40 Tips for Men: Tip #1
Respect a woman’s ‘No!’
This should be an easy one. It should be an unnecessary one. It should not have to be said, right?
Except that, having been married for ten years, just the stories i have heard from my wife, in two different countries [USA and SA] in bars and in the street and in living rooms and in restaurants and in churches and in spaces of learning and in non-profits and more, is that men do not get this.
Old men, young men, white man, black men, supposedly christian men and men of other faiths and no faith, there are various responses that involve continuing their words or behaviour, assuming the ‘No!’ is a ‘Yes’, assuming she is joking, thinking it doesn’t relate to them, or getting louder or more physical or abusive.
When a woman says ‘No!’ [and when a child or anyone else says “No!”] that should be it. Immediately. Definitively. Abruptly. With an apology perhaps and a stepping away to make sure your physical presence is letting her know it really is a “No!” No questions, no negotiating, no laughing, no misunderstanding. Just “No!”
It is that easy. We need to respect the “No!” when it is our child and we are tickling them ”just to have fun’; we need to respect the “No!” when a woman is sitting alone at a bar/restaurant or club and we walk up and try to start a conversation. We shouldn’t need to see her ring or her pepper spray or her keys clenched angrily between her fingers. We should be polite and courteous and back away quickly.
We need to be able to pick up the “No!” when it’s in her body language before we even get close enough to ask the question or drop the pick-up line or offer the drink. Respect the non-verbal “No!” so she doesn’t have to hope that her verbal “No!” will be enough.
And we need to help our friends and colleagues and perfect strangers respect the “No!” when it is clear they are not. Intervene, presence yourself, pick a fight if you absolutely need to [hopefully last resort!] but don’t let a “No!” be ignored in front of you.
Men, we need to start respecting the “No!” we hear from the women around us.
Tarryn Badenhorst: If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, it’s a no.
Women have been conditioned to be polite…totally agree with your point of reading body language – the unsaid no, discomfort etc. And also children having experienced abuse may never have said a verbal no during their abuse…be it due to fear or embarrassment or whatever. But this does not imply consent. Silence is not yes. Yes is yes.
Tamsyn Elaine Allison Consent: = ACTIVE, ENTHUSIASTIC, CONSISTENT!
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40 Tips for Men: Tip #2
Be aware of the threat your presence may suggest.
i remember leaving an Improv show two years ago and walking to my car. i just happened to be about three steps behind a woman who was walking in the same direction. Then suddenly it hit me, and i quickly crossed the street and walked very obviously ahead of her to my car.
i knew i wasn’t a threat in that moment – i knew i wasn’t going to hurt or harrass or follow or rape or kill her. But she didn’t. And she didn’t know me. And given the context of our country, she easily could have been fearful of me and it would have made absolute sense.
It was the easiest thing for me to be mindful of the threat i might cause and cross the street. It cost me absolutely nothing and it just may have given her some peace of mind.
When you step into a lift and there is only one woman there by herself [firstly consider not getting on] be very obvious about standing as far away as possible and physically holding yourself so you don’t seem threatening.
When you are walking down the road and see a single woman on the same side of the road coming towards you, consider crossing the street or again just stepping to the side so she doesn’t consciously feel like you will be a threat.
And like i mentioned if you find yourself close to a woman walking in the same direction, it might be helpful to do a quick step-in-the-street overtake or else drop your pace so that it is obvious you are not following her or again cross the road [dropping pace might be the trickiest one because you remain behind her and she doesn’t know]
Some of these may seem a little extreme, but in a country [and world] that has taught women that they must fear men [especially when they are alone] this really is an easy one we can do to help alleviate unnecessary fear in women.
In these, and other situations like them, be aware of the threat your presence may suggest. Especially at night, when it’s dark, or the place feels somewhat secluded. But also in the day. What does it cost us to be mindful of doing what we can to prevent fear in someone else.
Lisa McGowan: Love this!!! Having to be constantly aware of the men around you (in a vulnerable space) is a very real and daily thing. Following this tip would mean a lot to me and I’m sure other women too.
Megan Furniss: Also, be more comfortable about offering help. most women I know have a spidey sense that can be put to rest with an “I’ve got your back” or “I can walk with you”.
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40 Tips for Men: Tip#3
Speak to the women in your life. And really listen.
i am convinced you will be blown away by the magnitude and horrifying nature of the stories that the women in your life have lived when it comes to sexual assault and harrassment.
So find a safe way to start a conversation with those who you have relationship with, with the sole focus on listening to them, and believing them, and not responding in a way that negates or tries to fix or minimises or questions. Simply listen.
This is not about going up to your coworker that you have spoken to three times about the weather and asking, ‘Have you been raped?’ But sitting with one of your close women friends and say something like, “I am really trying to understand the depth of what is going on in our country. Would you mind giving me an idea of some of your negative experiences with men so I can get a sense of what is going on?”
And the listening part is key. Not to respond [as we too often do]. Just to really let the words hit home and help the light bulbs to go on.
If you pick five women to sit and do this with over the next week i feel like i can guarantee that you will not believe what you hear. Try it!
So when we lived in Philly in the States for 18 months and I would walk three blocks to the office with Val i never saw a single thing. The idea that something might have happened a few times while we were there makes sense to me. It was a pretty rough neighbourhood. When Val tells me she was harrassed every single day she walked to work without me, i struggle to get my brain around it. How is that even possible? And yet i know it is true.
The catcalling, the whistles, the comments, the groping in trains is a big one], the unwanted attention, the being followed [Val had a harrowing experience where she ended up screaming out to people in nearby shops and homes because people were watching and not doing anything] and so much more. And so much worse.
