*Some content may be triggering; this is my personal opinion and I am not attempting to speak for all women*
I’d like to start this article by saying that throughout my life, I have been surrounded by some incredible men; a proudly feminist father, a respectful, caring elder brother, and countless wonderful male friends.
But throughout my life, I have also had encounters with men that have left me scared and vulnerable: the man who dragged me by the neck in a club and told me that I had to dance for him, the one who followed me down the street and claimed he wanted to watch me my entire way home, and a group of young men who warned me that I should walk quicker otherwise they were going to rape me “in every way possible”.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose how people act towards us and so, as women, no matter how positive our interactions and relationships with some men may be, this does not negate from the negative ones.
Over a year on from that first hashtag, the #MeToo movement has opened the conversation about sexual harassment and abuse up in a way that hasn’t been done before, at least not so publicly. As a result of the bravery of victims who spoke so publicly about their abuse, the movement has exposed men who had previously been ignorant to the objectification, harassment and abuse that for centuries had been unavoidable in a woman’s life.
I remember what would now be considered my first #MeToo moment. Aged 16, myself and some friends were discussing wolf-whistling, and the boys struggled to believe that it actually happened. I explained that from the age of 13, more often than not wearing my school uniform, men would shout, beep, and whistle at me from the safety of their cars and from that age, I realised that I was no longer viewed by men as a child to look after, but by many as an object.
It was only when my female friend echoed her near-identical experiences that I felt a weight off my shoulders because, as sad as it was that this was normal, I didn’t feel so alone, or so ridiculous to feel the need to be cautious around men. I wasn’t overreacting.
I also vividly remember the responses of my male friends to this conversation; they were surprised that it happened so regularly and from such a young age. They were alarmed when we went into detail about some of the comments made by men.
Such responses could be seen across social media concerning the #MeToo movement. For countless men, the thought of treating or speaking to a woman in such a way is so far from their nature. They don’t seek to, at least not consciously, make women feel uncomfortable or weak, and so I can understand the shock to hear just how many women this affects. These men were forced to listen to the ugly reality that had never been part of their own. That is something that needed to happen.
However, let us not pretend that listening is enough. Let’s not pretend that men becoming aware of the experiences of some, mostly Western women, means that every woman has felt empowered to speak out. Let’s not pretend that a 17 year-old girl wasn’t just made to present her underwear in court as evidence against her rapist because, as the defence lawyer declared, you have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front. Not being a direct cause of the problem does not mean it is not your problem.
Just because you haven’t subjected a woman, or a man for that matter to sexual harassment, it doesn’t mean that you have no role to play in the progression of society. To not fight against the norm is to facilitate it.
If you suspect that a woman is being harassed in a club, offer your support to them or let one of their friends know you think something is wrong. Educate yourself, and if a friend opens up about their experiences, show, as my friends have, that you believe them and understand that there is an issue. If a male-friend or colleague makes a misogynistic comment, challenge them.
Yes, it may feel difficult to do so, but I can guarantee it is not close to how difficult it is for women to fight off unwanted attention, harassment, or abuse. If we want anything to truly change as a result of this global phenomenon, #MeToo must mean you too. We cannot progress without the active support of an entire gender, and for them not to be part of the conversation will only hinder us in moving past the so-called “battle of the sexes.”
Perhaps for many men you don’t consider it your place to get involved with such matters, you don’t know how to, or you don’t care. But if you don’t think that this is your problem now, then perhaps you will in 25 years when, if our generation doesn’t truly challenge certain behaviours, it is your teenage daughters who will be the victims.