After hearing about the murder of Sarah Everard, I’m not sure my tears will ever dry. Even now, weeks after the first news reports, I still find myself breaking down at the smallest reminders of what a dangerous world this is for women.
Almost one in three women has been subject to domestic or sexual abuse at least once in their lives, with less than 40% seeking help after the incident(s). One in four girls aged between 15 and 19, who have already been in a relationship, has faced physical or sexual violence from their partner. Women and girls account for 72% of human trafficking victims. 137 women are killed by a member of their family every single day.
In the face of all this violence against us, it is difficult not to feel powerless. Personally, I did not know where to start in easing my guilty conscious over the women I was unable to protect. The ones we as a society had failed so drastically. As the shouts of “not all men” increased online, my thoughts started turning increasingly to male accountability.
Fear of responsibility
People avoid responsibility for their actions for a number of reasons, including laziness, fear and feeling overwhelmed by a situation. Some signs of not taking responsibility include:
- Lack of interest in the subject, such as not engaging with the discussion about violence against women on or offline
- Blaming others for one’s own flaws, perhaps by posting #NotAllMen, thereby reminding the world that you are one of the “good ones”
- Not participating in or avoiding the search for solutions, like not attending protests or donating funds
- Complaining about being treated unfairly, such as turning the conversation about female issues to male issues
- Avoiding taking initiative, like making violence against women a women’s problem rather than male behavior
- Making excuses for one’s own behaviour, like when blaming women for their own assault.
We live in a punitive culture that does not support healing for victims or perpetrators. Therefore, many do not want to examine their own faults for fear of judgment or even physical consequences. But how can we remove ourselves from the public when we are the public? Society is a single unit, not billions of separate, individual pieces. If society is dangerous for women, the only way to change society is by changing ourselves. It is high time to finally let go of our fear and confront the fact that this is an issue of male culture, which, by definition, all men are a part of.
We are all responsible
Many psychologists find that having clear, accurate examples of how an individual failed to take responsibility can help in creating constructive dialogue. Let me therefore address all men at this point, as so many of you believe you are somehow absolved from our mistakes as a culture.
Have you ever listened to the music of a known abuser, like Chris Brown or XXXTentacion?
Since abuse allegation came out, have you ever watched a Harvey Weinstein film or a Woody Allen movie?
Have you ever sexualized a woman without her consent? Perhaps commented about a girl wearing a short skirt in summer. Talked to your friends about a girl in a bar that you considered attractive.
Have you ever been around someone else who made a clearly problematic remark and you let it slide?
Have you ever watched porn on a common, free site, like PornHub?
How many resources on misogyny and women’s rights have you consumed in the last several weeks?
Have many female artists have you listened to today compared to male artists?
Of course, there are many other ways in which we contribute to making the world dangerous for women, but these examples go to show how deeply engrained sexism is in our culture. It’s virtually impossible to remove ourselves from it. That doesn’t make us bad people. It just requires us to accept the fact that we are not perfect and finding out where we have room to grow.
If you really believe that you have nothing to take responsibility for, that you have reached some ultimate point in your life where your actions towards women are completely removed from societal biases, I challenge you to consider why there are still women being murdered in cold blood on the street. Is what you’re doing really enough to make up for all the negative constraints women suffer from under male hands? If you care about the lives of women, why does your activism stop before the violence against us does?
How to take accountability
Find resources on women’s issues and educate yourself, along with those around you. Learn how these problems intersect with things you are passionate about. Then ensure that there is adequate space for them in these areas.
Stop making excuses. Accept that you can only do so much, physically and emotionally, but do not ignore the pain you are causing someone else. Love yourself, with all your flaws. That being said, in most cases, taking responsibility for your actions will actually increase your self-esteem, because you start actively working on parts of yourself that you are insecure about.
Another big point is to stop blaming others. You are benefiting from the current situation, regardless of who set it up originally. Women are suffering not because you built the system, but because you are partaking in it. Life may not be fair, but the odds are in your favour at the moment. Claim your power and use it for good.
And finally, make sure to find a balance between being responsible and living a full and happy life in the violent systems we’ve created. You do not need to be attacking the patriarchy every moment of every day to make a difference. Just be aware that the more often you do, the safer you are making the world.
The alternative is continuing to contribute to a culture that tortures women every day. The alternative is not making a change.
The small things count
Though there are many roads to go down on the path to female liberation, perhaps starting with small things is easiest. Skip that problematic song next time it comes on. Replace it with a more positive one once you grow bored of it. Insert female voices into all aspects of your life, including the social, professional, artistic and cultural sides. Take the time to educate yourself on current and relevant female issues and amplify our voices. Speak to the friends who are disrespecting other human beings – given the staggering statistics of violence against women, it is likely that at least a few of the people in your closest circle are directly harming someone in their life.
A brighter future
This is not a battle that we will win in our lifetimes. We can take on accountability yet treasure the times when we are privileged enough not to have to worry about these problems. We are allowed to preserve our energy to fight another day. That is not cowardice. Hiding, however, is. For as long as we reject responsibility for the pain we cause, we cannot properly accept that for the happiness we bring. How can I feel good about walking my female friends home at night if I do not recognize that I put them in danger when I don’t?
Not taking responsibility means refusing to grow. It is the unacceptance of the fact that we are complicit in the slaughter of women that occurs every moment. It is closing our eyes to the blood of the 137 fresh, new bodies, that drips off our hands every day. Taking responsibility, on the other hand, means taking action. And if there’s one thing we need from you right now, dear men, it is action.
Society changes based on the changes we make. Let’s claim that power and finally change.