Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#YesAllWomen are being asked "What can I do?"

I’ve had several discussions with men I know and love, and trust over the last few days under the #YesAllWomen. Many have expressed horror, some disgust, and a few were surprised at the alarming number of awful stories highlighting what it is to be a woman in public.
I’ve also watched men I don’t know struggle with the concept online in public spaces, often with less class or integrity than the men who took the time to speak with me.

 Firstly, I want to address the fact that the issues raised by #YesAllWomen are struggles recognised by anyone seen as “weaker” in gender. Trans, femme, and those in the rainbow spectrum also struggle with harassment and a sense of feeling out of control of their own bodies when others take over their space with verbal or physical abuse. I’m sorry that the “Women” tag has led to exclusion.

 Many of the lovely men I’ve seen on social networks feel helpless and guilty and have asked, “what can I do?”
Thanks for asking, but the heat of the moment, when people are exposing their frightening moments, scary stories, and deepest vulnerabilities isn’t the time to wave furiously and shout “This has never affected me but what about meeeeee”. You wouldn’t do it in an in-person discussion, don’t do it on twitter.
It’s the time to read. Listen, wait. Talk in person to people you trust about it, and learn.

In the meantime, here is a “what can I do” List.

 Learn: Don’t expect the people who have been hurt the most to teach you. Violence and crime and gender inequality and sexism and feminism and transphobia are well documented and researched and written about. Go find other sources.
Asking the person still hurting, can hurt them all over again.

 Listen: If people who have experienced something scary and shared on the #YesAllWomen tag offer to talk, please listen. JUST listen. They don’t need your ideas or opinions or judgements. Even if you think they are nice.
“Thank you for telling me, I appreciate it” is all the feedback needed.

Don't feel guilty. Please don’t waste time or energy with guilt if you have never hurt, attacked, or made someone feel unsafe. I really don’t care if you are sorry that someone else did bad things. It doesn’t change the bad things, and it smells like I have to look after YOU reassure YOU that YOU are ok. Sorry, but no.

 Listen to yourself. Are you feeling sick, angry, scared, and resentful? There are probably reasons. The issues we are discussing are HUGE and they SHOULD be uncomfortable. But you are safe; no harm will come to you. Sit with those feelings and examine them. Because the stories coming through in this hashtag have hurt people a lot more.

 Don’t make excuses. There aren’t any. We are all learning, we are all being raised in an intolerably imbalanced world. There are no excuses, only acknowledgement and the promise to improve things.

 Be the killjoy: Be the guy who when someone makes a rape/domestic violence/misogynistic joke says “I don’t get it, can you explain what’s funny?” The more voices we have saying “no” to the small stuff, the less normalising the big stuff there is.

 Be the listener: be the person, who when a friend discloses abuse, violence, or harassment, listens. Let them talk, let them decide what they want, and support them in that decision. The justice system seems straightforward until you have been through it. Reporting or not reporting are both options you need to respect.

 Be a leader: be the person others can look up to for decent behaviour. Ask before you touch someone; be respectful when you talk about women. Call out bad behaviour and chose to leave social groups of people who can’t treat women well.

 Teach our kids: Talk about boundaries. Teach young people that they have the right to say no to a hug or tickling from you. Respect them when they do say no, even if they are playing.
They need to know that their “No” has power, so that when someone doesn’t listen it sets of SERIOUS alarm bells.

 Be a safe partner: Don’t assume women are up for sex. Require discussion, require communication, and require conversation. If it is too hard, because you are both too drunk, wait.

 Question the status Quo: Learn about some of the obvious imbalances: women are told not to run at night, not to drink, judged by their clothes, but men aren’t. These are issues in the media every day. Raise it, complain about it, and talk about it in wider circles than just your feminist friends. Wear your love of equality on your sleeve.

 The examples that I’ve given here are REALLY 101 stuff, but keep reading, keep learning, keep listening.

And don’t expect praise for being one of the feminists. We don’t get any, in fact we get threats.

Wednesday 28/5 Addition: Please go and read this piece by Emma Hart. It fits nicely in with what I am saying above, and she writes FAR more eloquently than I can.
Please add any other "must read" articles in the comments below.