It’s easy to recognise blatant sexism toward women, easy to see it, feel it. From the regular conversations with the women in my life it’s clear to see that we experience it on a daily basis. One of the things we have in common as women, the thing that unites us, is that we have all been called ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’ by people other than our mothers and close friends. We have all felt that blank stare when explaining ‘what it is we do exactly’ and the rush of embarrassment when you realise he wasn’t listening at all, and all of the other micro-moments of sexism during a day that make you feel small.
We’ve been told to ‘calm down’ when we get passionate about something and raise our voices. We’ve been howled at, hissed at, smacked lips at in the street when walking home at night. We’ve been touched when we didn’t ask to be, moved to the side with a casual hand on the waist and a light push. We carefully calculate our route home and send ‘I’m alive’ messages to our friends when we reach the front door. From the countless conversations I’ve had it seems all of these things are relatable for most women. And sadly, this causes most women to put all men in the same box.
I won’t pretend that I haven’t been guilty in the past for ‘same boxing’ men, for crossing the street when I see a ‘suspicious guy’, who could easily have been innocently walking to Tesco to buy Almond milk and not plotting to re-enact The Silence of The Lambs - starring me. The problem is not that there are good guys and bad guys, it’s that the good guys need to call the bad guys out more often.
This means, not letting the subtleties of sexism slide. All of those times we laughed at misogynistic jokes, and discredited crude slurs because they were harmless is fine, until the line is crossed. It’s easy to call someone out for doing something quite obviously wrong, but can we even call ourselves allies if we continue to go spontaneously deaf when we hear disrespectful stories about sex from our friends? If we aren’t actively calling out shitty behaviour are we not part of the problem? Both men and women need to be better caller-outers.
Recently in British politics, there has been some serious calling out, and it’s about time. Women in British parliament are angry, and there’s no wonder when the most powerful leaders of the Western world are barely making moves toward equality. In fact, their views are stagnant, like day old gravy. They harness archaic beliefs and re-appropriate them, thinly disguising this as ‘progress’.
Many politicians, of the conservative party in particular, believe that there is no problem with the current system, the same system in place for so many years. We know, however, that the system is the problem. They view the problem as ‘our problem’-referring to millennials. They view us as a generation of over-sensitive snowflakes and underachievers. This is because the current system benefits privileged, white, heterosexual males, and that’s how they hope it remains.
The chosen rhetoric of these leaders is dangerous, as proven by the death threat received by female MP Jess Phillips that warned she may be found ‘dead in a ditch’ after Boris Johnson said that’s where he would prefer to be if Brexit fails to materialise. Phillips wrote on her Twitter page “(Boris Johnson) might think we are “humbugs” about his words but they are literally being used in death threats against me”.
Johnson’s bullying tactics in downing street pale in comparison to Trump’s toxic behaviour toward women, his most recent target being sixteen year old Greta Thunberg, who he sarcastically described as being “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future” - as though her lack of gleaming grin is the main concern when discussing something as pressing as climate change. Thunberg did not sugar coat her argument, she didn’t pander to their egos or care about charming them, she is exactly the kind of young girl who will grow up to be told to ‘calm down’ by grown men.
Though, however unsurprising it may be to hear your bigoted Uncle say “I don’t mind him, at least he’s honest” during the annual Christmas dinner family row, I do not believe that the views of the likes of Johnson and Trump and their misguided followers reflect the views of most men under the age of 40. I do believe that a lot of young men want to be better.
Recently artist Florence Given has gained traction for her ‘Stop raising him he’s not your Son’ angle, a call for women to stop accepting shitty behaviour from their boyfriends because he simply ‘didn’t know any better’. Whilst I agree with Given’s message, that it is not the job of a woman to teach grown men the correct way to behave, I also believe that men who truly do have good intentions shouldn’t be put in the same box as the one’s that don’t. We simply need to communicate more effectively. Perhaps modern dating feels doomed because the idea that men still believe women want too much from a casual encounter is still circulating, and so is the idea that most men only want one thing. If we continue to circulate these clichés, we will stall progress.
Even more recently Chidera Eggerue A.K.A ‘The Slumflower’ caused a stir for telling an anonymous Instagram user to dump her Med student boyfriend for asking her to split the bill. Eggerue stated: “Get a new boyfriend. There are richer, cuter, more successful, funnier, more romantic, far more interesting guys out there if you widen your network”. This presents a contradictory attitude toward feminism, which at its core should focus around equality. If we expect men to pick up the tab every time we eat how are we going to contribute to the building of an equal society? A society in which women and men share the same opportunities and wage packages?
In my opinion, in order to insight change and begin to build a more inclusive society, we must invite men to tell their own stories. Running men out of the village with burning stakes does not achieve unity or understanding, it actually instigates war. As W. Brad Johnson writes “Sexism is a system, and while it’s a system that privileges men, it also polices male behaviour. Understanding that is important to changing the system”.
After speaking to a few guy friends of mine, it’s clear to see that men are feeling perplexed when it comes to navigating modern dating and approaching women, for fear of making mistakes or being attacked. James, 25, said he sees things online all of the time that “make me feel guilty just for being a man”. He added: “We (men and women) need to work together more. Men are being alienated. I’ve talked to a lot of my (male) friends and a lot are even scared to form friendly relationships with new women, and won’t even start the conversation anymore”.
It seems the issue here is the lack of communication between sexes. With many of us witnessing and being affected by the marriage breakdowns of the baby boomer generation, we are less inclined to seek long-lasting relationships due to the belief they will fail miserably after a few years. Getting married, having children and owning a house by the end of your twenties is no longer seen as the ultimate achievement. Instead, this pressure has been replaced by hookup culture and instant gratification — Quick fleeting encounters that ultimately don’t involve much depth or real understanding of the other person’s wants or needs. This practice is something my mother would agree displays ‘a lack of respect’.
Another issue that was drawn to my attention was the fact that young men feel pulled in different directions in terms of who they are being influenced by. It’s hard to listen to our parents or older relatives, when oftentimes the generational difference here is the issue. Ben, 27 stated “I’m being told constantly to be a certain way by my father, but I don’t necessarily agree with him. It makes me question, should I be the man that my male role models tell me to be or should I look elsewhere for guidance?”
Of course we all mess up, we all drop the ball at times, but it is what’s at your core that should lead you. Learning how to be a better human being should be the objective, regardless of your gender. This is something that cannot be achieved without honest and open communication, about our values and our boundaries. I have had many conversations with my women friends about their terrible experiences with men, though I have realised that I have had significantly less conversations with my male friends about their bad experiences with women, or even questioned why some men behave in shitty ways.
I am a huge advocate for men’s mental health issues being more vocalised. I have witnessed the descent into despair that can occur when mental health issues are left unrecognised and untreated, and the reality is that men are dying, with suicide being the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK.
I truly empathise with the difficulties that men face when wanting to vocalise their struggles. Whilst I often find myself deep within a conversation about the realities of being a woman with my girlfriends, I’m yet to hear a guy say “and all of us guys were sat round the table for hours talking about our emotions”. Even if they had been, it appears that it’s more difficult to admit to for most men.
I don’t think this is because they’d honestly rather be playing Call Of Duty and chugging cans of Stella, I think it’s because within society they are conditioned to ‘man up’, ‘swallow it down’ and ‘take it on the chin’. Whilst I have felt and understand the presence of white male privilege, I don’t believe that this denies all men a voice and a space to be vulnerable, if we keep encouraging each other to be open we may be able to form healthy relationships that are based on equality.