Trigger warning — violence/violence against women and strong language
Conservative MP, Mark Field, recently grabbed a female protester by the neck at a swanky event. The video jarred me, just the sheer look of rage on his face. I knew that was the face so many women had seen before in the faces of so many other men.
He said he “instinctively” grabbed her and pushed her as she may have been armed. She was a Greenpeace protester — what was she going to be armed with, a stick of celery? It isn’t “instinctive” to grab a woman in an evening gown. He wasn’t protecting himself — she wasn’t attacking him. The only “instinct” it shows is his mistreatment of women.
The fact that so many men, including other MP’s, have sided with Mark Field on this only proves that itisn’t about protecting themselves, it’s about power and control. It’s about the acceptance of aggression as being a natural part of masculinity, and well… women just shouldn’t rock the boat.
“Try being in our shoes”? It’s as if some men don’t know how to talk to women without either grabbing their bums or grabbing them by the neck. I have in fact made a concerted effort to stand in their shoes. I have written at length about Men’s Rights Activists and have tried to understand their views, because in order to help people we have to understand why they behave the way they do. When I stand in their shoes, I see masculinity pressures stacked on them and I can empathise on some levels. After all, they’ve been raised in the same world that told us that women are secondary citizens. It’s just normal.
Part of the solution, in my opinion, is gender equality — something these men usually will not get on board with. For them to allow women to have as much power as them means they’re no longer in charge.
Shortly after Mark Field attacked the woman (let’s call it that cos that’s what it is), I saw this Tweet:
I was simultaneously horrified but so glad she’d shared her experience. It bought up an instance for me when I was 19 when I was at Uni. I was in the queue to get some food after a night out and a guy started leaning on my back with his elbows digging in. I tried to shrug him off and ignore it, but he pushed down harder and it was hurting my back. I asked him to stop leaning on me, calmly and politely from what I remember. He started mouthing off and told me he could rob me if he wanted to (meaning he could take the purse I was holding). I was near the front of the queue and could smell the chips, but despite really wanting them, I was starting to feel really scared so I went outside, where my housemates were waiting.
I told them we needed to go quickly as there was a guy who was freaking me out, but he’d followed me outside and was right behind me. He turned to one of my male housemates to ask if I was “with him”, but this all happened so fast that my housemate was completely confused and this guy punched him in the face before he knew it. The guy then turned to another of my male housemates, who started running down the street. The guy caught up with him, pushed him down and started kicking him in the face.
On the way back towards me, he pushed my female friend into the road. She fell and cut her forehead on the kerb but luckily there weren’t any cars passing. I tried to hide in an alley, but he saw me and started punching me in the face, three times I think. I slumped down, holding my nose, expecting there to be blood and teeth and all sorts. The guy walked off to a bunch of people who may have been his friends. They were all laughing. They left and I spent what felt like a long time trying to take my hands away from my face. When I did, I was relieved to find that there wasn’t any blood and my nose felt intact.
We called the police but they said realistically nothing was going to move forward because this kind of thing happens every weekend. It was just another bar fight to them. But I’m a short woman, not even remotely intimidating looking. This was not a fight between two lads after several pints. I just wanted some chips. I did not provoke this guy, though my guilt and shame afterwards made me question my memories, and made me wonder if it was something I said. I ended up with a bruised face and swollen lips — I guess some people (Tory MP’s?) would say I should be thankful that it wasn’t worse. Maybe we should be thanking the guy for not having a knife. Maybe we should thank men every day for managing not to kill women. Well done.
At Uni, the atmosphere in our house changed and I thought all my friends hated me. I hated that fact that they’d been hurt and I thought it was all my fault. The guy who attacked us (that’s the first time I’ve called it that, but that’s what it was) wanted a fight and picked the easiest target — a small 19-year-old blonde girl, alone and waiting for some chips. You could say that it’s cowardly — why didn’t he pick on some guys instead? Well, he did. He hit my male housemates before me. Is that because they were somehow my keepers in his eyes? I, a young woman, had gone rogue, out of the control of men? Whether this guy hit them or me first, it doesn’t matter. He attacked all of us for no reason other than something within him — his uncontrollable anger and urge to exert his power.
In the case of Mark Field, and many perpetrators of domestic violence, there seems to be an element of “look what you made me do.” That the woman has acted out and pushed the man to his limits. She made him angry and so it’s her fault. I’ve been told on other occasions by men that I’m lucky I’m a woman otherwise they’d punch me. These are the “good guys”, the ones that supposedly think it’s never okay to hit a woman. So is hitting a guy fine? Of course not. But it’s particularly jarring for so many women to see the video of Mark Field because it’s a demonstration of power — a raged man putting a woman in her place — which happens all too often.
This is what people mean when they say “toxic masculinity”. This term seems to jar people as they seem to assume it means men are all terrible. Men’s Rights Activists are quick to point out that there can be toxic femininity too and I agree, but women aren’t the ones committing most of the violent crimes, are they? They’re not the school shooters, the terrorists, the ones grabbing men by their throats at dinner parties. Toxic masculinity refers to the behaviour these men — my attacker, Mark Field, Trump — and people who have such high masculinity standards placed on them that they can’t regulate their own emotions. They’ve grown up in a society that’s told them to “man up” and that crying is weak and girly. They’ve seen other men — politicians, family members and characters in films — demonstrate how masculinity should look, and they’re afraid that being anything less will make them more like women. God forbid them being on the same level as women. Gender inequalities have caused these masculinity expectations. Feminism is not just about helping women but helping reduce these standards put on men too. Feminism now, in my view, is taking an exciting turn into breaking down gender altogether, encouraging people to be any gender identity and expression they like. This is the kind of feminism I support, one that encourages people to throw away the rules of gender, get in touch with themselves and their emotions and express themselves the way they want to, with self-awareness and kindness. Toxic masculinity only gives a limited way of being, filled with aggression and rage. There’s only one way for that emotion to come out sometimes — through their fists.
One of my housemates at Uni punched a wall after watching football. It’s been shown that domestic violence rates rise around the World Cup. Football seems to be the one thing some men think they can be emotional about, so it’s as if they’re storing it all up for an emotional outburst after every game. But we see this most Friday and Saturday nights in cities, with or without football. A lifetime of being told not to show your emotions will seep out (or burst out) when mixed with alcohol. When anger is the more socially acceptable form of emotion for men, it’s no wonder there are fights in clubs, in the street and in kebab shops. Emotions are running so high after a busy week of work and pretending to be fine, it won’t take much to trigger an outburst on a Friday night.
Men need to stop hurting themselves and each other with violent acts. Male suicide rates are at an all-time high. We’re going through a mental health crisis. Women are more likely to access counselling services than men. Men need to know that there are ways to help manage their anger without using violence or abuse. They need to start questioning their own behaviour and start to understand the root of their anger. They need to unpack where that comes from, and therapy is a good way to do that. For them to access this, society needs to help make it okay for men to ask for help. Our politicians are not good role models, so we — the general public — have to call them out. Social media, blogs and petitions give us the means to do this. Social media has given us all a platform and a voice and it’s important that we use that in a socially responsible way. When we all say “this is not okay” together, we can start to make a change.
I hope there’s a new generation of boys that aren’t afraid to cry, that can ask for help when they feel emotional. It’s not weak to ask for help, it’s a necessity in a stressful world going through a mental health crisis. Violence should not be an “instinct”. Men — you’re better than that. Come on now.
If you’re struggling, reach out for help:
Samaritans 116 123
Mind 0300 304 7000