4 ways men can be better allies to women

Experts tell Katie Wright how men can support women.

Katie Wright
Thursday 18 March 2021 11:50 GMT
Sarah Everard death
Sarah Everard death

Sarah Everard’s death has sparked an outpouring from women sharing their experiences of harassment and feeling unsafe.

It’s shocking how common incidences are – research from UN Women UK found 80% of women of all ages have been sexually harassed in public, rising to 97% for those aged 18 to 24.

What is encouraging is that, in light of this tragic case, many men are now asking themselves an important question: what can I do to help?

“I’ve had male friends recently ask me, due to the publicity around the case, what they can do,” says Emma Sayle, founder of SafeDate app and networking platform Sistr. “When [men] actually stop and think about it and when they engage with women about this, they suddenly realise what it is that [women] have had to put up with, pretty much on a daily basis.”

So what can men do to make sure they’re part of the solution, not the problem?

1. Never victim-blame

Sarah Everard death

“Women have always known about victim-blaming, sadly it has taken the Sarah Everard case for some men to also acknowledge its existence,” says Paula Rhone-Adrien, a leading barrister. “The reaction from a significant number of men was to firstly question why Ms Everard had been walking on her own at night, instead of questioning why the accused, who was alleged to have assaulted others before, was permitted to work and be free to roam the community.”

The sad fact is, assault can happen at any time, anywhere. Asking questions about what the victim was wearing, whether they’d been drinking or whether it was ‘safe’ to take a certain route, suggests a victim is somehow responsible for what happened to them, rather than the perpetrator of the crime.

2. Challenge sexist behaviour

It’s one thing to ensure you don’t make sexist comments yourself, but if you really want to help, you need to go one step further and challenge others, whether at home, work or in public.

“We must all call out the sexism around us, make, ‘That’s not cool’ a thing,” says Sayle. We all know “in our guts” when we see bad behaviour, she continues, for instance, “when you hear mates talking inappropriately. When men hear other men in the street saying comments to women, when they see them leering and abusing girls and women.”

“Speak up!” she continues. “Make it an automatic response and don’t stay silent.”

3. Listen and amplify

Rather than thinking ‘I should stay out of it’, men can help by engaging with women on the topic of harassment, to better understand their experiences.

Sayle says: “Men need to listen to women. Don’t make this about you and your insecurities, don’t get defensive for ‘manfolk’, listen to women with an open mind and empathy, and understand why we are angry and why we feel as we do. We don’t hate men, but we do hate being harrassed, raped, abused and murdered.”

And if a woman you know tells you they’ve been assaulted, Rhone-Adrien says you can support her by “helping her to report the incident, help her to talk about the experience, either with you or a professional body. And never allow her to feel as if she is to blame.”

4. Beware of toxic masculinity

Beyond your own actions, if you want to make meaningful change, consider how you can help stop the cycle of ‘toxic masculinity’ and cultural norms that dictate men must act a certain ‘manly’ way.

“There needs to be a conscious move from dads to small boys, to change the cycle right from the start,” says Sayle. “Toxic masculinity is ingrained into boys and it’s done without thought; it needs rewiring. We have to stop the pressure for young men and boys ‘to be a man’, to ‘man up’, to squash emotions.”

Talking to your children or younger relatives at an appropriate age about concepts like victim-blaming and the need to stand up to sexism, can help them become better allies. Sayle adds:”We must stop the ‘boys will be boys’ narrative so they take responsibility and are taught from an early age about consent, respect, and boundaries.”

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