These are not stories and examples that are mysteriously ‘out there, somewhere’ – this is happening to your best friend, to your work colleague, to your wife, to your daughter… and it is not worse because it is happening to people you know [which is often used as a motivator to get involved – No! Get involved if this is happening to anyone!] but i want you to know and understand and start to hear the reality of how much it is happening and how bad it is.
Talk to your people and then come back here and share how you feel about what you heard!
Speak to the women in your life. And really listen.
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40 Tips for Men: Tip #4
Deal with that fragility.
As Jonathan Cohen put it so briefly and so well:
“There is no war on men.”
He added this:
‘For my own sanity and mental well-being, I have turned notifications off for this post. I can’t argue anymore. I can’t face the men who place campaigning for their own egos over the safety of South African women anymore, today.’
Think about it this way – if the worst thing that can happen to you is that someone groups you in with a bunch of bad men who rape women in a comment they make, and the worst thing that can happen to a woman is that she is violently attacked, sexually harrassed, assaulted or killed, is it maybe not time to get over our egos and focus on what is really important.
Have you ever raped someone? No? Good, then it’s not you. You know that and so now you can get down to the serious work of educating yourself, listening to the stories of what is really going on in the lives of women around you and coming up with ideas on how to work with the men who are the ones committing these hideous acts.
But the moment you post #NotAllMen you have closed yourself off from the argument, from hearing the realities of those around you, from paying attention to the screams and cries and fear that is virtually pouring all over social media and literally down the faces and bodies of the women we care about [and many who we don’t know but hopefully also care about].
Two analogies that express how i [and others] feel about the #NotAllMen response and how unhelpful it is:
Shana Kreusch: Saw a thing yesterday… It’s like Russian roulette. It’s a perfectly safe game to play. Sure, one chamber has a bullet in it. But not all chambers.
My one: I have a box of 100 chocolates for you. I hope you will enjoy them. Oh, but by the way, I injected poison into 95 of the chocolates. But the other 5 are absolutely fine. In fact the 5 without poison are incredible, probably the best chocolate you have ever tasted. In your life. I’m not exactly sure which chocolates the 5 safe ones are but they are probably in the bottom two rows of the box. Yeah I’m fairly sure that’s where the safe chocolates are. The ones with the poison in are deadly and will kill you in seconds. There is no antidote. But did I mention how incredible the 5 safe ones are?
Flip, this gift is a treat. I really hope you will enjoy them!
This is pretty much how I feel about the #NotAllMen response that has been going around and continues to be raised when situations like this come up. If you wouldn’t take a chance on the chocolates even knowing there are five life-transforming ones in there, how can we possibly expect women to trust us and think we are safe and not ‘those men’ when the majority of sexual crimes are done by people who are known and trusted.
And can we start to get even a little more outraged by the fact that the women in this country (not ‘our women’ by the way) are fearful and being raped and killed en masse than we are about the idea that someone might think we are one of them or group us unfairly…
‘There is a Doctor Who episode where a creepy monster hides in the shadows. The Doctor explains – not all shadows, but any shadows. This is how it is for women. We know that not all men, but it is so prevalent that we have to assume that any men could be violent.’ [Crystal Warren]
Men, Deal with that fragility. Women are dying while we are busy polishing our egos and making sure everybody thinks we are okay.
Dani McAlister: So disappointing when a woman expresses their frustration, fear, and deep sense of not feeling safe that men AND women jump to hash tag not all men (refuse to contribute to that total-missing-the-point-tag) instead of saying ‘I’m so sorry you feel this way. Is there something I can do to help? I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.’
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40 Tips for Men: Tip #5
Do the work.
As with the race stuff, a lot of the time there are men who recognise the problem, acknowledge their part in it [through words, actions or lack of actions and silence] and come to the point of asking, ‘What do I do?’ Typically they end up asking the victims to help them be less offensive.
Black people, please tell me how to be less racist.
Women, please tell me how to be less toxic.
The big problem with that is that, in this case, women are exhausted. As i said before i can only start to imagine what it must be like to have to fear for your life every time you go out alone, or in groups, or stay at home… and now, on top of that, well-meaning men who want to change expect you to do the work.
When i came home from three years living in America realising that i couldn’t stay silent on race issues in South Africa i took a weekend sleepover trip to Robben Island; there i bought a cop of ‘How can man die better?’ and educated myself a little on who Robert Sobukwe was; then a trip to the district six museum and the slave lodge; conversation with my friends of other races listening to their stories and hearing ways in which it was exhausting and painful to be black, coloured or indian in a country that leans towards whiteness; while i was in America i was reading article after article on race issues; finding movies to watch that deal with race head on; listening to podcasts and TED talks and you get the idea.
There is enough help out there for us to find out what we can do and start doing it, without relying on the women in and around our lives to have to do that work for us.
This list of 40 tips that is being created [and added to by women who are helping guide it to hopefully become a useful resource – they may not have to do the work but they are the experts in this stuff] is a start. Starting conversations with the men in your life and figuring out what words and behaviour and attitudes are problematic [a lot of this stuff is not rocket science – we can figure out the mess ourselves a lot of the time] and committing together to work together for change is another easy one. Committing to interrupting anti-women women-as-object stuff that arrives in any whatsapp groups you are part of. Interrogating the way you speak about women and to them. Then there are articles and TED talks and books and blogs and podcasts and incredible women to learn from and healthy men voices to follow.
You will find a way. If you just make the effort. Make some more effort. Do the work. Give this time and attention and priority because it needs to change and women should not have to carry the burden of preparing you to do that!
Do the work.
i have compiled a list of articles, blog posts and videos that will help you to do some of this work, over here.
[To read the next five tips, click here]
[To return to the start of this series, click here]