Clodagh Finn: Why respect for women should start in locker room

Clodagh Finn: Why respect for women should start in locker room

Imagine the impact if we introduced daily press conferences listing all the ways in which Irish women are under attack, writes Clodagh Finn

Clodagh Finn: Why respect for women should start in locker room
US president Donald Trump claimed his demeaning comments towards women were just locker-room talk. This has inspired others to try to re-educate boys in how to communicate with girls and staunch the prevalence of violence perpetrated against women. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

I CAME into close contact with a male locker room just once in my professional life. I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.

As a rookie reporter I was sent to cover a match for a weekly newspaper and, as was the practice, I knocked on the changing-room door to check the names of the substitutes.

The coach opened it, looked me up and down, told me the team were not giving autographs, then slammed it shut again.

Back in the day, men’s changing rooms weren’t exactly woman-friendly places. And if we thought anything had changed, Donald Trump set us straight when he dismissed his gross comments about kissing women without consent and grabbing their genitals as ‘locker- room talk’.

The Locker Room Boy is now President of the US, but some good did come of his toxic banter.

It inspired a group of Swedish teenagers to set up an organisation called Locker Room Talk to tackle the misogyny and bullying they heard while taking part in sports.

Sweden-based Irish journalist Philip O’Connor was so impressed by its success (it has been endorsed by soccer legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic and others) that he wrote to the Oireachtas Committee on Education, the Late Late Show and several others to suggest a similar programme in Ireland.

Locker Room Talk in Stockholm even said it would take part in an Irish pilot project and offered to work with a small number of sports clubs to test a method that usually involves older teenagers talking to 10- to 14-year-olds to change how they talk and think about women.

It was 2018 and the aftermath of the so-called Belfast rugby rape trial had prompted a wave of #ibelieveher rallies across Ireland.

Philip O’Connor thought it was a good time help the next generation to be better men than we have been, as he put it in a submission to the Department of Education and Skills. Nobody responded to his suggestion.

Clodagh Finn: Why respect for women should start in locker room
As part of UCC’s inaugural Bystander Intervention Week, students have pasted a mural aimed at challenging the prevalence of sexual assault among students at third level. The mural, which tackles rape myths and normalized everyday abuse, is part of the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s national It Stops Now campaign. Picture Clare Keogh

This week, as women have again been using the #ibelieveher hashtag to detail how they have been raped, punched, stalked, groped, blamed, shamed, objectified and dishonoured in myriad ways in the comedy and music industries and elsewhere, it might be a good time to ask again why the many men who do not attack women are not saying more on this issue.

Some are, to be fair. Organisations such as White Ribbon are looking at what men can do to end violence against women.

And Philip O’Connor is back on the story: “I have enormous respect for those women who have come forward and told their personal and harrowing stories, but it cannot and should not be their responsibility to educate us as men as to what is going on. That is on us.”

It’s interesting to hear him talk because we don’t often hear male journalists speaking about men’s role in tackling violence against women.

I’d make what he has to say obligatory reading in locker rooms, schools and colleges: “I was born in 1971 and grew up in a generation of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. I’m over six feet tall and physically powerful, and I have no doubt that my physical stature and my behaviour has intimidated women in my younger years.

“In recent years, I have come to the realisation that communication is one of the main factors in how men behave; when we cannot make ourselves understood or get what we want, we lash out: often not at other men, but at women, children, and those we perceive to be weaker or of lower status.

“But if we can change the way we talk, we can change the way we think, and if we can do both those things we can help young men find the words to express their frustrations and feelings, rather than resorting to physical and emotional violence that they don’t understand but seemingly cannot live without.”

It is true to say that only a small number of men will resort to sexual
violence but it’s also true to say that nearly all sexual violence is committed by men.

Crime data released last month tells us that 98% of perpetrators of sexual crimes in Ireland are male and 80% of victims are women.

There was another deeply disturbing statistic in those Central Statistics Office figures: children, those under 18, were suspects in one in five sexual violence cases.

It is more urgent than ever then to get young Irish men talking about violence against women, but that urgency doesn’t appear to be reflected anywhere.

Clodagh Finn: Why respect for women should start in locker room
Exhibition against Domestic Violence taking place at Limerick City Hall as part of International Womens Day. The shoes represent the number of women killed as a result of domestic violence in Ireland. As of today 230 women have lost their lives. Picture: Gareth Williams

To be fair, the draft programme for government acknowledges an ‘epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence’ although the caretaker government is certainly not treating it as such.

It shouldn’t be left to the generosity of Airbnb to offer free emergency accommodation to women affected by the lockdown spike in domestic violence or terror behind closed doors, to give it a more realistic name.

THE Government gave millions in aid packages to other sectors but just €400,000 to the charities that need €30m to
respond to the basic needs of those fleeing violence at home.

There’s part of the problem. It’s left to charities to deal with an issue that costs the Irish economy an estimated €2.2bn a year in losses, and health and services costs.

To appreciate the ongoing human cost, just listen to the steady stream of accounts that have been emerging on social media and elsewhere this week.

If only those cases were taken as seriously as, say, Covid cases.

Imagine the impact if we introduced daily press conferences with someone as respected as chief medical officer Tony Holohan listing all the ways in which Irish women are under attack.

Then, the Government reports on consent, relationships and sexuality at school and university level might quickly become more than words on paper.

And we might start to think about chiselling away at the casual misogyny that starts so early, through projects such as Locker Room Talk.

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