By Alex Norris
The allegations of rape and assault that have been levelled against a high-profile young man in the media over the last few days are shocking in their content, but tragically quite ordinary in the context of our society.
As a man you have begun to associate with writing blog posts about site investigation work or geotechnical engineering; for me and my male colleagues, this cancer in our society is something far more important, which needs to be discussed right now.
Some reading this may think that it’s not our place to raise such issues and that everyone should stick to their roles. But this view hasn’t served society particularly well to this point, has it? There is an epidemic in this country and indeed across the whole world. It comes not in the form of a microscopic virus but as a tidal wave of heinous acts, which thanks to mass male ambivalence and inaction, are just as deadly and leave half of the population at constant risk.
It’s time we as men, joined this conversation – in fact, it’s well overdue – to make any sort of physical assault on a woman by a man, a massive taboo in our society.
The reactions of the media and public to revelations like the ones recently reported, are very telling – these are not stories of young men losing their careers but rather women who have been abused, belittled, dehumanised, often by someone that they know and trust, whose entire lives will now be changed as a result.
So let’s address the elephant in the room first. Yes… Everybody, regardless of gender or any other characteristic, should feel safe. But this conversation is about women in particular and we all need to be better at leaving our “whataboutism” at the door. If you raise the issue of “what about men’s safety?” when a woman mentions changing her route home, or never using headphones, or holding her house keys between her fingers to give herself a fighting chance in the event of an assault, it’s probably a sign that her safety is not usually at the forefront of your mind and you need to listen up.
Occasionally a specific story will be deemed newsworthy, but the sad fact is that these things are occurring both out in the open and behind closed doors on a daily basis. Every instance is a stain on the collective conscience of society. Murder and rape may be where it all too often ends up, but these more extreme examples are made far more likely by the acceptance of other sometimes seemingly harmless behaviours. For example, catcalling is often dismissed as “a compliment”. It’s very easy to say you wouldn’t mind a stranger complimenting your body. Try to imagine whether you’d feel the same if it happened several times a day, and the stranger happened to be a foot taller and five stone heavier than you. Imagine how angry they might get if you respond in the wrong way, or don’t respond at all. Worse still, what if you respond in “the right way” and now they think they’re entitled to touch you. You quickly realise that this is a no-win situation for someone who was literally just attempting to go about their daily life. And remember whatever you do or say, it’s about how the other person – in this case a woman – perceives it.
It’s very telling that few men believe they are friends with someone who would commit an act of violence against a woman, but every woman will know a victim.
Men – let’s start by committing to calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it. We must believe victims who are brave enough to speak out. We must accept that we are no longer responsible for just our own actions because “not all men” is not good enough. Let’s commit to respecting women not because of their proximity (imagining it’s your mum, your sister, your daughter) but because of their humanity.
So let’s, at long last, start listening to women about the things we as men must say and do to help them to feel safe.