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Male violence: challenging the 'mandate of masculinity'

Male violence: challenging the 'mandate of masculinity'

Following the murder of Sarah Everard, and the subsequent arrest, trial and conviction of Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens for her killing, there has been something of a watershed in the battle to keep women safe from violence perpetrated against them by men.

In the wake of her murder, police advised women not to go out alone, prompting an almost immediate backlash from women angry that they were being told to modify their behavior instead of the other way round.

The police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) for North Yorkshire, Conservative Philip Allott, was forced to resign after telling BBC York: “So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.”

Later, following a spate or reports relating to drinks being spiked in nightclubs, Police Scotland was forced to apologise for apparent ‘victim blaming’ after members of the Forth Valley division wrote on social media that drinking alcohol makes people ‘more vulnerable or prone to accidents’ and can also result in it being more difficult to “spot dangerous situations”.

 But following understandable outrage from women, the onus on preventing male violence has shifted onto the perpetrators – men.

Graham Goulden, a violence prevention trainer and former Police Scotland officer, spent the last eight years of policing career as a Chief Inspector and a key member of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit.

His work, as part of the Cultivating Minds UK team, encourages men to take leadership and have the courage to speak out against misogyny in their social and professional circles.

“We take for granted men’s violence,” said Goulden, “but it’s not.”

“There’s a need to make a link between language and behaviour, and how words and ‘banter’ can lead to and contribute to action of abuse, like we saw with the Sarah Everard case.

“How do we focus on victims, and support victims, but also get men to be more aware of their leadership, and their potential - most men don’t commit violence, but a lot of men are silent around issues.

“Most of the campaigns I see around male violence, take for granted male violence – they see it as an aspect of life, well it’s not.”

In October, Police Scotland launched the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign, a concerted effort to target men age 18 – 35 years, which the force says is more likely to commit sexual offences, and to “to urge men to take responsibility for their actions and language to help affect a culture change to tackle sexual crime against women.”

A video accompanying the campaign features several young male actors, who look straight down the camera and ask, “ever called a girl ‘doll’?”, “stared at a woman on a bus?” or “said to your mate, ‘I’d do that’?”

The video is intended to challenge men’s abusive behaviour, such as sending unsolicited messages and photos or pressuring women into sex.

The video ends by saying: “Most guys don’t look in the mirror and see a problem but it’s staring us in the face. Sexual violence begins long before you think it does. #DontBeThatGuy.”

Police Scotland received an outpouring of support for the campaign, including from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who tweeted: “This new campaign from @PoliceScotland is powerful and important.

“I’d ask all men to watch this film - and then encourage your sons, fathers, brothers and friends to do likewise.”

Goulden, who worked with Police Scotland on the campaign, says the pervasive culture of masculinity – he calls it the ‘mandate of masculinity’ – rigidly polices men’s behaviour and silences men who would otherwise speak out.

“We need to meet men where they’re at,” said Goulden, “we don’t engage men by shouting down at them, shaming them, making them feel embarrassed – you engage them by meeting them where they are at, and then from there you can get them to reflect and self-inspect.

“The Don’t Be That Guy campaign has resulted in a lot of men getting in touch with myself, and Police Scotland, and saying, ‘thank you for this, this has released us from the chains of that sort of mandate of masculinity’.

“We have this phrase, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, and I think as a society we minimise the subtleties of abuse – the language, the banter, the jokes, the causal remarks of sexism – but we know that there are people who act in violent and abusive ways who do so thinking they’re being supported.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Wayne Couzens could have been prevented many, many years ago from doing what he did to Sarah Everad by being challenged, and that’s the sad reality of this whole thing.

“George Floyd in America could have been saved by one officer doing the right thing.

“So how do we use the loyalty that exists between friends, I want them to be loyal to each other, but also be critical – I want them to say to their friends what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear.

“This is about moral courage, this is about leadership. It’s about the acknowledge that as men, we can be too quick to be defensive, and that stops us from listening to what is going on, and we need men to listen.”

The sentencing of Sarah Everard’s murderer in late September has also reinvigorated demands for misogyny – the hatred of women - to be considered a hate crime, or as a standalone offence.

In March, the Scottish Government passed its controversial Hate Crime Bill, amid strong opposition that said the bill would hamper free speech.

The bill introduced new offences of ‘stirring up hatred’, which previously only applied to race, and abolished the offence of blasphemy, which had not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.

During the bill’s passing through Holyrood, an amendment by MSP Johann Lamont to include misogyny as a hate crime was voted down.

Instead, the Scottish Government has set up a working group, led by QC Baroness Helena Kennedy, to consider whether misogyny should be considered as a standalone crime, separate to the Hate Crime Bill.

