The silence of the men
What we need more than you crossing the street for us, is you challenging your mates
What a week, right? The heated discussion about women’s safety and male violence, sparked by the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard in London has left me angry, frustrated and exhausted. Mostly exhausted though. I don’t know from which angle to come at this topic, but I need to talk about it.
It feels like such a hopeless situation, because I know exactly how this will play out: There’ll be a few more days of social media outcry, of women sharing the “Text me when you get home” Instagram post, of women begging men to get involved and of men lying low and staying silent at best, or crying “not me! stop generalizing!” at worst – until the media cycle has moved on to a different topic.
It’s the silent men that I really cannot wrap my head around. I know there are fantastic men out there, who are willing to have hard conversations and who care deeply about this issue. But they are a minority and the silence of the majority is deafening.
Why are so many men – especially those who normally feel entitled to speak to anything and everything no matter their qualification – actively disengaging from the topic of rape and sexual harassment?
I have no answer, but a few theories. We have to start with the language. The way we speak about violence against women has no agent – so nobody is to blame. A very clever, linguistic trick of the patriarchy, which will protect men at all costs. Anti-sexism activist Jackson Katz has spoken about this far and wide, and one of his quotes has been dominating social media:
“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls (…) It shifts the focus off men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term, ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them. Men aren’t even a part of it.”
This narrative encourages not only victim blaiming, but also men saying “well I am not part of the problem, therefore I must be part of the solution”. Let me interject here that, sure, not all men are a problem, but it’s enough men that 97% of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment (and I would guess the numbers are quite similar across countries). Now, if 100% of men on the internet claim they have never engaged in predatory behavior – well, you do the math.
Actually, I do believe that one reason for men not speaking up is that a lot of them have had “unclear” sexual situations in the past. And they would rather not confront the fact that they indeed are, or have been, part of the problem. They may have groped a friend’s butt at a party, may have waited until the girl was drunk enough to take her home, may have pressed on until the “no” finally turned into a “whatever”, may have gotten “carried away” and ignored the “stop”.
But even the men who have never actively harmed women, are a part of the problem as long as they stay silent. Silence is complicity. Silence is consent. Or, as comedian Daniel Sloss puts it so ruthlessly in his stand-up: “When one in ten men are shit and the other nine do nothing, they might as well not be there. Being good on the inside counts for absolutely fuck all.”
I implore you to watch his clip if you haven’t, and pass it on to your male friends. It’s so important to hear from a man who knows he was part of the problem and who has now taken on the responsibility of getting actively involved:
In the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s murder, there are now lists going around which advise men on how to “make women feel more safe”. While the authors of these lists mean well, they fortify the core problem and focus on women. The problem they want to solve is: women are scared. The problem they SHOULD solve is: men harm women.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to raise awareness that being trailed at night sparks a very real fear in women. And if a man – who never had any intention to harm me – crosses the street to avoid walking to closely behind me at night, that’s great for my blood pressure. But that doesn’t solve the actual problem. The perpetrators are not going to read those lists and they are most definitely not going to be transformed by them.
I also fear that men will read these lists and feel like simply not engaging in threatening behavior automatically makes them a part of the solution. It doesn’t though. Not if the problem they’re trying to solve is male violence. For this, they will need to actively get involved. As Katz says in his Ted Talk, “The goal has to be to get men who aren’t abusive to challenge men who are” (and abusive refers to any kind of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical).
In German I’d say now: here lies the hare in the pepper. Which simply means, we are closing in on an answer to why men stay silent. Because just like women are scared of men, so are men. It's not easy in male culture for guys to challenge each other, and Clementine Ford summarized it nicely on her Instagram: “Men are scared of men turning on them, abusing them, hurting them, ridiculing them, bullying them and even of being violent towards them.” We already know that toxic masculinity hurts men as much as it hurts women (it just kills women more often). This is not an excuse to stay silent – just an explanation. An explanation that adds to my feeling of hopelessness.
