May 23, 2017

#Menaretrash: What can we do?

The unspeakable rape and murder of 3 year old Courtney Peters and the gruesome murder of Karabo Mokoena, allegedly at the hands of her boyfriend, have thrust the issue of violence against women and predominantly female children into the headlines again over the past couple of weeks.

These events have followed countless acts of violence against women and children over time; Liezel August from Eerste Rivier who was raped and set alight, Anene Booysen who was brutally mutilated and left for dead, Reeva Steenkamp whose life was cut short so tragically. And then there are the countless cases of rape and brutal assault against women that don’t make it into the headlines.  That don’t get reported, even.

Sexual harassment of women in the workplace has also once again reared its ugly head in the news this week.

What about the more subtle violations of women’s rights?  In an article in the online version of the University of Pretoria’s Perdeby newspaper, one of the reporters shared her experience of walking to university alone, and of being catcalled by 2 young men in a passing car. She shares how vulnerable and exposed she felt – on a busy street in Hatfield.

What kind of society do we live in where a young woman can’t walk to university without feeling threatened by sexual violence?  Where many woman can’t have a healthy argument with her boyfriend or husband without the fear (or certainty!) of being beaten up? Where women have to put up with the uninvited advances of lascivious bosses, and many times are subject to rape or sexual assault if they reject those unwelcome advances?

Men who subject women to this kind of treatment ARE trash.

I don’t belong to this group of trash men.

I treat all of the women in my life with the utmost respect.  It doesn’t matter what they look like, what they do for a living, what they wear or how much they have had to drink at any given time. I see them as equals – there are things I can do better than most of them, there are things most of them can do better than me, but the fact that I am a man and they don’t doesn’t make me any better than them.

And there are many men like me.  I would like to think that we are in the majority; I hope that this is not naïve of me!

The #menaretrash protests and the calls on men to do something about sexual violence against women got me thinking.  What CAN us non-trash men do about sexual violence against women? We don’t rape women. We don’t grope them. We don’t abuse them. If we see another man doing any of these things we don’t stand by and ignore it, we’ll do everything in our power to stop it. And we’ll carry on not doing these things.

But maybe there are things we can do too. Subtle things. Like calling it out if we are in a group of guys and one makes an inappropriate remark about a passing woman. Like not only deleting the pornographic WhatsApp or email that one of our buddies sends us, but replying to the group and saying why we should not be objectifying women like that. By speaking out against the billboards that advertise courier services with picture of a bikini-clad young woman.

The brutal rape and murder of a woman is the thick end of the wedge. Objectifying women and seeing mere images of them as a source of amusement and gratification is the thin end of it. I may be powerless to do anything at the thick end. But I am sure I can make a difference at the thin end.

Author: Robin Twaddle

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