Last week was a particularly bad one for men in the U.K. news. Three were convicted of murdering women in distressing circumstances – one of whom was a serving policeman. This is against a constant backdrop of other stories about male gender violence of various kinds and degrees
The case involving the policeman was particularly devastating because of how he carried out the crime and has resulted in a mushrooming of women’s vigils and protests across the country, and a commitment by the police to think very seriously about what more they could do to prevent this kind of crime. It’s taken me a few days to feel able to sit down and write anything about it, because of the feelings of frustration, anger and even despair that come up when I think about it. Also, some shame that, although I’ve been very aware of male violence against women and have been involved for years in working for gender equality, it never really hit home until now how deeply rooted and pervasive the problem is; or what it must be like to be a woman living in a constant climate of fear.
I accept that thankfully the men whose horrific actions we read about are the tiny minority, and the news cycle can give the impression that these rare events are more common than they are. But a quick glance at the statistics about gender violence of all kinds shows that it’s not at all rare – even if it is on a spectrum where a lot of it is at the ‘relatively minor’ end and escapes the attention of the newspapers. The place I’ve come to in my own mind now is that there are no ‘minor’ acts of gender violence. Because although the harm caused by a particular behaviour may seem relatively small – a woman being shouted at in the street or made to feel threatened in some way – I now understand that it’s all an expression of the same toxic combination of the psychology of certain men which causes them to respond to women in an aggressive way – whether that be out of fear, or resentment or some other factors that we need to understand better – and the wider culture of misogyny and male superiority which still permeates our lives.
I have a growing worry that buried deep in the psyche of many men there is something anti-female that is reflected in our sexist culture and institutions, and which has tainted all of us to some extent. I include those of us who think of ourselves as ‘good men’ and are horrified by the kinds of acts carried out by men who seem to have been more fully infected by this virus of women-hating that I’m going to call Gender Terrorism. I use the term Gender Terrorism because I believe it reflects the reality that the beliefs held by male perpetrators of gender violence have a lot in common with other ideological systems, in the sense of viewing anyone with a different set of values as an enemy who needs and deserves to be attacked and, in some cases, killed. What is unique about this form of terrorism is that it seems many men are potentially members or recruits. And if you think I’m exaggerating have a look at the statistics for how many women are assaulted or killed each year – then look at how many men are downloading violent pornography, presumably because they get turned on by it.
As with all forms of terrorism, to reduce the risk of harm there needs to be a constant monitoring and evaluation of information and intelligence from a wide range of sources. Counteracting gender violence will require an understanding of the mindset of the men who carry out these attacks on women, and the delivery of interventions that will be effective in encouraging them to change.
It will require a programme of intelligence gathering, awareness-raising and education – especially of the young men who are potential recruits – alongside legal sanctions and other kinds of pressure to encourage its adherents to question their assumptions and beliefs. This is the work that an increasing number of women are now demanding from our government and police force – and I think we’ve passed a tipping point with this so that there will be no going back.
But as well as supporting women to put pressure on the government to provide adequate resources for the work that’s necessary, all of us as individual men also have an important role to play in this. To help eliminate Gender Terrorists we must be careful not to speak or behave in any way which might give them encouragement or credibility, and to become more aware of our male privilege and the many invisible (to us) ways in which we may benefit from the imbalance of power in our society. Women can be our allies in this process and can support us grow into the kind of men they want us to be! For me, this is the kicker. Misogynism harms all of us! It undermines our attempt as men to gain trust and respect from our partners; it makes it hard for us to feel respect for, and pride in, ourselves as men; it creates a sense of shame in us about this affront to the basic human right of women to feel safe. All that changes when we become part of the solution by standing up for women’s rights and proving/showing to them and to other men that there can be a non-violent way to be masculine
The majority of us do not consider ourselves to be perpetrators of gender violence, but we need to have compassion for the men who are caught up in it, at the same time as insisting on change. Most of us were raised to fit into the ‘Man Box’ where emotions other than anger are seen as unmanly, and showing any fear or vulnerability is a shameful weakness. But we all have those feelings, and this stunted view of what it means to be a ‘real man’ leads to a kind of self-hatred that can be projected onto other people – often women – who are then denigrated and attacked. There is no excusing this behaviour, but by understanding it better, and working with other men to claim our right to enjoy the full range of human emotions, we can help to end it.
Men who are drawn for whatever reason to committing acts of violence against women, need to reflect on where these feelings come from, on what it is they need to change, and there needs to be professional help available to them so that they can avoid damaging or destroying their own and other peoples’ lives. It’s not about protecting women from other men; it’s about creating a world where men are no longer a threat to them. Women are asking us to seriously step up to the plate on this now, not because they think the destructive behaviour of a minority of men is something we are responsible for, but because they know that our collective condemnation and refusal to collude with it is the best way we can become their allies in ending Gender Terrorism, regain our pride as men and worthy of their love and respect.
Let the work begin!
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