I wrote last week about the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore. The murder has gripped the country in a way that no other one has in recent years, indeed my Dad thinks no murder in his lifetime has gripped the country in such a way (and he’s 80+, so…)
It has also sparked a conversation about the responsibilities of men, and how the vast majority of violence instigators, whether it ends up being against women or not, whether it ends up being murder or not, are men. And there is a lot of backlash against this. There are men out there who can’t believe their friends would do such a thing. There’s no one in their circles who talk like that. There’s no one that they would associate with that would do or think such things. And yet… there are also men who think that coming along to a vigil for a dead woman and drowning out the speakers with a “Men’s Rosary” is appropriate. There are men in the country that think coming to an online vigil for the same dead woman and masturbating on camera is appropriate. There are men who think now is the time to start shouting over women to make sure everyone is aware that #notallmen.
All men benefit from the men who do these things, and who eventually move on to murder. Yes, all men. It trains women. It trains us to be quiet. It trains us to be careful. It trains us to not raise our voices, not speak out, not be noticed. It keeps us nicely in our places. And all while the majority of men in this world, not just in this country, can sit back and pat themselves on the back for clearing the lowest of possible bars for decency. By not inflicting violence on women. Yippee. Well done.
Now on to the serious work.
It starts with the absolute basics of life. Treat women as fully emancipated, fully competent, fully deserving human beings, worthy of respect, courtesy and all the other basics attributed to human beings. I’m not even going to go into how much worse women of colour,
transwomen trans women*, poor women, chronically ill women, women with different abilities, neurodivergent women all have to contend with. Frankly, as a white woman, who has a reasonable salary, good education, is native to the land she lives on, is in the majority religion of said country, who speaks the language of said country (both of them!), cishet, and mostly reasonably healthy, I’m doing pretty damn well. If only I’d had the sense to go into a profession that was woman dominated, I’d be grand really.
But I’d still be at more risk that any man out there. And that’s the catch.
We train women from birth to be nice, to not make a fuss, to work in the background, to keep the peace. We speak to our daughters, our nieces, our younger colleagues about the strategies to use, to always have some running away money, to always have an escape route, to always plan ahead for late nights and journeys home, even if it’s only a few hundred yards, to “text when you get home safe”. We think about the shoes we wear, the clothes we wear, the places we go in ways that men simply don’t.
We train women to expect their consent not to be asked for. And that has to change.
It needs to change from the absolute smallest things – ask before hugging someone, ask before sending someone a private message on social media, ask before robbing a chip off the plate. Respect women’s autonomy, bodily, emotionally, spiritually. Ask before engaging in their space.
In the Brigid’s Forge facebook group, we have a rule that often confuses some people – no unsolicited private messages. That means asking permission before sending someone a PM. People question this rule a lot. They can’t see the point of it, they can’t see the problem with simply sending someone a PM. A PM can be just ignored, right? Well so can wolf whistling and catcalling. So can gestures made in the street. So can harassment at work. But it all takes energy to ignore. It all takes effort to ignore and deal with. And it’s the same with a PM.
So many of us get so many unsolicited PMs in all social media, it’s an intrusion. People, and in my experience, it’s mostly men, seem to think they are allowed to intrude into anyone they like. And honestly, most of the messages are along the lines of “Hello beautiful”, “Hi your photo looks so interesting”. It’s pure bullshit. Plus – my photo on Facebook is at least 10yrs old if not more. And even blocking and deleting these people takes time and energy to do. And sometimes, just sometimes, it would be great to go into my PMs and not see a pile of requests from people wanting something from me. Because a PM is a demand for attention. It’s an assumption that the person you’re writing to will respond. Not responding is “rude”. After all, the sender was being polite and pleasant, that’s what women want right?
Lowest. Bar. Possible.
It’s #notallmen of course, sometimes I get PMs from people interested in Brigid and my other work, and those are sometimes unsolicited as well. I get the ones telling me I have no clue about Brigid and should get back in my box. I get more insidiously horrible ones as well. I get patronising ones. I get downright abusive ones.
It doesn’t really matter what sort of content is in it, anytime I see a new message request, my heart sinks. And it’s an effort to deal with it. And sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, but really, the % of times that happens is low.
And really, how is asking for permission to send a PM that much of an intrusion into the sender’s life? They want to make contact and are asking the most appropriate way to do it – why can that not be done through a quick question in a group or a contact form? Why must the initial “Hey I have a question, I’d like to PM you about, is that ok?” be PM itself? (There are exceptions for every rule – I mean, I say in the Brigid’s Forge group that if someone has a question about whether to post something or if someone is in a situation they don’t want made public, but need to get out of, then PMing is fine, but that exception is not there for everyone in the group, just for me and is limited to the group)
It’s a really small thing and people might be questioning how I can be linking unsolicited PMs to the murder of a woman, but it’s all a spectrum of lack of awareness and lack of respect. If we teach our boys and young men to heed boundaries like not intruding on people’s private messages without permission, they might start to get the idea that they are not entitled to put forward their opinions on women’s lives, bodies, dress, etc at any point. They are not entitled to lay hands on women. They are not entitled to attention from women. They are not entitled to any benefit from just treating women as human. They are not entitled to vent their frustrations on women. They are not entitled to treat women as objects at any point. They are not entitled to murder women.
Can you see it? Can you see how changing these small, seemingly inconsequential things can lead to bigger changes? Can you see how respecting boundaries is important?
* It was pointed out to me that “trans” is an adjective to be put in front of the noun not a part of the noun itself. So I corrected it.