Thursday, 8 March 2012

Have the men had enough?

I hope you all had a splendid International Women's Day... Now, tell me, what constitutes a 'feminist issue' in a First World democracy in 2012? Try this definition: any human rights outrage perpetrated despite the presence of great-sounding legislation. Something we all accept should not be allowed to happen and that can therefore be safely ignored by the half of the population not directly effected.

The gender pay gap, currently hovering around an EU average of 20pc *, is a case in point: we have had Equal Pay legislation for 37 years. Nice, reasonable men are happy for women to work and be paid the same as them and therefore can't quite phantom what we are still banging on about. What's been missing is the willingness of nice, reasonable men to share the burden of childrearing, which has de facto consigned many women to part time careers encompassing little more than carrot-peeling and bottom-wiping.

A new Eurobarometer survey just released on the perception of gender inequality across Europe reveals that the pay gap is still the number two concern when it comes to gender equality for women in Europe. Would you like to know what the first one is? Violence against women. Trafficking and sexual exploitation comes at number three on the list.

Men are aware of those things too (46pc of men mentioned male violence vs 50pc of women, not far off) but where - in the public discourse, in the media, in the culture - is the male outrage towards the misery caused by those at Neanderthal end of their gender's spectrum?

It's not enough for the nice, reasonable guys in our lives not to hit us/rape us/ traffic us/pimp us/exploit us though pornography - they must make themselves angry about of the violence women still face from other men, men they presumably work and socialise with every day.

Yes, there are laws and all that. No, we are not actually fighting for the vote, or the abolition of apartheid or anything. But we still need men to get up and get exercised alongside us. This is still about the violation of the basic human rights of half the population.

Some time ago a nice reasonable man and I were discussing a depressing news story about a sexual assault. "What I don't understand," he said, (and please feel free to imagine him metaphorically widening his innocent eyes and batting his eyelashes at me, "is how you can actually force a woman to perform oral sex on you. I can see how you can literally penetrate someone against their will, but blowjobs? "

"Mmm..." I replied, "I suppose it depends on how hard you punch her, on what you threaten to do to her children, on whether you've got a knife to her face.."

"Oh dear..." , he gulped, defeated.

God bless! Imagine living in the safety of a worldview where rape (a bad, bad thing, don't get me wrong) only happens as a result of some mild forcing of oneself upon another. He hadn't thought about it on those nasty terms, the reality of male violence against women a hazy concept to him, not something he has had to worry about every day of his life.

Yet men are partners, husbands, brothers and fathers of women. How can they allow themselves to carry on in this blissful ignorance of the awful things women suffer at the hand of some men?

When will the (nice, reasonable) men have had enough?

* The Gender pay gap in the member states of the European Union- Belgian Presidency report 2010

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