‘I fucking hate men’ – A call to arms for heroes and gentleman everywhere

Last week I read Estelle Tang’s open letter in the Guardian to all her male friends, explaining what it’s like to be a woman who is sexually victimised and verbally and physically assaulted by men on an almost daily basis in New York City. As a man it made me sad to the core that a woman’s life has been so badly affected by men that she felt she had to write such a letter to all the males she knows.

It was also shocking that this behaviour seems commonplace in New York, cultural capital of the most powerful and ideologically equality-aspiring nation in the world. Estelle’s letter made me think about why this happens to women so regularly and what can be done about it, and also about what it means to be a man in the 21st Century. (I hope that anyone who reads this also reads her article and forwards both onto as many people as they can, especially to men. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/30/an-open-letter-to-all-my-male-friends )

I was reminded of a recent incident when a friend went to watch the rugby 7s at Twickenham, an event where mainly upper-middle class (does classism still exist? – yes, of course, but that’s a question for another time…) 20- and 30-somethings desperately clinging on to their youth, congregate in fancy dress to drink far too much and forget most of what they will witness of the wonderful exhibition of the greatest game ever played, in my opinion. It sounds like a great/nightmare day out, depending on your idea of fun.

But for those who choose to attend, it should be the former: a great day out, especially when going with a group of like-minded fun-goers. But what would spoil it for any women would be what happened to my friend, Caroline, that day…

She sent me a picture of herself and friends in fancy dress around noon, asking if I was at the rugby too. I replied that sadly, I was working, but to have a great day.

Two texts came later that day, around 5pm: 

I fucking hate men  

Oh dear.

One of David’s friends looked me up and down and said ‘I would do disgusting things to have the opportunity to sleep with you because I know that it would be amazing.’ 

Now, on first glance this is not quite as depraved as Estelle Tang’s experiences of having her bottom groped in New York, but neither is it so far away from the ‘baby, can I smack that ass?’ catcalling that preceded it. It’s just a much more British, upper-middle class, drunken way of doing it; however, it is no less belittling to a woman. 

To act and say such a thing to a woman who is part of your group, in front of the group no less, is about as demeaning as you can be to her, because it not only lowers a woman to ‘sex-object’ status amongst her peers but is also a form of bullying; the man is putting her on the spot and making her feel like avictim in front of others. Most women would shrink into themselves, but not Caroline. ‘Jesus Christ’, I texted her, to which she replied:

I know, tosser

To which, I presumed, she was referring not to me but her assailant; let’s call him Jonno,an appropriate upper-middle-class-casual-rugger-supporter name.

But he’s part of the group so I can’t legitimately punch him

Which raises an interesting point: Even though Jonno is clearly in the wrong and has incensed, disgusted and belittled Caroline to the point where she wants to be physically violent towards him, she cannot, because he’s part of the group. And therein lies the rub…

As social animals we humans act and socialize in groups and as such adhere to the laws of society (a big group) and also to the unwritten rules of group interaction, unwritten rules that loosely state: in a group situation, we should try to get along at all costs for the sake of the group, and furthermore that anyone who causes disharmony within the group, even if it is not their fault, even if they are merely standing up for themselves or what they believe in, should that person go too far and disrupt the group’s balance and purpose, then they should be shunned from the group in order to preserve the group.

Instinctively Caroline, as well as you, me and most adults, know this unwritten rule as well as many other rules about group and human interaction, because we’ve learnt them growing up, through observation and experience. And so Caroline knew that to punch Jonno would essentially ‘ruin the day’ and force an argument or fight that would mean either she or he was shunned from the group, or that the day would be brought to an end for the whole group. So what did Caroline do? Well, she didn’t do nothing.

I spat on him instead

‘Well done’, was my reply. Some people would be disgusted at the act of spitting on someone, but I thought it was an appropriate reaction to show the level of disdain and disgust that Caroline felt at the time. Furthermore, it’s a great way to send a message to someone and it’s one that I’m sure Jonno, however inebriated, will not forget. It’s also a far lesser crime than being physically violent towards someone in the eyes of the law, but can also incense an adversary into a wicked rage.

