At a recent London rap battle, a male rapper thought it would be a good idea to shoot the following words towards his female sparring partner: "After this, in the alley you're gonna get raped."
Although it was voiced in an environment where almost any insult goes, the threat produced angry waves across the crowd, causing Nihal, a male BBC radio presenter, to jump into the ring and confront the rapper.
It has been suggested that it wasn’t Nihal’s place to get involved, that he should have left the female rapper to deal with it herself, and there are those who argue that the fight to end gender inequality is a battle that men should stay away from – that male involvement is an insult to female proficiency.
Although I’ve felt strongly about inequality since I hit my teenage years, I was a bit slow to cotton on to the fact that I’m a feminist – mainly because I thought it was an ‘anti-man’ thing. This was a problem because I really wanted to be like Wesley Crusher off ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, and how could I be anti that guy? (I was so enthusiastic that my mum actually made me a Star Trek uniform. I know that probably sounds a bit sad, but er… I was so cool that I was effectively wearing a onesie at least 15 years before it became trendy.)
Since having the revelation that I am in fact a feminist (much to the amusement of my family who had known this for about 10 years beforehand and not bothered to tell me), I’ve realised that the fight against inequality isn’t ‘anti-male’ at all.
The thing is, we won’t see radical change until every part of society sees this as their problem too. Gender inequality isn’t just a problem for women, it’s a problem for all of us. It’s not just a female issue – it’s a human issue. Labelling gender inequality exclusively as a ‘women’s issue’ can offer men an excuse to dismiss it as nothing to do with them.
There are certain parts of our culture that are still male-dominated, where there is male apathy or blatant animosity towards fighting sexism – either because women are not present in those situations, or because some men simply don’t care about what a woman has to say on this issue. This does my head in, but it’s the unfortunate status quo. Take for example the Tory front bench or working men's clubs, or brothels. Here, whether we like it or not, women are sidelined, we need the men on the inside to speak out.
Men who think it’s OK to casually threaten a woman with rape need to hear other men – alongside women – challenge that. We need to create a cultural climate where abusive behaviour and sexism are seen as unacceptable. One of the best outcomes from that rap battle was the immediate outrage of the crowd – both women and men voiced their dissent and the rapper lost status as a result.
Let me be upfront: it is not easy. Standing up can come at a cost. The many courageous women who have spoken out in spite of threats, insults, and internet trolling know this too well. But the alternative is to allow our silence to act as a form of consent to what we’re witnessing.
To the men reading this, there are things you can do. Have the courage to speak up if your female colleague receives lesser pay for doing the same job, or when your friend throws out a sexist comment. It’s not about implying that women don’t have the capacity to stand up for themselves – it’s about stepping up and saying that this is not OK. Get involved, because this battle will end sooner if we fight it together.