June 03, 2014 at 11:49
Cliobhna Bairead, currently studying for a Degree in Public and Social Policy in NUIG is volunteering with The Y Factor. Here she writes about casual and accepted sexism and sexual assault in our society and the discussion around this:
Recently there has been a lot of talk regarding violence against women as a result of Elliot Rodger killing six women because he could not find a woman willing to go out with him. These killings have, understandably, made people talk about the persistent misogyny in our society. #yesallwomen, #notallmen and many opinion pieces have flooded the internet with ideas, opinions and personal experiences. It is good, I think, that people are talking. But as with everything there is the negative side, the darker side to talking about an issue that has affected women for thousands of years.
One of the most disturbing attitudes is that this is just women blaming men and making a fuss over nothing. I’ve read things like this movement is making feminism look bad, men didn’t do this bad people did so we should stop blaming men, this is just women making a fuss over nothing. Those people shock me, their lack of basic empathy to an issue that directly affects half the species, it affects their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, daughters, friends and in cases where they themselves are women, it affects them personally, even if they choose not to see it.
I understand how a girl having her bum grabbed in a nightclub or someone telling a rape joke or catcalls to women as they walk down the street can be viewed as minor. They are minor, in particular when compared to the recent killings in the States. However what if the woman being grabbed, or shouted at or told the rape joke has been the victim of a serious sexual assault? There is a one in four chance that she has been; this is not an unreasonable scenario to imagine. So forgetting that it seems ridiculous that a woman should have to allow men to grab her or shout at her, surely we, as an empathetic species have a duty to protect those who are more vulnerable than ourselves?
Even if the woman being shouted at or grabbed hasn’t been assaulted, surely she still has the right not to be? Something someone said in response to this was that we should just get used to it and accept it. That statement made my brain freeze; I am expected to let men grab me whenever the mood takes them? Who touches my body is not my choice? What message does this send? Also at what point is it ok for me to say no? I hope this person was trolling, otherwise we need this discussion even more than I originally thought. Because I think that most men would find this shocking, most men would understand why women are nervous of walking past groups of men, being grabbed in on nights out or being alone with men we don’t know or trust. To me that seems fairly basic, we are taught and we see all the time that men can be scary. They are often stronger than us, when they do these things they don’t always listen when we say stop. Other people don’t stand up to help us and when we say we find it uncomfortable we are told that we need to ‘stop moaning’.
To those who think that this is being blown out of proportion or that we need to stop blaming men, open your eyes. I did not choose to be a woman, it’s is just the body I got. It doesn’t change that I’m smart or clumsy or laugh too loud. It also doesn’t change that I find unrequested sexual advances uncomfortable. I don’t like them, I don’t like being touched a lot anyway, I’m not very physically affectionate with people I’m not comfortable with at the best of time and being groped makes my skin crawl.
Aside from the fact that I don’t want to be groped, which to be fair should be enough, there is the fact that when we normalise behaviour people find it easier to accept. What an experiment which focused on the effect of rape jokes found was that while they don’t make people more likely to rape, they do make people less sympathetic to victims of rape and more likely to think that rapists should receive more lenient sentences. So by telling us to accept this behaviour and move on we are allowing people to normalise this behaviour which makes it more acceptable. This then makes the perpetrators of more serious crimes more likely to receive a lighter sentence. By allowing this behaviour we are, in essence, telling people it is ok to sexually abuse women, even though we say we don’t agree with this. By accepting the ‘little’ things, we enable the bigger things to happen. I am not naïve enough to think that stopping this behaviour will stop assaults on women, I do think that it would lessen them. I also think that if we have a society where victims of assault are met with compassion and empathy rather than suspicion more of them would come forward, which would mean more assailants would be caught, at least then they would be punished.
I am not blaming men, I think our compliance to this behaviour is a result of our society, not the men who live in it. I do know that assaults on both men and women are significantly more likely to be committed by men. We have missed a step somewhere, we have let the men in our society either commit these crimes or be feared for something they will never do. We have failed to teach our boys that consent means a woman saying yes, that hitting someone is rarely, if ever, the answer and that making someone feel small and uncomfortable and scared is wrong. We have failed to teach them that sometimes you have to stick up for someone, even when you don’t understand why you’re doing it, that their fear or discomfort is often enough of a reason. And we have failed to teach our girls to think that being able to rely on the men around us should be normal.
I hope that one day in our future, gender will no longer be an issue, that your risk of assault won’t be significantly increased because of the body you have. But I don’t think we’ll get there by ignoring the issues that face us, or denying the reality of now.