‘Just be careful’, I texted. And I honestly meant it. Jonno, if he’s anything like I imagined him to be after hearing such delightful things of him, could well be the type of egomaniacal City Boy, possibly coked-up, who doesn’t like to be put in his place, least of all publicly and least of all by a woman. And when you’ve got a drunk, belittled and bruised, hurt little-boy-of-a-man, possibly coked-up, they are liable to react as little boys who’ve never been taught any better do: they’re liable to lash out, which is why I texted a message of caution, and followed it up with one saying, ‘Get David to sort him out’, which got the reply:

He’s smashed too

David, the boyfriend of Caroline’s best friend, was responsible for bringing Jonno into the group, but it seems he was so drunk that Caroline could not rely on him to stand up for her when she needed him to. As a man with friends both male and female I would like to think that being friends with a female does not mean lavishing praise and compliments upon her, nor does it mean buying her endless drinks in return for her company and flirtations, but rather it means friendship in and of itself, and one part of that friendship involves loyalty, security and strength. Now, who knows what David would have done were he not too ‘smashed’, but that day he did nothing to help Caroline.

I texted Caroline to ask moreabout the incident, ‘Do you think one of your group should have said something to Jonno?

Yes but they were smashed and thought it was funny/said ‘that’s just Jonno’.

Which is sad. It’s sad that the group thought the incident was funny in the first place, and sad that it’s a typical thing for Jonno to do, and to get away with. His friends, those who know him and who socialise with him, should have put him in check long before now; that’s also an unwritten rule of the social group: If someone continually makes life awkward or difficult for members of the group or for the group as a whole, then they must be pulled up and punished for their behaviour, which may result in their expulsion from the group. And by doing nothing that day, those in Caroline’s group failed in their obligation to the group, as well as to women and to society as a whole.

The boys laughed it off and one of the girls didn’t think anything bad about it either. She said ‘are you surprised that a bloke wants to sleep with you?’

Which is also sad, not only because the girl thinks it acceptable behavior, but because she’s missing the point. And the point is that the way in which Jonno went about showing his sexual desire for Caroline (whom he didn’t know, though was part of the same group), was belittling and cuts to the heart of what is and has been wrong with society for hundreds of years: men thinking that they can get away with treating people whom they consider to be beneath them in whatever manner they like. And why do they think that? Because no one stands up to them. 

It’s not unusual for a man to find a woman attractive enough to want to sleep with her.But ‘being a man’ is not about having or even carrying out sexual impulses, it’s about how we act when we get such impulses. Sleeping with dozens of women does not make you more of a man than sleeping with one. What makes you a man is how you treat a woman. How you treat her when trying to sleep with her, how you treat her when you’re with her, and how you treat her afterwards, regardless of whether or not you’re successful. That is the greatest lesson that we men need to learn, personally and as a society, about being male. And it is a lesson that mostly our fathers do not teach us, and one that our mothers only allude to, about being ‘nice to women’…

They used to call it being a gentleman, a word I fear has now lost its connotations of grandeur. Possibly because men have lost so much power in society in recent decades that they don’t want to lose any more masculinity and fear that being considered ‘gentle’ would be to do so. But being a ‘gentleman’ is harder and takes more strength than any outwardly aggressive action. It involves containing the urges you might have and controlling them for the sake of others, for the sake of women, who do not feel the same imminent urges that you do, who do not see the world through such a sexualised monocle and who do not need to be subjected to it as such. That is called civilization, and that is what we have been striving towards for the past ten thousand years.

Caroline also texted saying:

I’m not the only one of my friends who has been groped on the tube by gross men taking advantage of everyone being squashed up like sardines.

As a Londoner, this is an all too common thing that we hear about; women being sexually assaulted on busy public transport, where there’s nowhere to go, where your assailant is next to you and to speak out could put you inimmediate danger. But it needs to be spoken out against. And since mentioning this article to several other female friends today, they’ve all got stories of similar traumatizing and upsetting ‘brushes’ on the tube.