I normally try to wrap my pieces up on an optimistic note. But I can’t this time. I don’t see the light. All I see is a long, dark alley. I just don’t think that enough men are willing to risk their status amongst their peers in order to protect women.
And I know that it feels like women have been yelling at men non-stop last week, urging them to finally do something, anything. Let me quote Catherine Fox on Grey’s Anatomy: “I’m not yelling at you, I’m yelling at the world, through you.” This isn’t a battle of the sexes, it’s a battle against violence – and we’re just desperate to get you on our team. We need more men with the guts, the courage, the moral integrity and a crystal clear grasp of the concept of consent to challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.
pop culture pleasures
First of all, I just wanted to say that I’m quite sad that nobody wanted to discuss the 17th season of Grey’s Anatomy with me. But then again – good for you that you’re not watching it. Now on to this week’s recommendations, which include a lot of podcasts:
📚 “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo. There’s nothing I can say about this novel that hasn’t been said before. It was a magical reading experience – I couldn’t put it down, marvelled at Evaristo’s skill to weave together so many different characters and to create a story that is everything: hilarious, tragic, educational and eye-opening.
This podcast episode is really moving and might resonate with one or two of you: “The Cut” producer Allison Behringer shares what happens when your best friend moves to the other side of the country and you feel heartbroken.
More podcast episodes I enjoyed: The best man to walk this planet, Dan Levy, appeared on Table Manners, You’re Wrong About explores the story of Vanessa Williams and takes us deep into the misogynistic wonderland of American beauty pageants and I just stumbled upon an older episode of Jia Tolentino on “In Good Company”.
Speaking of Dan Levy: I have finally watched “Best Wishes, Warmest Regards”, the Schitt’s Creek farewell documentary on Netflix. It made me cry so hard, I had to put down my wine glass. They are just the loveliest!
On a scale from zero to Monday morning dentist appointments, how much do you loath afternoon walks as your only available form of entertainment? Have you considered that the distress is mutual? A friend of mine sent me this hilarious piece by Emily Delaney, titled: “I’m a short afternoon walk and you’re putting way too much pressure on me”. Touché.
Shelby Lorman wrote a beautiful NYT essay about finding love during a pandemic, letting go of love during a pandemic and believing in love in a parallel universe:
“That world in which we are together forever is nestled just next to this one (…) It’s not an alternate reality, but the persistence of connection that exists in whatever shape the world asks you to love.”
Part of this newsletter was fueled by a heavenly streusel carrot cake, which doesn’t require any fancy ingredients yet quite a few mixing bowls. Anyway, here’s the recipe, please enjoy. It’s in German, but google translate is your friend. My secret ingredient (in most baked goods, to be fair) is a generous dash of cardamom.
🇩🇪 Dieses Deutschlandfunk-Feature zum Todestag von Roger Willemsen hat mich sehr glücklich und gleichzeitig sehr traurig gemacht. Er war einfach eine herausragende Persönlichkeit und seine Stimme zu hören macht mir jedes Mal ein warmes Gefühl in der Herzgegend.
🇩🇪 Und etwas Werbung in eigener Sache: Am Dienstag erscheint mein neuer Podcast “Windmacher”, eine vierteilige Serie über einen Hochstapler aus dem Emsland, der es locker mit Frank Abagnale aufnehmen kann. Es ist eine ziemlich sagenhafte Story und ich freu mich, wenn ihr reinhört. Abonnieren dürft ihr gerne schonmal hier oder auf der Podcastplattform eurer Wahl.
animal video of the week
I want what this Koala’s having.
This is it for today. If you’d like to support my work you can do so by sharing, subscribing, buying me a coffee or sending me pictures of your pet – and if you’d like to get in touch (to discuss Grey’s Anatomy for example), you can simply reply to this e-mail or find me on Instagram.
Best wishes and warmest regards,
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