Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Stop hijacking legitimate discussions

Over the past week on various social/news media I noticed a not so new trend. If one deigns to open a discussion regarding anything to do with women, somewhere within the first five comments will contain the line "(subject topic) also happens to men, why does (this person/publication) ignore this."

The first time I saw this last week was in The Ladies Lounge on boards.ie in a thread about harassment. The discussion opened was discussing the level of harassment sexual and otherwise that women encounter both in Ireland and abroad. Lo and behold before the discussion really took off within the first page a male poster had came to announce that harassment also happens to men. The women in TLL, to my knowledge, had never stated that it didn't and TLL also seems a highly appropriate place to start such a thread for women (the hint being in the name of that particular section on Boards). However, undeterred posters unanimously agreed that such harassment also happens to men and invited the aggrieved poster to share his experiences (also to note TLL does not discourage male posters) or if it was something that he felt really strongly about to start his own post on harassment towards males either in TLL or elsewhere on Boards. It turned out that the poster in question had never been harassed but gave a few tid bits of anecdotal evidence of x/y/z happening to people he knew. He did not feel strongly enough to start his own thread or contribute further to the original thread beyond repeating his mantra that harassment also happens to men.

The next time that this aggrieved response caught my attention was in an article on The Journal by Lisa McInerney, titled All sexual harassment needs to thrive is for good men to do nothing. The article headline was obviously utilising the famous quote about evil and may not even have been decided on by Lisa herself. The first part of her article details her own experiences of public harassment and how for it to thrive all it takes is for everyone else to simply do nothing.
She then goes on to discuss the Everyday Sexism project and #shoutingback which has been used on Twitter to encourage people to share their stories of being sexually harassed. Again first few posts in "harassment happens to men too". Lisa McInerney even acknowledged that there were a number of male contributors to #shoutingback but that the overwhelming majority of the posts were from women. She details mostly women's experiences, possibly because she is a woman, possibly because everyday harassment is something that almost every woman has experienced and possibly because it is easy to write from that situation because it's one in which the majority of women have found themselves in. I would be unable to write about male harassment, I don't know what it feels like. I (and Lisa McInerney and other women) do, however, know how it feels to be woman who is harassed. I know how violated I've felt when I've been groped in a bar, I know the fear and the taste of metal in my mouth when I was followed home by two men in broad daylight who had two other men waiting for them. I know the revulsion and nausea when I thought about what might have been. I know the fear of being a woman walking alone at night. I know what it's like to keep an eye on my drinks and my friends and ensure no one walks home alone.

Another article I read (embarrassingly enough I can't remember where) detailed that four out of five women have to be turned away from Sonas (which deals specifically with women and children) due to lack of funding and again the typical responses cropped up in the first couple of comments.

The Journal published a piece before Christmas where Amen, the charity representing male victims of domestic abuse, warned that men in these situations are in a very vulnerable position at Christmas time. How many women commented that this also happens to women? None. Instead some of the comments took an even nastier turn linking domestic violence against men with the "feminist agenda". This deliberately misconstrues the meaning of the word feminism but that's a rant for another day.

As I said above my female friends and I have discussed harassment, rape, physical abuse etc. None of my male friends have ever discussed their experiences (if any) with me. Now before we get to the comments section, here goes: domestic violence against men and male rape are serious topics, as serious as the same against women. It is to the shame of this country that we have yet to open up a proper discourse on these topics and it does immeasurable harm to both men and women. Domestic violence against men needs to be discussed in an open manner so that men who find themselves in such a situation will be more likely to seek help. The shaming of men suffering domestic violence needs to stop. It is not just a women's issue and funding needs to go into all centres for men, women and children living with domestic violence.  Instead of defensively hijacking another discussion with "this happens to men too". Why not join the discussion and give your experiences or discuss the rates of abuse against men? Why not write your own post about violence against men? Why not donate to Amen? Why not open a proper discourse about violence perpetrated against men and let these men who are unable to speak know that you are there to support them?

Instead of stubbornly putting these things down to the "feminist agenda",let's work together to ensure that people realise violence against anybody is simply not right. Men and women living with domestic violence need to be supported in more meaningful ways.

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