It’s been a traumatic day to be a woman.
Sarah Everard’s murderer was sentenced today – a servicing police officer who used his position of power to kill her.
A man also appeared in court today charged with the murder of Sabina Nessa, who was walking to meet a friend near her home when she was brutally attacked.
But if today has been a tough day to be a woman, when isn’t? A woman is killed by a man every three days, and most of them don’t make the headlines.
When stories do, particularly ones that involve young, attractive, professional women (and there can be no doubt that Sarah Everard being white has contributed to how much more focus there has been on her case), the public outcry is vocal. Today has been no exception.
We’ve been bombarded with messages about what women can do to keep themselves safe – attack alarms, not walking alone at night, wearing flat shoes, not wearing “inappropriate” clothing, not wearing headphones – none of which addresses the actual issue. It’s no good telling women what they should be doing when women aren’t the ones doing anything wrong.
Then the inevitable tweets started – “we need to raise boys differently”.
“I blame the parents”
It’s meant with the best of intentions (I think). The idea that, if we raise boys to respect and value women, they won’t grow up to want to kill them.
And certainly no one wants to raise a killer.
But it’s lazy commentating to blame the parents. No mothers are setting out to raise boys that hate women. The vast majority of mothers are doing the best they can to raise their boys to be decent human beings.
To assume that parenting is to blame is ridiculously reductionist. Boys grow up surrounded by a whole host of misogynistic messages that come from the media, popular culture, the workplace, even our government. They see how discriminatory and exploitative behaviours are ignored, they see how the police deal (or rather don’t deal) with gender-based crimes, and they see how women are treated if they dare to speak out.
You cannot make it all about the mothers.
“Parent” means “mother”
And when you say “parenting”, yes, you do mean “mother”. However gender neutral you might have thought you intended it.
Women do an average of 63% of the parenting in a mixed-gender couple, and from all the messages we get from society it’s clear that we still consider parenting “woman’s work”. So when someone says “we” need to raise our sons differently, they mean mothers need to raise them differently.
All of these messages – the “safety” advice, the advice on what to do if you think you’re being arrested, and the parenting suggestions – all have one thing in common: they’re all intent on blaming women for male violence.
This is simply a distraction. The issue isn’t what women are wearing, or how they behave, or where the go, or how they raise their children. The issue is men, and how they’re taught to view and treat women. (And how they’re taught to view and treat people of other genders, too.)
By constantly shifting the onus to women in one form or another, those that are invested in the current system are hoping to stop us from demanding real, structural change. And I, for one, am not going to play ball.
- A dramatic overhaul of the criminal justice system – current responses to crimes against women are woeful, and the system in itself is drastically broken
- Government commitment to equality – a review of all policies that impact women and a far better example set by people in power, including holding their own to account for misconduct
- Enforceable standards for the media on how they report crimes against women and how they talk about women – no more passive verbs (“woman was attacked”), no more mention of what a nice guy he was, no more discussion of what she was wearing or what kind of sex she was into, and so on
- Better education for boys and men about equality, empathy and respect, and realistic sex education that empowers girls
- Demonstration from leaders from all aspects of society of respect for women and girls and a zero tolerance approach to abuse, discrimination and harassment
Yes teaching kindness, empathy and respect – and, you know, not killing people – are all good things for parents of all genders to work on, but they’re a drop in the ocean of the wider messages their children receive from society.
Especially if one of those messages is that women are just stupid whores that you shouldn’t listen to anyway – why exactly would they pay any attention to their mothers if that’s what they’ve internalised?
Stop blaming women for male violence, stop distracting us from the issues that need fixing.
The system is broken. Change it.