As a right leaning voter I am not the sort of person you would normally expect to stand with feminists of whom I have often been critical, but in the wake of another tragic murder of an innocent woman it is time for men to listen.
Part of the problem with modern debate is that we regularly assume the side on which we don’t identify is devoid of relevant points, and while I don’t agree with all of the words I read from women calling on men to change their behaviour, it is important that we find points of mutual understanding.
The first thing for men to do is to not assume commentary on them is always an attack. We have witnessed global outrage in response to Gillette’s ad that pointedly asks if this is the best men can get. A better reaction would to not receive the ad as an attack, but to take it as an article of faith that men are, by nature, good. They are capable of respect, capable of reflection and capable of magnanimity.
The oft used phrase, ‘not all men’, is used in defence of male behaviour, so wouldn’t an ad that points out men can and do act nobly therefore reflect such a reality? Unfortunately, this message was lost to knee jerk defensiveness. The ad is a celebration of men and what they can be. It is not an attack.
The same goes when writers such as Clementine Ford, of whom I have several disagreements, call for men to do better. She is ultimately appealing to the ‘not all men’, the decent men who we always hear about. Asking them to do more should not be seen as an insult. It is an invitation to be part of a solution.
The next thing might be to empathise with what we don’t experience. It did not occur to me until recently how different my experience is compared to a woman’s. It is not until you take a moment to think about it that you realise how the tiniest things matter. I walk alone at night without a care in the world. I don’t consider whether or not it is dark. I don’t pretend to be on my phone. I don’t check the car before entering. I wear headphones whenever I like, evening or day. It would never occur to me to do otherwise.
Yet these choices, among other things, are decisions women wrestle with every day. I don’t bother to leave a light on at night. I will happily catch a taxi or Uber alone. I’ll smile at people on the street without concern about their intentions. One begins to understand female frustration when you consider how pervasive the fear of assault is. I wonder how many of us understand this.
Finally, it is important to understand the distinction between toxic masculinity and masculinity. Too often men mistake the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ as claiming masculinity in general is toxic. Again, we are not listening. Aggression, violence, dominance and repressed emotion are toxic traits regardless of gender, not just for men. Sadly, these traits have been misconstrued as masculinity.
No one is attacking resilience, courage, strength, empathy or decisiveness. These too are masculine, and it’s ironically these very traits we are being called upon to demonstrate if we are to be better. It’s these behaviours Gillette showcased and it’s these behaviours feminists and society probably wish men would embrace now more than ever.
Resilience is handling criticism constructively rather than taking offence. Courage is making the decision to say something to your mate if he is out of line. Strength is the capacity to stand your ground in the face of resistance. Empathy is understanding that women are justified feeling the way they do, and decisiveness is making the call to be better.
For feminist activists, perhaps it’s also time to end their ideological opposition to women being allowed to carry pepper spray and weapons for protection. Opponents claim these measures won’t work and they again place the burden on women to protect themselves. They claim that there’s blurred lines when it comes to justified use of such measures and when there’s not. Maybe they’re right, but if these measures have the potential to assist women to defend themselves then it is worth allowing.
If we can recognise that men and feminists are united in the belief that men are fundamentally decent and capable of making our world better, we can go a long way towards understanding rather than division.
No one wins if we cannot meet in the middle and listen, and as we saw this week, the consequences of obstinacy and hatred can prove fatal.