Last week marked International Women’s Day and a few days later in London a young woman’s life was taken at the hands of a violent man.
It is easy to be shocked and easy to be sad, it is also easy to virtue signal on social media and then move on. I promise this isn’t a hand-wringing piece about how “not all men are monsters” nor will I say how horrified I am, before going back to my comfortable weekend. Silence however is a poor choice at a time like this, and Sarah Everard’s death needs more than the silence of men who choose not to reflect on the attritional burden women carry coping with male behaviour that undermines and frightens them.
In 2020 Black Lives Matter was given a tragic focus following the senseless death of George Floyd. This feels like a similar moment to highlight and confront male violence on women and other unacceptable male behaviour towards women. However, it also goes far deeper than the behaviour of some men. Our institutions of Government, of justice, of law enforcement, of education and even of health care have evolved over centuries carrying a legacy of institutional misogyny. The echoes of this may be diluted over time as each generation tries to make things better, but past decades, past attitudes and past outcomes are an overwhelming weight of disadvantage.
Today, despite progress, this institutional misogyny means there are too few women in boardrooms, in higher judicial roles, in the Government, and in certain careers. We can also see indicators of institutional misogyny in rape convictions, in the number of women in prison for relatively minor offences, in period poverty, in revenge porn, in domestic violence, in the unfathomable gender pay gap, and also in the way social media platforms protect my right to intimate, belittle and bully women under the benign convenience of my precious freedom of speech.
All of this, and so much more, is part of a compelling correlation telling us that women’s interests have always been, and still are, treated as something lesser than mine. All of this, and so much more, representing the evidential narrative of structural barriers and disadvantages, mostly constructed in the past, but still with us today. A society full of institutions that were founded and managed by men in decades past that have within their DNA the obligation to protect and defend their histories, and to preserve their power today.
Layered within this societal infrastructure, like so much silt in a slow moving river, are all the everyday experiences of women who are made to feel stressed and scared about where they walk, how they dress or how they talk.
This doesn’t change just because I wish it would be different, and I do not think a march or a vigil or a social media hashtag will change anything very much either. The need for change however is palpable and will happen when I accept that I must give up my privilege of being treated better than women just because I am a man.
I need to be more curious about how women adapt to a world that was built more for me than for them. I need to reflect on whether the empathy and care that I can offer is enough support, or whether because I am otherwise silent in my quiet comfortable life, I am nevertheless collaborating in perpetuating a world I know disadvantages women. I need to listen with the intensity and openness that respects the moment and the need for change. I need to be open to the idea that there must be change.
Due to Covid we have all lived through a period of historical significance. We have changed the way we work, prioritised some vulnerable and elderly souls and thrown enormous sums of money at a problem because it was the right thing to do. The lesson of this last year is that we can make enormous changes to save lives and defeat a virus. It will be hard to justify not changing other things on grounds of practicality, tradition or budget. Today we have a different benchmark of what happens when there is a compelling case for change.
History does not change at a slow or steady pace; history is changed in jolts that propel us forward beyond the gravitational pull of the status quo.
This is such a moment. I hope I can play my part.
Take care. Paul xx