Dr. Jessica Eaton wrote a brilliant article, "Stop asking me, what about men?", explaining how her reactions for advocacy and research for women differs from her advocacy and research for men. For those of you who don’t know what that word means, ‘whataboutery’ is when someone responds to a difficult issue or question with a counter issue or question that completely derails the conversation.
Let me just say, Dr. Eaton has years of experience and backed research supporting women through her work with violence against women AND she also is the chairperson of a charity which supports the mental health of men. Every time she tweets or shares some research about violence against women or the like, she gets loads of comments from people asking, 'what about the men?'.
Eaton says, " 'Whataboutery’ comes from a place of misogyny. An arrogant, derailing technique used to respond to a campaign, video, research study, intervention, organisation or communication that screams ‘I don’t care about women, talk about men!!"
We have seen this many times before. It is in the same vein as white folk thinking that Black Lives Matter is somehow against white people. They are completely missing the importance and point of Black Lives Matter. That is an entirely another conversation, so I will leave that point brief.
Sadly, I had to stop reading the abusive comments generated from Dr. Taylor's article, they were rage inducing and illustrated, all too clearly, the mountain of work yet to be done.
So what is the work and where do we even start? Is it empathy? Is it understanding? Is it compassion? It is all too confusing and I suppose, like everyone else, I have my own experiences which make up my beliefs and understanding of it all. So I guess I will start there.
From an early age, I was shown that men were ultimately in control. My mum got remarried when I was 5 years old and although she was ultimately the person I looked to for most things, my new step-dad was in control (or at least we had to make him feel like he was). This often meant my sister, mum and I wouldn't tell him many things in fear of him getting angry. I am not sure this was the best way to act as a family unit, but it was the best way to survive until my sister and I moved out. Which we both promptly did at the age of 18 and have both lived abroad for the past 15+ years.
Now, at the ripe age of 42, I don't blame anyone for our set up. My step-father was doing his best with the limited experience he had of raising someone else's children. Not to mention the limited emotional awareness and communicational skills. (We have never had a long or deep conversation about anything). My mother was also doing her best, trying to provide a safe home for her two girls, all the while endlessly punishing herself for getting a divorce (something she has yet to forgive herself for; in the eyes of her Christian beliefs).
But I am aware how this fundamental understanding has played out in my own relationships, events in my life and my views of men (not safe) and women (safe).
When I was 13, I was sexually assaulted by a 16 year old boy. When I told a teacher, I was strongly urged not to say anything in risk of that boy's friend losing his basketball scholarship (yes, not even the assailant but his best friend who was with him, was at risk...). I was also told that I should not have been there (which was my friend's house). I kept this a secret for another 10 years.
Then at the age of 19, I was drugged and again assaulted by a 'friend'. I trusted him and felt hugely betrayed and confused but knew it wasn't worth telling anyone because somehow it must have been my fault, or at least that is what I would have been told if I was to speak out. Again, this confirmed that men were not safe, not even friends. And these are the bigger acts of violence against me; there are hundreds of small violations which have happened so far in my life.
I have spent so much time and energy feeling shame, responsible, challenged that somehow my own behaviour was to blame. In Dr. Eaton's research, she found that women and girls who had been subjected to sexual violence had often been told by professionals or by people in their personal support network that they should change their behaviours so they are not raped or abused again. This is definitely true in my experience.
Which leads me back to the question, what about the men? I know loads of wonderful men and I am married to one, but that doesn't mean the rest of my experiences aren't true. Don't tell me that there is no problem with violence against women and girls. If you think there isn't a problem, you are part of the problem. What causes us to blame women who have been abused, raped, trafficked, assaulted or harassed by men? Why are we uncomfortable with placing all of the blame on perpetrators for their crimes against women? Men and women do this (albeit, men seem to be the ones more offended) in part because it is self preservation. No one wants to believe or think that rape or violence could happen to them. It is easier to think that it isn't true or that there must be something wrong with the victim. It creates a distance from you to 'them'. However, there is no them, it is us - all of us.
We all matter and we all have the responsibility to be aware of our differences and privileges. I wish we were all feminists, a loaded word for some, but for me, feminism is the liberation of women and girls all over the world from the patriarchy and misogyny that continues to harm and oppress them as a class of people. Feminism is the conversation about women’s issues in the world, they are true and real and men and women alike should want a more just world.
Yesterday on IWD2020, I had a moment to thank all of the wonderful women in my life and I promise that didn't take away from the gratitude I also have for men.