Paula's Place

Paula's Place

Thursday, 18 March 2021

I'm not holding my Breath

Lets' be honest, I'm not posting much simply because not much is happening in my life ~ which makes me pretty much the same as everybody else in the Country! Generally, like most people, at the moment my life consists of work, eat, sleep, repeat. Maybe there is the odd interlude of some shopping but that's about it. Mostly I try not to comment on the big news stories, or the political situations ~ I'm quite sure there are other much better informed commenters than me to do that. However I am now going to make an exception.

Following the tragic death of Sarah Everard, and the arrest of a serving Policeman in connection with her murder there has been a lot of discussion about male violence against women, about attitudes that make it seem OK for some men to abuse women, about the impact of pornography, social media and single sex spaces. Much of this I am simply not qualified to comment on, but what I am qualified to comment is on my own personal experience ~ experience gained while being identified as a woman, and as a man.

I remember one day talking with my wife and daughter about the verbal sexual abuse they got on a regular basis, at the time my daughter was in her mid teens, they both told me that yes they regularly got cat called, and worse, that they felt uncomfortable or even unsafe walking around the suburb we lived in on their own. While I knew them both to be totally honest I found it hard to believe what I was hearing ~ I just didn't see any of this. I was soundly told "of course you don't see it, they don't do it when you're around!" At the time I appeared to be a robust respectable middle aged man, perhaps a bit fitter and more physically powerful than most, I appeared self confident, a pillar of the community ~ of course they weren't going to behave like that when I was about.

Looking back further I only recall two incidents when I was of aware of a man behaving in what was to me an unacceptable way towards women in my presence. One was when I was giving a lift home to a member of my rugby team, he was a little drunk and was handling it poorly. Leaning out of the window and cat calling at women we passed ~ a couple of times I had to tell him to behave, when he failed I stopped the car and threw him out. I didn't give him a lift again! The other occasion was when I was doing casual work for a removals company ~ all the staff were casual and most of us were just earning some extra money as we tried to establish ourselves in some other field (in my case music) a lad in his mid twenties, not much younger than I was at the time, started working there he was a good worker, strong and with some experience. One day he was assigned to work with me and another chap, as I was the driver I was in the role of supervisor, the job was fine, but as we were driving this lad again wanted to shout out at women as we drove past. He was incredulous when I told him to stop. Quite clearly this behaviour had been modeled to him, and shown to be socially acceptable, even entertaining!

Both these occasions had commonalities, the guys involved (although from very different social backgrounds) had no concept that what they were doing was wrong, nobody had previously told them it was not acceptable! I am also quite sure that if I had not been perceived to be physically dominant my approbation would not have had an impact; both would have said it was simply banter, a bit of fun, and that is all they would have seen.

Policing of the vigil on Clapham Common
Clearly it is up to men to stop other men behaving like these two idiots, it is also up to men to stop modeling bad behaviours, it is up to all of society to agree on and make it clear what is and what is not acceptable. This is not without risk, and that is why it is essential that politicians, police and community leaders take a lead ~ unfortunately I look at our politicians and see too much misogyny, too little or no  understanding of what it means to be frightened to walk down your own street at night, too little or no concept of just how much impact their own careless words can have on uncaring men, and frightened women alike. I look at the Police and see little trust in them, regardless of the fact that the main suspect in the murder of Sarah Everard is a serving police officer and the clumsy handling of the vigil in her memory, the record low in clear up rates of rape and sexual assaults have led to less trust in the Police, we know women are under reporting sexual assaults, just as trans people and others are underreporting hate crimes, simply because of lack of trust and lack of confidence that anything will be done. The Police as an institution need to up their game. 

After I transitioned my personal experience changed dramatically. I was no longer perceived as that powerful white man, I am by no means young or pretty, yet I have been subject to all sorts of abuse, from kerb crawlers, to more simple catcalls, I have been flashed and "felt up" ~ if anyone is unsure I can assure them that none of this is pleasant or funny! At first I thought I was getting my unfair share of this sort of thing because I am trans, but it has finally dawned on me that it is not because I'm Trans, it's because I am a woman, and this is part of what it means to be a woman in 21st century Britain!

I don't know, maybe if you have lived with this sort of thing all your life you get used to it, maybe it just becomes part of life, but not having experienced any of this type of abuse until I was in my 50s has been a shock, not just because of what it means to me, but because I am now properly aware of what other women have had to put up with all of their lives. I wonder how many men are like I was and simply can't understand just how prevalent and how horrible these behaviours are? But I am hoping that just as with "Me Too" and "Black lives Matter" society is approaching tipping point that will change thing, make the whole of society safe for everybody, open to and for everybody. I am hopeful, but I'm not holding my breath!


LL Cool Joe said...

Sadly society will never be safe because of the small percentage of sick people out there, both male and female that commit horrendous crimes.

Naty said...

It is complicated to understand each person's reasons for doing what they do. Surely these people are sure that they are doing the right thing. However, that is not a sufficient reason not to be tolerant of people who think or behave differently. It is simply not right. Hopefully as you say at some point things will change for the better and we will become part of a society that is more open and tolerant of differences.