Reposting a blog from a few months ago, but always, unfortunately, relevant.
A couple of days ago on Twitter, there was a guy spooling out a thread of tweets about how he now realised, where he had not before, that he had been complicit in the misogynistic environment women find themselves in. When other guys were making jokes at a woman’s expense in the bar, he would laugh along , or smile and nod. But now, all hail the hero, he has had a change of heart. He has realised that a crude joke in the bar is a link in the chain of society’s rape culture, that leads to a Judge worrying out about the impact on the swimming career of a convicted rapist over the emotional and life-changing impact on the survivor.
This guy was getting a lot of plaudits and slaps on the back from women for seeing the error of his ways and encouraging other men to speak out against misogyny and violence against women. This guy is 44 – what has taken him so long ?
As women, we are afforded no such luxury, our awareness of our place in this system starts early. Too early. Much earlier than our understanding allows. For me it started with a P.E class. We were hula hooping and the teacher shouted out , ‘come on Beth, move those hips, they’re big enough.’ I think I must have been around 11 or 12. At the time, I was mortally embarrassed. Now, looking back, I’m furious. A few months ago Victoria Coren wrote a brilliant piece in The Guardian on the back of the footballer Adam Johnson’s rape case. It was about how rape has for so long been seen as a grey area; not so bad if the girl is nearly 16 , not so bad if she’s drunk, not so bad if she’s in a relationship with her rapist. It contains this line, which was a light bulb moment for me, ‘There’s barely a girl on Earth whose sexual awareness started with her own desire, rather than the creepy stare or touch or comment or otherwise intrusion of a third party. Who knows what that does to us?’ So my sexual awareness started with my P.E teacher embarrassing me infront of the whole class, leading me to be ever so slightly ashamed and embarrassed about my body all through my teenage years, and , to be honest, beyond. Thanks, man.
It’s great of course that more men now are starting to speak up in our defence; we need men on our side to affect a real cultural change and patriarchal structures harm everyone. Going back to Twitter guy, what rankles me about his epiphany is that it took becoming a father for him to come to this realisation; and not just a father, but a father of girls. I think this is quite a common phenomenon, and it makes me feel a little uncomfortable , I think, because it has shades of ownership and perpetuating the objectification of girls and women. Not being at all concerned about the constant shadow women live under until the thought it might affect his own daughters.Make dirty jokes about other women all you like, but not my daughters.
I do confess, though, that becoming a parent heightened my sense of the inequality that still exists and strengthened my feminist tendencies. I feel a weight of responsibility of what I can teach and model for my son. I am absolutely rabid about pushing the notion of consent at him. He is six – what can I teach him about consent? That even tickling can be a lesson in respecting other people. He has what we might call boundary issues at times, and I always remind him that if someone says no or is in distress you must leave them alone. So I will teach him respect, and the importance of asking, and listening to the answer. He will see in our family that everyone’s feelings count equally; he will be allowed to be sad and angry and will be encouraged to talk to us about his emotions. So he doesn’t become either a victim or perpetrator of this patriarchal society that says boys have to conform to masculine stereotypes. Pressuring them to be ‘tough’ and making them feel to be a real man, they have to treat girls as less than, as objects for their consumption.
My daughter is three. What will I teach her? Don’t go out with your friends late at night; don’t wear the short dress you like; don’t have that extra drink; don’t stay late at the party; don’t walk home alone; don’t, don’t , don’t.
I won’t tell her that. Be strong, my girl. Be smart, be clever, be funny, be serious, be pretty, be active, be wild, be loud, be quiet, be everything; be, be, be.