I have thought long and hard this week about White Ribbon Day, which is actually named Elimination of Violence Against Women Day (already an issue within itself, not calling the problem what it is) and I have come to the conclusion that if I am to wear a white ribbon today and call myself a feminist and believe in true equality then I have a duty to call out BULLSHIT when I see it. So here is my honest (and personal) attempt at doing that; and what I want to call BULLSHIT on are two issues, the first being, the saying (and now the unfortunately trending hashtag) of ‘Not All Men’.
Let’s start off with a statistic! 1 woman is killed each week by a male partner or previous partner. This is an alarming statistic! For some reason when we talk about male violence against women so many people feel they need to state that indeed not all men are violent; that ‘most men’ are decent guys. Well guess what people, saying this doesn’t achieve anything. I know not all men are violent; for one, my beautiful partner isn’t violent. But getting all offended and feeling as though you have been shoved into a category that isn’t deserving of you, again doesn’t achieve anything. Saying that this is reverse sexism doesn’t achieve anything. And when 1 woman a week is being killed by a male, maybe it’s time to stop feeling so self-righteous and offended and actually do something about it. As Clementine Ford puts so perfectly… “Do you know what #notallmen does? It is a way of reassuring every man listening that this isn’t really about him and therefore he doesn’t really have to do anything about it. It’s a way of saying, “This is happening – but because YOU’RE not directly doing it, you can just walk away after this conversation and absolve yourself of any of the work involved in changing it. After all, if you’re not doing it and it’s not happening to you, what does it really have to do with you at all?”
Gendered violence is so much more complicated than punching a woman in the face. It cannot be reduced to Good Guy/Bad Guy. Gendered violence – men’s violence against women – is a complicated execution of many aggressions, some massive and some micro, that sits on a broad spectrum. If you’ve never punched a woman but you ritually engage in slut-shaming, congratulations – you’re not a Good Guy. If you’ve never sexually assaulted a woman but you say that women who wear short skirts are ‘asking for it’, congratulations – you’re not a Good Guy. If you’ve never bruised a woman, but you enjoy telling sexist jokes and laughing at women when they ‘overreact’, congratulations – you’re not a Good Guy. If you’ve never killed a woman but your days are filled with abusing them online, harassing them, calling on every patriarchal designed insult to humiliate them and make them believe they are less than you, congratulations – you are not a Good Guy.
In my own life, I have met many men; some good guys, some not so good guys, some amazing men and some horrible men. When I was 10 years old I had my first encounter with violence. I was at school at lunch-time when my friends came running over to me and told that (we’ll call him John) John was about to come over and ask me to be his girlfriend. I didn’t want to be John’s girlfriend. When I told him “No, sorry John I don’t want to be your girlfriend” he responded by slapping me across the face. Straight away I felt embarrassed, I was ashamed, I was humiliated. Yet now as a 26 year-old woman I can articulate that it was him who should have been ashamed! That was my first experience with male violence and unfortunately it wasn’t my last, far from it indeed. Over my teenage years and into my early 20’s I experienced two encounters with horrible men, that most people would have thought were ‘decent guys’, and I was witness to and have heard countless stories from other females in my life about their experiences. Looking back at these men, they all ‘looked’ like good guys, they had good jobs, good families, they were funny and smart and this is another thing I need to call BULLSHIT on. When Jill Meagher was raped and killed by a man (Bayley), her partner Tom Meagher wrote a very important article about ‘The Monster Myth’ and that is that violent, abusive men don’t look a certain way (like a monster) or fit into a nice neat box that clearly states ‘stay away’, but rather they look like ‘normal guys’.
Tom writes, “a commonly held social myth that most men who commit rape are like him (Bayley), violent strangers who stalk their victims and strike at the opportune moment. It gives a disproportionate focus to the rarest of rapes, ignoring the catalogue of non-consensual sex happening on a daily basis everywhere on the planet. It validates a limitation of the freedom of women, by persisting with an obsession on the victim’s movements rather than the vile actions of the perpetrator. The monster myth allows us to see public infractions on women’s sovereignty as minor, because the man committing the infraction is not a monster like Bayley. We see instances of this occur in bars when men become furious and verbally abusive to, or about, women who decline their attention. We see it on the street as groups of men shout comments, grab, grope and intimidate women with friends either ignoring or getting involved in the activity. We see it in male peer groups where rape-jokes and disrespectful attitudes towards women go uncontested. The monster myth creates the illusion that this is simply banter, and sexist horseplay. The trivialisation of men’s violence against women often remains a staple, invidious, and rather boring subject of humour. We can either examine this by setting our standards against the monster-rapist, or by accepting that this behaviour intrinsically contributes to a culture in which rape and violence are allowed to exist. The monster myth perpetuates a comforting lack of self-awareness.”
In conclusion, please don’t say you stand for equality and do nothing about it; it’s time for action from ALL of us. Please don’t wear a white ribbon today and not reflect upon your own attitudes, behaviours and beliefs. Please understand that your words carry weight. That your jokes have depth and meaning. That responding with #notallmen isn’t going to change anything. That you are part of the solution, if you choose to be. That everything all adds up and you know what it adds up to? 1 woman being killed every week.
Hashtags don’t save lives. You do.