By Kirsten McLintock, Head of Wellbeing & PSHE
As Head of Wellbeing I’ve watched and listened with interest to our students’ responses in the aftermath of the Sarah Everard’s killing. I’m so very proud of Block 5 student Bella Cutts who organised the wearing of red for the day to highlight sexual violence experienced by women. Savvy use of social media meant Bella was able to spread the action and schools such as Marlborough, Beneden and Teddies took up the red wearing baton later in the week. Contributions to an art exhibition in the Quad this week were moving, articulate, harrowing and rightly laced with fury. The women of Bedales are formidable.
The voices of our boys and men are vital to social change within the Bedales community and society. It is these voices we now need to advocate, intervene and upstand in support of women. The Wellbeing curriculum challenges the normative binary dialogue surrounding consent, rape culture, pornification and sexism.
The need to do more to reduce violence against women is now widely agreed. But for progress to be made, one of the central issues has to be about men, male attitudes and actions, and what men need to do.
What should men do in these circumstances? “Man’s silence around issues of sexist language and behaviours is of concern,” says Graham Goulden, former policeman and trainer in violence prevention. “Whilst many men as individuals possess healthy views of women, their views on what their friends think is often skewed. Men often misperceive that friends support sexist views which leads to them either joining in or saying nothing. This leads to a perfect storm of non-abusive men doing nothing, and abusive men acting with impunity.”
One fundamental is that men – whether they think of themselves as liberal, progressive or enlightened – need to stop being defensive and making excuses. Educator, filmmaker and author Jackson Katz has worked on gender-based violence and wider inequalities and stresses that men (as well as women) saying “not all men” in debates on male violence are not being constructive. “I keep hearing people saying: ‘Not all men!’ To which I would say: if you have the impulse to say ‘not all men’, don’t. It’s silly, and it’s not a good look.”
This is not just about semantics: “Because, yes, although men are more likely to die violently than women, and yes, not all men are violent, there’s no doubt that the overwhelming majority of violence that happens between the genders happens by men against women. And the vast majority of violence that men suffer is at the hands of other men.”
Men have to recognise and call out sexism in other men. This became – in the work of Katz – known as the ‘bystander principle’, whereby men take responsibility and challenge the problem behaviour of other men; not leaving it to women or leaving it in silence, thinking it can always be passed off as somebody else’s problem.
Men need to think about how to challenge other men, whether it is the jokes that nearly everyone laughs at, and what is called ‘locker room banter’. The first thing that individuals can do is to stop separating the likes of rape and ‘sexist banter’, states Katz. “They are connected and addressing the banter will help reduce the violence we read about in the media. Abusive men often think their attitudes are supported. That needs to change. Men should speak to women in their lives.”
There has to be an understanding that male entitlement and resentment towards women are two sides of the same thing, and that hate, sexism and misogyny are learned behaviour. In the words of Katz, these are reinforced and reproduced by “media culture, sports culture, peer culture and porn culture” until it becomes mainstream and part of the norm of what it is to be a man.
Violence and problematic male behaviour is not just about the individual, but about societal norms and hence it is the responsibility of all of us, and in particular, all men. Silence is not an option but is in reality collusion, it is complicit consent. Women and men need men to have the courage to speak up, to listen to women, and to challenge other men.
Dr Jackson Katz discusses why all men need to be part of ending violence against women, and what they can do to help, listen to the podcast here.