I’ve kept fairly quiet on #metoo, which isn’t like me at all. But the truth is, it’s made me feel a little uncomfortable and not for the right reasons.
You see, when it all began last November, I hesitated to walk down an alley because a man was standing next to it. He was waiting for a lift after work, but all I could hear was “#metoo” and I stopped and considered not walking down the alley, a walk I’ve done many times before.
This was the first time I’ve ever done that. I’ve walked home at night in streets in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Madrid, London, Toronto and never stopped before. This was 5pm. It wasn’t even dark. But I felt vulnerable because I’m a woman and #metoo. I’ve never felt that before. I’m a warrior. I am Boudica.
This is the same unease I get when “safe spaces” are promoted for women because men can’t be trusted. Am I vulnerable purely because I’m a woman? And which men can’t be trusted? Your husband? Your son?
If we’re really promoting segregation to keep women safe, how long before the veil?
The Handmaiden’s Tale suddenly doesn’t look so dystopian.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful that women are speaking up and I hope it helps anyone who feels alone. Some of the stories were heartbreakingly horrific and no one should suffer in silence or feel they are to blame.
But what happens next?
A friend posted that it made him sad that his nieces will grow up in such a culture. Well, no, they don’t have to. I don’t want my nieces and grand-nieces growing up in a world where they’re taught to be fearful because of a tiny minority. I want them to grow up knowing they’re warriors, that they can do everything and anything.
I want them to consider engineering as a job as much as girls when I was young considered nursery nursing. I want the boys to consider nursery nursing or staying at home to look after their children as valid career choices. I want men to wear moisturiser because “they’re worth it” and fart around on YouTube talking fashion and make-up if they want. I want women to be receptionists or cabin crew without having to wear high heels or make-up if they want.
But any change has to come from each of us: getting rid of old ideas about what it means to be a man and a woman. Dress your baby boy in pink. Let your girl be Bob the Builder. Give your daughters Meccano and Scalextrix to play with and let your sons push that toy pram. Stop making jokes about never letting your baby daughters out until they’re 30 – they’re not precious flowers to be protected; they’re people. Mums, YOU have *that* talk with your sons and tell them about sex and love from a woman’s perspective. Let your boys talk about their feelings and let the girls climb trees.
If you’re a woman, don’t call your female boss a bitch or bossy because you don’t like her and don’t joke about marrying a rich man so you never have to work again. Stop calling grown women “girls” and men “strong”.
Because #metoo isn’t a man standing at the top of an alleyway. It’s him, and me, and you and all of us. Every time we reinforce a stereotype, every time we think this is how men behave and that is how women behave, we encourage a patriarchal society and condemn another woman to some form of #metoo.
I’ve seen posts about a silent vigil. Well bugger that. Silence is a female “trait”; silence is what all these women have been doing. It’s time to make some noise.
A while ago on The Week Unwrapped, a podcast I did with work, I argued that life is superficially better for women now but deep down, it’s little changed from when Jane Austen was around and if anything women’s rights are going backwards. I got ranty and all Kevin Keegan-like. But I stand by every word.
Do you think #metoo was the start of a real change?
Photo: Mihai Surdu on Unsplash