to go through the entire process only to watch their rapist go free. The burden of proof is ALWAYS on the woman or the girl. While this is the case, we are going to continually see violence against women and girls in alarming rates. If there are no repercussions, what disincentive does that have?

Male silence is violence.

Not all men are calling out their friends for disturbing language. Not all men are calling out their friends for sexist behaviour. Not all men are calling out their friends for locker room “banter”. Not all men are calling out catcalling. Not all men are modelling to their sons, teaching them about respect, equality, consent. You shouldn’t have to be a father of daughters or a husband to show your disgust. It’s reductive. All men have a responsibility to stop violence against women, even if that means being unpopular and calling out their friends for sexism. Sexual violence, femicide and misogyny are men’s problems. But an inability to deal with toxic masculinity means that it has always been our problem. Our burden. Our fear. Our lives.


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