Once upon a time, women internalised all the misogyny. We sucked it up like obliging sponges, and policed each other accordingly: don’t take sweets from strangers, don’t go out looking like that, don’t walk home alone, don’t take a lift, don’t drink too much, don’t leave without your friends, don’t forget to hold your keys like a weapon, don’t wear shoes you can’t run in, don’t take short cuts, don’t forget to text you’re home safe, don’t stay out late, don’t answer the door, don’t let anyone in. Unless of course, your killer is your partner. According to the Femicide Census, 92% of women murdered knew their murderer.
But it’s the women who don’t know their killers who get the headlines, like Sarah Everard, murdered between International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day. Identified by her teeth. A London cop arrested and charged. We’ve all seen the images of the furious, grieving, flower-carrying women gathering on Clapham Common being manhandled, shoved to the ground, and arrested by the very same London police force. A show of state theatre reminiscent of Suffrage era tactics, except the women, had face masks and smartphones instead of bustles and bonnets.
Oh, but #NotAllMen - the misogynist equivalent of #AllLivesMatter. Yes actually, yes all men. Yes, all men are part of the problem. Yes, all men need to own it, and take action. Yes, all men are complicit in rape culture unless they are actively calling out rape culture. Not all men are rapists, obviously, but most rapists are men. Not all men are catcallers, harassers, intimidators, murderers, but the massive majority of those who perpetrate these crimes and behaviours are men.
So holding up your hands and saying you’re one of the good guys is not enough; being a fantastic partner is not enough; being woke / feminist / on message is not enough. You need to do more. You need to be active, not passive or neutral. You need to police each other, to intervene, to butt in, to call out, so that women and girls can ease off with the hypervigilance. Rapists and murderers of women do not walk around with t-shirts identifying themselves in block capitals – so women remain wary of ALL men. This is not misandry. This is not rocket science. Ever seen a woman’s body language visibly relax when she realises you’re gay? Exactly.
Men get away with everything from catcalling to harassing to intimidating to abusing because you, the good guys, don’t call it out enough. You don’t shut it down enough. You don’t tackle your mates enough, express your displeasure, nip it in the bud. Your silence is violence. Your tolerance is intolerable. Your acceptance is unacceptable. And it’s men, more than boys – men old enough to know better. So educate your sons as you’re at it.
I ask my teenage son what he would do were his mates to harass a girl. He looks appalled. “We don’t do that,” he says. “Ever.”