By Eve Coffey
Content warning: the following article contains topics regarding sexual violence, abuse, and gender discrimination. If these are particularly sensitive topics for you, please be careful in your decision to read on.)
In the wake of Sarah Everard’s horrific murder, what can only be described as an entirely warranted cry of distress and anger has flooded my social media feeds. The reading experience has been painful and upsetting, to say the least; I can’t help but ache for Sarah and her family, as her loss — quite rightly, but naturally rather insensitively — becomes a symbol for something much wider. However, the conversation is crucial, right now as much as it has ever been before.
We all know that Sarah’s death is not an anomalous case by any sense of the word. As reported by the BBC News Online, over the last decade, more than 9 out of 10 murderers have been men. And whilst, statistically, more men are killed than women in the UK, the circumstances under which these cases occur are often very different. Violence against women is more often sexually motivated, unprovoked, and is rarely enacted by other women.
Without spelling out ‘men are the problem’ in block capitals, the stats prove that violence is born out of toxic masculinity, performed most often as a means of domination and inferiorizing. This is no new realisation, and yet we see very little being done to tackle it at its core.
There is a phrase that has cropped up time and time again over the past few weeks, mostly on Twitter, and it goes a little something like: ‘Men. Hold your friends accountable.’. Let's unpack this. With any social injustice, there is a comfortable little position that some people like to take; this consists of talking endlessly about how much you disagree with said social injustice but doing very little to act on it. Bringing it back to the recently spotlighted issue of gendered violence, there are men that, despite claiming to be outraged by it, are guilty of making exceptions for their friends.
I’m fortunate enough to have male friends who, on a night out, will say something to the all-too-common leerer who just won’t accept that a complete lack of interest means ‘please go away. But I know that this isn’t always the case, and when it comes to calling out members of a friendship group, even more blind eyes are turned.
Outside of my close-knit group of pals, I have experienced this ignorance multiple times. From a group of lads laughing about how one of them had stealthed me, to being told ‘oh, he’s just like that by the friends of a man who had groped me in a club. I don’t feel picked out or personally attacked for these instances. What I do feel is tired; tired that things like this go on time and time again, and that it remains a part of male comradery to make excuses for one another.
So, how should men be taking accountability for each other? It’s pretty simple. Any time a friend behaves towards women in a way that you would never, talk to them as though you are talking to yourself. Tell them it is completely unacceptable, that they have no right to behave that way, and that they need to stop immediately. Don’t be a silent witness to something you know is wrong.
If you need a little push in the right direction, check out this interview with Chuck Derry of the Gender Violence Institute about the meaning of accountability today.
When asked whether speaking up, as a man, takes space away from the female discourse of sexism, Derry explains that whilst ‘being silent and listening to women are very important parts of accountability work for men (...) silence can also be a tool of privilege. I can just be quiet and then I don’t have to take any risks. Speaking on a topic that does not directly impact your wellbeing can be problematic, but it all depends on how you go about it. Speak up when you see something wrong, but provide the space for women to talk (and be listened to!) in less pressured settings.
Remember that being an ally isn’t about looking and feeling good, but providing active support.