“My life has been one long risk assessment.” For most of us men, ours hasn’t, and we need to recognise what that means.
Short thought: I remember a time – I was about 12 – when a couple of older boys strolled past me in the street, saying something rude (I was a nerdy, skinny kid). I kept walking, kept my head down. Then I heard them turn and start following me. I sped up a bit. So did they. I heard them catching up.
So I started running. So did they. I wasn’t a good runner, but I poured every gramme of energy into my legs. They were right behind me. I was terrified. I realised a friend’s house was only a few dozen steps away. I made it to the open gate, ran through to ring the bell, and heard them slow and walk past just as the door opened.
To this day, I’ve no idea what prompted the incident. I’ve rarely been more scared.
And even in the light of that, I will never, ever truly be able to understand what many if not most women go through, day after day after day. The intrusion. The unwelcome attention. The fear, the foreboding, the painful and exhausting need for constant awareness of all that’s around you.
Most of us men don’t get it. And most of us, however hard we try, simply can’t. As one woman on Twitter put it recently:
This was in answer to a thread that I imagine many if not most women will relate to, describing repeated and utterly inexplicable (at least for any reasonable reason) levels of unwanted attention and intrusion from men of every age and position. For no other reason than that they were men and the object of their attention was a woman; and that, to them, gave them licence.
Some of the male responses, of course, were predictably disastrous: be more careful; teach your daughters how to stay unobtrusive. Others sought to be helpful, talking about learning to “own your space”. Missing the point, gents: some of us, too many of us, create a threat environment that makes it simply unsafe for women to ignore male presence in many spaces.
My recognition of this reality for women means I absolutely support the existence of women-only spaces. It’s not discriminatory for women to want places where people like me don’t belong. It’s simply safety. The chance to let the guard down. To relax. To not be exhausted. At least for a while.
And – while I know I’m entering a minefield here – it also means that while I’m just as much for trans people’s rights as I am for anyone else’s, I don’t see as inherently discriminatory the idea that women born as women might need, still, to carve out corners of the world which are theirs alone. If you’ve grown up as a child, a teenager, a woman with this as your lived experience, what right do I have, knowing nothing of how that constant risk assessment will grind at your soul, to deny you a place where the shoulders can drop, the breath be released and the walls come down?
This isn’t an “all men are awful” thing, either. It’s not a shout against all possessors of a Y chromosome. Hell, I’m one. I’m sure I’ve inadvertently made women uncomfortable at times in the past, and I’m sorry for that. But that doesn’t make me evil.
All it does do is put an obligation on me to recognise this reality. To account for it. To watch my conduct and consider how, without meaning to, I might be ringing someone’s alarm bells. And to stand up in support if I see other men behaving like this.
This isn’t “compromising my freedom”. It’s not me being woke. It isn’t PC gone mad.
It’s about me caring about other human beings. Owning my actions.
Frankly? It’s about being a man.
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