Top flight associates in mental health and social care delivering service improvement
Man problems: Violence against women
Posted: Friday October 8 2021
Male gender-based violence to women has been more visible in the public domain recently following rape and murder of Sarah Everard and the resultant trial of a serving police officer and the murder of Sabina Nessa. Men need to step up in tacking the conditions and conditioning that lead to male gender-based violence to women. This blog is an attempt to step up.
This may be one of the less coherent blogs I write. The murder of Sabina Nessa is grim and awful. The rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving male police officer of the London Met who used the power and resources invested in him by the state is brutal (note that he did not falsely arrest her). I feel so deeply for their families and close ones around them. Grief is transformative in the grimmest and most painful and distressing ways.
As a man, specifically as a man who was raised as a boy into manhood with a particular way of seeing the world, I feel humility as I write about male and state gender-based violence to women. I don’t mean that there was anything unique about how I was brought up; in fact, I was taught a lot about the intrinsic value of women in their own right (i.e. not as mothers, sisters, partners, carers, peacemakers etc). What I was also taught in school, in society, in church, in everywhere was a male way of evaluating the world and this included an assumed normalcy of men and maleness as the default of authority. Of course, this includes authority to define what is normal and acceptable and ‘the natural state of things’ based on sex.
I do a lot of reading, thinking and spiritual practice on masculinity and what it means in relation to women. My hardest challenge is not doing the work but undoing the work. Undoing the work of patriarchy, which means that my emotions, cognition, body and networks are programmed and re-programmed every single day to bring the male gaze to bear. I do no mean my individualised male gaze, I mean the calculated, plotted and institutionalised male gaze that has at its heart a sense of entitlement to be important and to set the terms of society.
The murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Ness are significant in their social impact as wells as the deep tragedy for their loved ones. They are also two cases of thousands, including significantly more for whom the male perpetrator is known to them and supposedly in some relationship where there is stated or assumed love by others if not the women themselves. I wonder how we as a society balance the significance of the horrific fear and anxiety these ‘stranger danger’ evoke alongside the need to ensure that the media and public discourse does not mask the reality of the massive threat of normalised everyday male violence to women.
I am aware that there are women with lived experience of male violence, many of whom are academics and public writers and speakers who have been and who are writing on these subjects. If you have not read Jessica Taylor, Jess Phillips MP or Harriet Harman MP to name just three, go seek them out. I have thoughts and views but now is not time to muscle in on that particular conversation.
It is the time for me however to speak to my fellow humans who have been socialised as male. I shall keep this simple. Given that we know that women find the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Ness and the multiple others deeply unsettling, frightening, enraging etc and that we also know that many men find it hard to feel and think into how and why it is so personally affecting for so many women, it is time for men to show up.
I include those of us who are keen to understand and make a difference; we have to be invested in tackling male violence against women.
Brené Brown is now famous for making vulnerability an element of humanness to be respected and embraced. She speaks of showing up. What might it mean for men to show up now?
This is not a blueprint for male action. JJ Bola provides a good starting point for this. See his twitter here: https://twitter.com/JJ_Bola?s=20 I’m just setting out some thoughts that might be useful.
- Show up to self. Be honest about some of the feelings or lack of feelings that emerge when you hear about male violence to women. Become interested in your thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. Yes, daily. Women never get a day off. Maybe listen to podcasts that challenge you, daily e.g. Ashanti Branch. https://anchor.fm/branch-speaks
- Show up in discussions without retorts, explanations or seeking to find equivalence. Show up and listen; even when you feel something needs to be corrected. Check yourself and just ask why you feel the need to raise that here and now.
- Show up in forums for men to do this work. Don’t expect partners, colleagues, friends and relatives to do the work for you and get contaminated by the us as men dissecting the offensive things we have been taught to normalise. See the White Ribbon Campaign for example https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/what-we-do
- Show up at online events, in-person events, libraries etc where you can hear stories and evidence from the inside of experiences where women have made the choice to share in that way. Go in with humility as someone who literally does not know. In case it’s not clear, since we have not been socialised as girls into womanhood, we do not know what the experience embeds. There are way more impacts and consequences than our creative minds could ever imagine. Be curious not as currency (e.g. to use to prove your reconstructed male identity, i.e. performative masculinity) but as a means of seeing. It’s impossible to see women differently without also seeing maleness differently. That’s our work. Listen to Dr Michael Flood here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVMEKS9OITs
For men, a terrifying reality is that the perpetrators who come to public awareness are not monsters and sick people. That are men acting out extreme versions of what men are socialised to do. Not the specific nature of the crimes but rather, the expression of misogyny. If part of us can hold a view that men are in the ascendency because this reflects what it means to be male, why is it so challenging to accept that the same conditioning produces male violence to women. The fine-print stories written in the minds of men about who we are and what we are entitled show up in both ways.