We all, men and women alike, see the sexual harassment and victimization of women everyday: catcalls or subtle gropes on the tube by strangers, the degrading remarks of colleagues, bosses laughing as they pat bottoms (yes, really) and the bullying ofwomen because they are women, not only in the workplace but in every walk of life. Then there are the Jonnos, who go too far and don’t think how their words and actions might affect the women they belittle and hurt. Yes, we all see it a lot, and too many times we turn a blind eye to it. But we shouldn’t. We mustn’t.  

 Now, I’m not talking about taking Jonno outside and giving him a good going over, as my granddad did after he’d returned from the war (in his mid-twenties at the time and fierce with the maddened rage of a war-weary airman) and marched two drunks off a bus in East London for being sexually vulgar to a female passenger, told the bus driver to wait for him and proceeded to knock seven bells out of both men as my dad watched on, a mortified young boy, from the back of the bus, before granddad got back on as if nothing had happened and told the driver to proceed; nor as my good friend Richard did when we were in Tenerife and he saw two middle-aged male bar owners touching-up two girls who couldn’t have been more than thirteen, so decided to have a stiff word in their shell-like, which resulted in us getting in a hell of fight, an unceremonious ejection by Mafioso bouncers and Richard holding ice to his groin for a week.

I texted him this morning and asked why he stood up to those guys in Tenerife.

I guess because the girls looked really distressed and out of their depth. They were trapped in the booth so couldn’t get out and everyone around was turning a blind eye. Even the staff.

And that’s a point, everyone was turning a blind eye. If people didn’t turn a blind eye, if more people were like Richard when they saw women being preyed upon or victimised, then it wouldn’t happen. If people collectively got together as a group then no mob of bouncers could hold them back. I asked Richard, if he saw the same thing happening now, over a decade on but still with the painful memories of that night, what would he do?

Of course I’d do it again. But I’ll never stand face-to-face with a bouncer with metal toe-caps. &#%$!

I’m not suggesting violence as a means to aid a woman who’s being groped. Firstly, because it’s often not called for; usually a disapproving word will set a man back enough to consider his action and clear off, tail between his legs. And secondly, because it doesn’t always work: you might lose the fight as Richard and I did. And in this era of knife crime, standing up to trouble on the streets has become a very real danger, and you could end up hurt.

But does that mean that we should never say anything? Never stand up for ourselves, for each other, for women and for what we believe? I hope not.

You have to pick your battles and pick your fights in life. But that is the nature of heroism: to risk all for a noble cause. Heroes are those that don’t care about the numbers or dangers they face, they stand up for what they believe in spite of those dangers. And I for one would rather live in a world where there are heroes like my granddad and Richard, willing to stand up for women, than one where there are none.

And I would be proud to stand up alongside them and be counted. Because as a man, even amongst all the many ill-advised and bad things I’ve done in my life, the things that haunt me the most are the ones when I had the chance to be the man I wanted to be, to be the hero and stand up for something or for someone, to say ‘no’ to when I had the chance, but I didn’t. These are the source of life’s truest regrets.

Every time we, and especially men, do not stand up and say, ‘Excuse me, don’t talk to a woman like that’, we are not only allowing that man to get away with it but also we’re letting every person who witnesses the incident know that as far as we’re concerned, it’s okay; it’s fine for a man to speak to or treat a woman in such a way.

So goes the oft-used quote: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Which is what would have happened to Caroline whilst at the home of English rugby, a game that prides itself and its supporters on its high moral code, were she not to have stood up for herself that day, when no one else in her group did.  

And so I put it to all ‘good men’, and all good women too, that it is our duty to protect and stand up for those who need help when we see them being victimized in any way, be it by sexual harassment, aggressive behavior, workplace bullying. If you see it and you know that it’s wrong and you do nothing to either prevent or report it, then you are aiding the problem and allowing it to continue as a norm in society.

And next time it might be your friend ormother or sister or wife who suffers, but you may not be there to help. We can only hope someone strong enough to stand up for them, is.

 

Please forward this so that we can help prevent sexual harassment and the victimization of women being the norm in society. 

 

© Compo May 2014

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