The topic of sexism and sexual harassment has been recently amplified due to the killing of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, Offaly. She was on a run in broad daylight along a popular greenway when she was attacked. Unfortunately, occurrences like this are not that uncommon. Femicides happen at a worryingly frequent rate. Every day 137 women are killed by a member of their family (UN Women, 2019). Since 1996, 244 women have died violently in the Republic of Ireland.
Things need to change
This is a problem that has been lingering in our society for far too long. It is not enough for us to keep saying that this is an unsolvable problem – it can be solved, and must be addressed now. Men are the main causes of this problem and therefore men have to be a part of the solution. We cannot expect women to solve a problem that is not their fault in the first place. So many resources are put in to help protect women yet the most effective way and easiest way to solve this issue in my opinion is to educate men.
What is sexual harassment?
Before I go any further I would like to note the definition of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is defined as conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person. This “unwanted conduct” includes:
- Spoken words
- Gestures – including offensive gestures or facial expressions
- Production and display of written words, pictures, and other material.
I believe that ignorance is a huge factor that comes with sexual harassment. Many men might not know what does or does not classify as being sexual harassment and they often can believe that what they are doing is respectful and not degrading to women. I feel that the most common form of this is catcalling. Catcalling was common in television and movies for a rather long period of time. People are easily influenced by pop culture and if they see something happen on the screen regularly, it can easily slip into real life without people questioning what they are actually doing.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment education
This is where education comes in. I am a firm believer that education is the best way to make a positive change in society. Education allows for active listening, awareness, and open conversations. It is the easiest way to help inform people which is always a positive thing. The problem with this is that education around this topic is inconsistent. Many people may think that it is an uncomfortable topic to teach young people, this is evident in how this issue is taught in schools. In your time at school, there may be two or three talks around the issue every few years and then that is it.
That is not enough. There needs to be a complete revamp in the way that sexual education is taught in our schools. Also, nearly every topic that is taboo is uncomfortable to talk about at first. The only way to make it comfortable is to actually talk about it.
Inclusive and open conversations
Another major issue that I have noticed is that some men do tend to get defensive when this issue is being raised. When the topic of sexual harassment is brought up and when women are brave and tell their stories, the common retort used by some is “Not all men.” Of course, it is not all men. The majority of men are good people. However, while it may not be all men, it is nearly all women. A study by UN Women found that 97% of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. Men tend to respond with “Not all men” if they feel like they are being personally targeted, which is rarely ever the case. Instead of becoming defensive, it wouldn’t hurt to listen to the women in your life. If they are opening up or just trying to educate others, do not reduce the conversation to “Not all men”.
Another common response is, “It doesn’t only happen to women.” This is of course correct. Sexual harassment happens to people of all genders and sexual orientations. However, I think men only bring up men’s issues in response to a woman talking about women’s issues, as an effort to make her issues seem like less of a big deal. This is of course an awful thing to do and men need to learn the right times to bring up issues of our own.
There are plenty of ways that men can help turn things around. These include, but are not limited to:
- Listen to the women in your life
- Talk to the men in your life
- Be an active bystander
- Stop victim-blaming
- Report sexual harassment if you see in
- Start open conversations with the women in their life
- Avoid getting defensive
- Call out your friends’ toxic behaviour
As men, we must do more to make women feel safer. We must educate ourselves and try our best to become the solution to this issue. I’m going to finish with a quote from actor and writer Daniel Sloss, “I believe and deep down I know most men are good. But when one in ten men are bad and the other nine do nothing, they might as well not be there.”
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