Please don’t ask me, “what about male victims”, Okay? Let’s get it out the way now, yes men are victims of rape and domestic abuse and absolutely need to be treated with dignity and respect and have access to specialist services and an effective criminal justice system.
But we are looking at repeated incidences of domestic abuse, we are taking into account coercive control and not just physical violence – itself a mechanism of control – and we understand the women whose violence towards men is in retaliation sometimes after years of abuse. This is gender-based violence.
And the thing is, that every time you ask that, “what about male victims?” it has the same effect as “are you sure it was rape?” or “what’s your sexual history?” or “but where do we draw the line?” It serves to question and undermine the huge courage it takes for any woman to speak up about her experiences of male violence and name it as part of a bigger problem: Me too.
Because what you do is individualise each woman’s experience and label the perpetrators as monsters and aberrations; outliers of our society’s expectations of men. And when you do that not only do you separate women from any sense of solidarity with other women, pointing the finger at her because she was unable to judge the situation correctly or make herself safe or she gave the wrong signals. Not only do you do that to women, but you also give up on men and boys.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying perpetrators shouldn’t face retribution and let’s face it; our criminal justice system is woefully inadequate for the brave minority of women who turn to it. But if we keep trying to brush sexual harassment and violence under the carpet by labelling individual men as the problem, we pretend that our expectations of men and boys are very different to the reality.
All over the country over the next few days, people are reclaiming the night; 40 years after women were told to stay home to stay safe
If you grow up with anger as the only acceptable emotion to show, that when you cry you’re told to be brave and run along, or worse, that you’re being a “girl” or you’re “gay”. That you should play with lego and soldiers not dolls, and that playing games where you care about a doll are stupid compared to a game where you kill baddies. And in the same world women and girls exist for your pleasure in pornography, they are your juniors in the workplace, they will do the majority of unpaid child care and care for relatives, where famous football players and film stars can rape or be violent with impunity, and in the locker room other men joke about who they’d like to…This is what we need to talk about, not which ones are the bad men.
What has been so moving and encouraging about #MeToo, #YoTambien and #BalanceTonPorc, and the continuation of women coming forward to name their experiences and the perpetrators, is that when the world tried to blame individual men and make it go away, we kept saying wait, there’s more. And there’s more. And there’s more. It hasn’t been easy to listen to, and to every woman that said “me too”, to every woman that came forward to name her perpetrator – thank you. And to the great many others who couldn’t, who didn’t want to, and who couldn’t tell if it even was a…
We are with you.
I hope this is a sea change in how institutions and workplaces handle sexism and sexual harassment and violence. I hope men in senior positions to women and girls think twice before taking advantage of their positions of power. And I hope we don’t stop this conversation.
All over the country over the next few days, people are reclaiming the night; 40 years after women were told to stay home to stay safe. The London march is women-only. I cannot describe to you the feeling of marching alongside a thousand women at night, taking over the streets of central London. The noise, the defiance, the joy and the noise! Yes, there are divisions between us as women; areas of disagreement and power imbalances between us that we need to keep talking and listening about. Tonight we reach for solidarity with each other across those divisions, without denying them. And we say to every woman – we are with you. Shout it with me, “Women, united, will never be defeated”.
Reclaim the Night takes place Saturday 25 November, marking the International Day for the Eliminiation of Violence Against Women.
For more information on Reclaim the Night, including a list of timings, sister marches and speakers, click here