Almost all the woman in my life have at some point told me about various forms of sexual harassment, abuse and violence they have suffered and keep on suffering. Sometimes they have been groped while I have been with them – literally stood next to them in crowded bar – and they have told me afterwards. In almost all these cases, their primary concern has been for how I would take it. They didn’t want to tell me at the time in case I got angry and caused a commotion or they were worried about how I would feel, about my pride. Somehow, even in women talking about abuse, it seems men’s feelings are more important.
As a son, a brother and a husband I am ashamed to represent a threat to a woman on the top deck of a bus on her own, or walking down the street late at night. Not because I am, but because in a world where all the woman I know have been abused in one way or another, all men represent a risk.
The ongoing sexual violence against woman feels as ingrained in our social system, defined by a long and ignoble patriarchal history, as the ongoing racism experienced by my friends and colleagues of colour is connected with our legacy of colonialism. Similarly the homophobia, dressed up as freedom of speech, that my gay friends including my brother-in-law and his partner are being treated to in Australia, still pulls on religious prejudice from 2000 years ago to argue against the overwhelming equality of love.
But none of this is inevitable. The future is not determined. We may be creatures of habit, choosing our next step from within a web of a thousand historical, cultural, economic and genetic factors, but change happens. It is real. It is slow. But the march of progress is inevitable. The people united will never be defeated. Let’s be better than this. J x