Joyce Fegan: Dear all men — Turn your offence into action

Man up. Attend a vigil. Talk to your boys. Tackle your own misogyny, no shame, we all have it
Joyce Fegan: Dear all men — Turn your offence into action

People gather for a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin, for Ashling Murphy who died after being attacked while she was jogging along the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

In her final moments, did Ashling Murphy plead for her life?

Or, did the sheer force of the terror racing through her entire being render her immobilised?

We’ll never know. But many women can well imagine.

Now the women of Ireland are pleading in her place.

Will you listen?

Several women I know have shared information about vigils, toxic masculinity and men’s violence against women on their social media accounts in recent days. They have all lost followers as a result.

And so, kicks off the whole debate, as per usual, “not all men”. Stop offending us.

But the minute you say “not all men” is the minute you stop listening and we move further and further away from a solution.

Men, I get it.

How do you take responsibility for a crime you didn’t commit, but someone of your gender did?

It’s hard. I know.

Approximately 500 people gathered in Emmett Square, Clonakilty this evening to hold a vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy. Picture: Andy Gibson
Approximately 500 people gathered in Emmett Square, Clonakilty this evening to hold a vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy. Picture: Andy Gibson

The following words could be addressed to fearful girls and women, who go outside in the daylight in the course of living their lives. These words could serve to validate their fear, their grief stricken response to Ashling’s abominable murder.

But, if we are in the business of solving the issue of men’s violence against women we need to address those who don’t get this. We need to talk to those who are apathetic at best or who take offence at the term “men’s violence”, at worst.

This is not about you.

The same way a black person’s righteous rage may land in the body of a white person and trigger endless shame, it is not about the innocent white person and their offence at the accusation of privilege.

It is about the black person who is humiliated and enraged at having to navigate, on a daily basis, a system that was designed by white people for white people with them as free labour.

Dear men: the injustice or offence you feel right now does not supersede the murder of a vivacious 23-year-old woman, daughter, friend, sister, teacher whose entire life lay ahead of her.

With all due respect, get over yourself.

How have we made another of these murderous moments about men?

Even in death, the real victim cannot be fully acknowledged, validated and honoured. Because, you’re a victim too right? You’ve been offended by the term “men’s violence against women”. But last time I checked, your heart is still beating, your limbs are intact. You are earthside.

But what about Ashling?

What about Fiona Pender (Offaly, 1996), Deirdre Jacob (Kildare, 1998), Fiona Sinnott (Wexford, 1998), Charlene McAulliffe (Cork, 1999), Nora Kiely (Cork, 2002), Elaine O’Hara (Dublin, 2012) or Ana Kriégel (Dublin, 2018)? The roll call of women who have died at the hand of a violent man. 

Misogyny

No motive, other than misogyny. And what about the many more women who will meet the same fate?

It is a deeply uncomfortable and inconvenient truth to have to reckon with, that men perpetrate violence specifically against women. While many men die in crime-related homicides, many women die in men-related homicides.

We, as a society, perpetrate violence against women every day.

In the delivery room — we offer women an episiotomy though neither the mother, nor the child are in any distress. But in the under-resourced world of maternal healthcare, there is a clock ticking in the delivery room. 

Alanna Norris (9) and her mother Jennifer Collins (second left) attend a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Alanna Norris (9) and her mother Jennifer Collins (second left) attend a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Government after government has supplied only so much resources to the demands of labour in Ireland.

In the courtroom - we give violent fathers and partners suspended sentences, men who have terrorised their own kin. Because it’s family, you know?

We are not blaming you for Ashling’s murder, nor are we holding you personally accountable, though you may interpret the “affront” as such.

What we are asking you is that you take affirmative action to eliminate the risk of men’s violence against us. That is what we mean when we ask you to take responsibility. 

We can take all the protective measures under the sun to mitigate the risk of our daughters being murdered by teaching them the difference between consenting and relenting, by telling them to walk in groups and to always carry keys in the fist of their hand, but unless you play a role in eliminating the risk, we are all playing a fool’s game. 

This isn’t risk mitigation, this is risk elimination. So what can you actually do? How can you turn your offence into supportive action

Firstly, it’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility to help end men’s violence against women.

How? When your brother makes a sexist, derogatory or misogynistic “joke”, tell him you thought his humour was better than that, that you thought he didn’t need to rely on the incitement of violence to get a laugh.

If your colleague on the building site comments on some passing woman’s behind, respond with: “Imagine that was actually your mum, missus or sister”. Not so sexy now.

If any of them take great offence and turn it all back on you saying “to cool the jets” or to get a sense of humour, remind them you’re just responding to the topic of conversation they brought to the table.

If you think you have to be a hard man because that’s what society taught you masculinity looks like, remember how Normal People’s Paul Mescal became an overnight international heartthrob because he played a character who was the exact opposite of that in. 

Be an ally

Have Instagram or Facebook? I dare you to share a story about men’s violence, a post you see, “how to be an ally” or some such. Too scared in case the lads in the gym slag you or some follower rolls their eyes at you from the comfort of their couch? Imagine how scared Ashling Murphy was the moment she knew for sure her gig was up. 

But I get it, it’s hard to choose between not offending a misogynist and perhaps changing one mind for the better, for the safety of a woman or girl you may never know.

Ending men’s violence against women is not about curfews, pepper spray and car keys. 

Ending men’s violence against women is about emboldening boys and men to expressly state opinion that goes against the grain of the patriarchal society we live in. 

Ending men’s violence against women is about giving boys dolls and prams to play with instead of just guns and action figures. Ending men’s violence against women is about equipping boys with emotional literacy, instead of believing feelings are the strict preserve of the female.

Ending men’s violence against women is on all of us, not just women and some men, but all of us.

Will we let this national outrage pass as just another part of the news cycle, or is Ashling Murphy’s death a watershed moment in our nation to end men’s violence against women?

Only you can answer that by the actions you take from here. Man up. Attend a vigil. Talk to your boys. Tackle your own misogyny, no shame, we all have it.

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