Men Must Act Now to Help Liberate All People of Marginalised Genders From the Patriarchy

In light of the conversations sparked by the recent death of Sarah Everard and ongoing misogynistic police brutality, Lou Avey reflects on the role that men should be playing to liberate all people of marginalised genders from the patriarchy.

WORDS Lou Avey
IMAGES Courtesy of Lou Avey

The intersection of International Women’s Day and the display of patriarchal police brutality at the vigil to honour Sarah Everard’s life has encouraged a greater number of individuals to engage in ongoing conversations around the violence enacted by men against people of marginalised genders. However, one question remains pertinent yet often just out of reach – what should men be doing to make society safer for women? The answer is simple, everything – everything that women, non-binary people and femmes have been doing for decades.

From the text messages checking that friends have arrived home safely, to women supporting one another by reporting their rapists and abusers, these conversations have always been prevalent among those who experience misogyny. However, many in privileged positions were not listening or engaging; and now that they are, we need them to take real action.

Over the past week, there have been vigils, protests and riots across the UK – in London, Newcastle, Manchester and Bristol – partly in resistance to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that was recently introduced in Parliament by the UK Government. On 21 March, as riots took place in Bristol, a demonstration was held across Newcastle town. Organised by Reclaim These Streets, Stop Asian Hate UK, Sister Sister and other activist groups, it began in Monument Square, moving onto Civic Centre, and finishing in Exhibition Park. This vigil, march and poetry protest was peaceful from start to finish, yet three people were still arrested by the police. As protestors cried out “this is what democracy looks like”, “protect trans women” and “sisters united, will never be defeated”, police stormed the crowds on foot, by horse or in their vans.

Finally, protestors gathered on top of the hill in Exhibition Park, while the police cut us off at the base. Yet, even though we were still surrounded, for a few hours it felt as though everyone could breathe –there was time for us to take up space, for once. Around thirty people shared their experiences with the group, in a healing community union, through speeches, poetry or spoken word. Activist groups, poetry collectives, school children, all came together to support one another in sharing their experiences. BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), trans, and non-binary people were able to speak, cry, perform, and share freely. Everyone was bound by a common cause – they had experienced violence at the hands of men and they wanted this violence to stop.

Speaking to the crowd, a 59-year-old woman said “I’m so sad that this is still happening.” A 15-year-old girl cried on the microphone saying “I am terrified to walk the streets at night and the patriarchal government is doing nothing about it.” A woman at the vigil quoted Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Another said, “if you steal the night you steal the stars” in reference to her favourite Shakespeare play and how she wishes she could run safely at night.

While the momentum sparked by Sarah Everard’s death reassures me that perhaps she hasn’t died in vain, I am left thinking about the countless other women who will never receive the same acknowledgement or public outrage. The 97% of women aged 18-24 in the UK who have been sexually harassed. The women that are assaulted every six seconds in their homes in Britain. These statistics were gathered through a survey carried out on female participants, asking them if they’d ever experienced sexual harassment or abuse. However, if the survey had asked men if they’ve ever perpetrated this violence, it would not be surprising if the figures did not match up. With many men engaging with such behaviour unknowingly, it is clear that the sex and relationship curriculum needs to educate young boys at schools on enthusiastic consent and boundaries, so that they understand the nuances at a young age before they inflict harm on others during sexual encounters.

Language is powerful, yet our language around sexist crimes is often passive, mitigating the violence to a degree. Thus, while it is hardly surprising that 97% of women are survivors, it is somehow still shocking to imagine the countless perpetrators of these crimes. However, these men aren’t mystery vigilantes or lone wolves; the most common perpetrator is the everyday man. “Violence against women” is so passive that men aren’t even present in that statement, and they need to be; it would be more accurate to reframe the term as “sexist violent crimes by men”.

While not all men are rapists, murderers or manipulators, they do all profit from the same oppressive systems that allow some men to commit crimes and avoid prosecution.

Every woman I know has been impacted by assault, rape or abuse at the hands of a man;. every woman I know has a story where they’ve either experienced this violence, witnessed it or supported someone through it. While this is often a common bonding or healing experience, women can no longer stand in for a justice system that fails to protect us.

Even if these crimes are reported, there is often no conviction of the abuser. This is especially apparent in cases of coercive control, which is very difficult to prove through the UK’s current justice system, even when tried alongside allegations of rape and battery. In these cases, Clare’s Law empowers women to make an informed decision on whether to break up with their partner based on available information about their criminal record history. Clare’s Law needs to be widely advertised so that it no longer remains a secret that women only come to know about when they urgently need it.

