“Not all men”

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.

International Women’s Day – more important than ever

By Matilda McMorrow, Librarian

Warning: The following extract contains sensitive information on sexual assault, attack and rape.

Following the killing of Sarah Everard and subsequent events last week, I want to highlight the importance of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month as part of the conversation.

We have an epidemic of femicide in this country. As pointed out in parliament by Jess Phillips MP, in the week after Sarah Everard was first reported missing, a further six women and a little girl were reported as being killed at the hands of men. As Phillips said: “It’s not particularly rare and it’s a fear that women live with. It’s an everyday thing.”

A man kills a woman every three days in this country. This figure increased during the first lockdown.*

The idea that women need to do the work to fix their fear of this has been emphasised in the police and press response to the recent murder of Sarah Everard. We are reminded not to walk the streets alone, not to go out after dark, to be cautious, to be afraid, to obey rules. We mould ourselves to work around the whims of men who might decide to hurt us. We are made to believe that men being dangerous is both an inevitability – the risk will always be there – and also somehow a strange outlier. We’re told the dangerous ones are ‘weirdos’, not like the normal men you know. It’s not normal men’s fault that there are dangerous ones around.

This danger is not inevitable. Men can choose not to be attackers, they can be taught to make better choices, they can intervene when other men display dangerous attitudes. The prevailing attitudes of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies can be counteracted in society. Even prosecuting more men who attack women, so there are consequences for their actions, would be a start.

And the men who attack women are not ‘weirdos’, a separate other group. They are the people we know. In 87% of cases where women are killed by men, they know their attacker (Office for National Statistics, 2020).  In 70% of cases, it happens in the woman’s own home.

Violence against women is frequently in the form of sexual assault or rape. In 2017, the latest year for which figures are available, the Office for National Statistics estimated that 3.4m women had been victims of sexual assault in their lives. That’s about 54 times the number of men. This included one million who had been raped, or had faced attempted rape. The justice system is failing women on this front. The cases of women being raped by men that get to court are actually decreasing year on year (CPS, 2020). Less than 3% of the rapes reported to the police are prosecuted. The majority of men in positions of power are doing little to improve this. In fact, they often perpetuate the damaging attitudes that lead to attacks.  Our own Prime Minister has been consistently quoted throughout his career objectifying and dehumanising women.

We need International Women’s Day for the reason it was created in 1910: to press for our demands. A whole day dedicated to international discussion of women’s rights, and active campaigning for those rights, which are still being withheld in this country as well as globally. On International Women’s Day in 1914, Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak about women’s right to vote in Trafalgar Square. Only a couple of days after International Women’s Day 2021, a group of COVID-masked and distanced women on Clapham Common, who were mourning the dead and speaking about violence against women, were attacked by police. Many were arrested on no legal basis.

When we are reminded of the enormity of the task in front of us, that is when we need to be reminded of our power for change. Women’s achievements are all the more impressive for the crimes against our sex committed daily, in our own homes.

Of course we want to celebrate women’s achievements every single day, but on International Women’s Day and during Women’s History Month let’s make it tenfold. We are reminded of the fight that lies ahead, so let’s be reminded we have the power to win. 
* If you’re wondering, it is in stark contrast to the numbers of men that women kill. Women don’t tend to kill anyone. 9/10 killers are men (Femicide Census 2021).

Working together for positive change

By Leila Issa and Charlie Kitchen, 6.1

The following extract contains sensitive information on sexual assault and rape.

Over the past week in the UK there has been widespread reaction throughout society following the murder of Sarah Everard. Sarah was a 33-year-old marketing executive, who was kidnapped whilst walking home from her friend’s house in Clapham, South London. She was last seen on CCTV footage on 3 March, calling her boyfriend. Her body was found a week later in Kent, 60 miles from where she was last seen. She was kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered.

Sarah’s tragic story has inspired many victims of sexual assault to come forward with their testimonies. One online platform, Everyone’s Invited, has allowed victims from schools across the country to come forward anonymously with their experiences of sexual assault, including one testimony from a former Bedales student.

Everyone’s Invited was founded in June 2020 by a former Wycombe Abbey student, Soma Sara, after sharing her personal experience of rape culture via Instagram. Within a week she received and shared over 300 anonymous responses, reaching over 10,000 people. The website now has more than 4,100 testimonies, including accounts from girls as young as nine. Her website continues to share anonymous testimonies as well as advice for victims, and calls for reform of the education system to include more detail on consent. All information can be found at https://everyonesinvited.uk.

On Monday Bedales students came together as a community to discuss how we can support victims of any sexual assault, and how we can revisit our curriculum to reflect more accurately contemporary issues of widespread sexual violence in society. It was incredible to see so many students turn up who were willing to have an open conversation on an extremely difficult and stigmatised topic. Given that Bedales is an independent school, we have the ability to influence the way our wellbeing lessons and school curriculum work. We can give much more prominence to education about sexual misconduct and the complex issue of consent.

We want to work with Magnus and the staff to help develop the opportunities there are for education around consent and the varying laws on confidentiality followed by the staff who work at the school supporting students (house parents, counsellors, doctors, and teachers). 

On Tuesday many students and staff wore red clothing to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault, an initiative taken up by other schools, and Art students are planning a mixed media exhibition to go in the Quad centred on the theme of sexual assault, which will merge written testimony with representation.

To all survivors of sexual assault: we see you, we hear you, we believe you, and we support you.