Engender, a Scottish feminist organization, believes defining misogyny as a standalone crime would help to disrupt “epidemic levels of misogynistic hate” in the country.

Statistics collated by Engender show that more than half (52 per cent) of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment, with one quarter experiencing unwanted touching, and one fifth of women experiencing unwanted sexual advances.

More than one in ten women reported unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them, and three quarters (71 per cent) of British women have taken action to guard themselves against the threat of harassment. This figure rises to nearly 9 in 10 (88 per cent) for younger British women aged 18-24.

On whether misogyny should be considered a hate crime or standalone offence, a policy document from Engender reads: “As movements such as ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’ have powerfully demonstrated over the past few years, women all over the world continue to experience chronic levels of harassment and violence from men because they are women.

“There are serious questions about how our justice systems engage with these realities effectively.

“The concept of hate crime was developed in response to the oppression of racism and, as we have described, it is an awkward fit for gendered injustices. In those jurisdictions where gendered hate crime exists, it has not changed much for women.”

Holding men accountable for male violence is not a new concept, however.

On 6 December, 1989, a 25-year-old man named Marc Lépine entered a mechanical engineering class at the École Polytechnique, in Montreal, Canada, armed with a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife.

Lépine ordered the men and women in the class to stand on opposite sides of the room, and made the men leave. He told the men he was “fighting feminism”, and shot the remaining nine women – killing six.

During the next 20 minutes, Lépine scoured the campus for other women, killing eight during his spree, before turning the gun on himself.

In the aftermath, Canada debated the role misogyny and ‘anti-feminist’ movements play in violence against women, and two years later, a group of male feminists from London, Ontario, founded the White Ribbon Campaign.

The movement encourages men to pledge to “never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women”, and to display white ribbons showing their commitment, particularly during the week of November 25 – or ‘White Ribbon Week’.

The UK’s White Ribbon Campaign says it encourages young men to be positive influence on their social circles: “Through our White Ribbon Ambassadors and Champions, White Ribbon Youth Advocates and many of our supporters the message that men need to take responsibility is taken into workplaces, communities and among families and friends.

“At the heart of our work is the White Ribbon Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women. 

“Making the promise is significant, it means men need to have thought about what it means, and it encourages men to think about their own behaviour and that of others.

“We raise awareness of violence against women across the country through activities organised by White Ribbon Ambassadors and Champions, our White Ribbon accredited organisations and many others. 

“At the end of 2019 we launched our White Ribbon Youth Advocate programme that encourages people aged 14-19 to think though the issues and learn to be a positive influence among their friends and communities.

“We speak out on social media and in the press and are active in Westminster working with MPs to bring about political change to support women who are experiencing violence and to promote a more equal society.”

In particular, the White Ribbon Campaign encourages men to never remain silent in their social circles, something Goulden also works on with young men.

“Silence say it’s okay, and that’s a problem,” says Goulden, “what our silence says to our friends is that it’s okay, that’s the problem.

“While I know why other men don’t speak up, we need to understand that when we don’t say anything, what are we saying to both the perpetrator, and the harm-doer, but also the victim.

“There’s good evidence that the impact of passive bystanders can be really detrimental for victims, but also culture.

“It’s about having these meaningful conversations.

“I’m working with a young boys rugby club, working with their coaches, and they’ve been doing some training with me online, and we’re going to go for a conversation on Sunday night, where we’re going to talk about what they can do to support young boys to be the best version of themselves – how we develop character among young boys, and part of that character is having the confidence to speak up.

“I think most men and converted but they don’t realise they are – I want men to be given the reassurance that they, more often than not, feel the same.

“Listening, asking questions, and becoming curious about the issues, and finding the confidence to speak to other men about this. Don’t wait for something to happen, talk about it now, because what you do is you enable other men to talk about it. You can make it okay to talk about violence against women.

“Just in your daily action, if you see something in the news, talk about it – because when you do that you make it okay.

“Why wouldn’t men want to talk about it? Every man in this country has a female sister, mother, friend, wife, girlfriend – this stuff impacts on them and so impacts on you, as a man, so why wouldn’t you want to get involved in this?”

The ‘mandate of masculinity’ Goulden talks about in his work is often known as toxic masculinity – the suffocating, but often intangible code of conduct men feel they should abide by in the presence of other men.

Campaigners believe that having the courage to break the silence, and understand that the majority of men cannot tolerate abusive attitudes towards women, is the only way masculine cultures can change.

Men like Goulden say that making women feel safe to go out at night, to exercise in public, and just live their lives free from the fear of sexual predation and violence, will take a concerted effort from all men.

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