Clare’s Law was passed in 2014 after Clare Wood was murdered by her ex-partner who had a criminal record. However, the rates of women and people of marginalised genders facing domestic abuse at the hands of partners have since still been overwhelming and on the rise. According to women’s aid, the police receive a domestic violence-related call every 30 seconds. In 2019, there were 1.32 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes reported to police, of which 746,219 were deemed to be domestic abuse-related criminal offences; in that same year, there were only 78,624 prosecutions and 60,160 convictions for domestic-abuse related crimes. Of the 270 female victims of domestic homicide for to 2018, the suspect  was a man in 260 cases.

Gendered violence affects all women, but it impacts some communities more than others – the BIPoC, trans and non-binary people who suffer violence by men daily do not have the same access to justice. Protesters in Newcastle voiced that the police don’t do anything to help these victims who are assaulted, murdered or raped by men. The police don’t protect all women and people of marginalised genders. They didn’t protect me when I needed them to, and they don’t protect you.

One thing was clear from the words spoken at the demonstration – we are all terrified. Trans women who see their sisters getting murdered whilst prominent rich white cis individuals debate their existence. Trans men and non-binary people who were socialised as women and grew up experiencing gendered violence through a binary lens. Queer men who are kissed on nights out without consent, who are plied with alcohol and drugs, and sexually assaulted. Misogyny is epidemic; men should care actively about addressing an issue that is affecting over half of the population. There were an overwhelming number of white male journalists, reporters, and videographers present at the protest – they will profit off women’s suffering, but will they go beyond that to aid our liberation?

There is not one right way to be an ally, but there is an urgent need to do something to help, anything.

It shouldn’t have to take any more lost lives, statistics or facts to prove to men that this is an issue that impacts every person of a marginalised gender in society. Assault and murder of marginalised people at the hands of men is happening every day, not just on the streets but also within our homes. All men benefit from the patriarchy and those who still continue to stay silent are complicit in this violence.

In the past week I have looked closely at the relationships with the men in my life – all queer, all wonderful, all beautiful, and still I am disappointed. They could be doing more. Men need to change, do better and be active allies. There is not one right way to be an ally, but there is an urgent need to do something to help, anything. Along with educating themselves through feminist literature, podcasts and research, men could also educate one another on the basics of male privilege, enthusiastic consent and boundaries. In the same token, white middle-class able-bodied cishet women could pass the mic to those less privileged than them; even though the patriarchy harms them, it harms more marginalised people to a greater extent and in a plethora of ways.

Ultimately, allyship begins at home. I would like to see men speaking with their grandads, dads, sons – unlearning the years of patriarchy before it causes more harm to people of marginalised genders. I would like to see them defending their Nana, mum and sister when they’re there and when they’re not; defending all women, even if they are not related to them. The privileged can also reach places that the marginalised are excluded from – courtrooms, national television boardrooms, men’s locker rooms – and it is what they do to instigate constructive conversations and radical change in these spaces that will be indicative of their place in the current movement.

With so many men showing up to the protests, this is the perfect opportunity for them to use that momentum for good. We can no longer sugar-coat or spoon-feed information to be palatable; there needs to be complete systematic and structural change in the way men view women and people of marginalised genders. This is not just a “women’s issue” debated in Parliament; it isn’t tampon tax or abortion. This is a woman being murdered travelling home from a friend’s house. This is a woman walking with keys between her fingers in broad daylight. This is a woman being told how to look, dress, act, for her safety, to not invite unwanted attention. All by men. This is a men’s issue.

It shouldn’t have taken the deaths of countless women and large-scale protests for the world to look up. But now that you’re looking, how will you actively make the world a safer place for us?

As the sun sets over the hill in Exhibition Park, one poetry performer recites “this is ugly, there is no beauty here, this is not the time for beauty and likeability, the least I can do is be ugly in the face of vicious misogyny. If you insist on making the world ugly for women then kneel down, look into the river, and you will see us, rotting faces, showing you the reflection of what you have created” (sic).

Through this sentiment, I feel connected to the feminine more than ever before – to my best friend holding my hand, to my sister who I cried on the phone to that morning, to my mother who is no longer here, to my ex-girlfriend who is the bravest, kindest person I know; and as I look across to the river, I see the faces of my sisters, rotting, angry, hurt. Yet, it is also a perfect reminder that hope lives here, at the protests and vigils, in the eyes of the courageous people in attendance. The exhausted, brave, courageous women, non-binary people and femmes – people who need conscious allyship, now.

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