A recent whole school assembly from the Headmaster talked about masculinity and our obligation, particularly as a single-sex school, to educate the students in our care. He cited the tragedy of Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder and how it is every man’s responsibility to create a culture that respects women and girls. He asked students to consider their behaviour and not to tolerate others who are behaving badly. That assembly forms the basis for the latest school blog, featured below.
A Culture of Respect
By Michael Windsor, Headmaster
Recently, one of our assemblies was put together by the School’s Equality Committee focusing on the meaning of International Women’s Day. Then, last week, the world heard of the murder of Sarah Everard who was abducted from Clapham Common in London. Tragically, her name was added to a list read out in Parliament of women who had been murdered by men over the past 12 months, a list that revealed that on average a woman had died at the hands of a man every three days.
Further coverage followed at the weekend of a website called Everyone’s Invited, which gives women an opportunity to record instances of sexual harassment to which they have been subjected.
The coming together of these three events – the death of Sarah Everard, International Women’s Day and the focus on sexual harassment – brings us to a moment where we need to think about the nature of masculinity. And I’d argue that as a well-known single-sex school, we have a particular obligation to consider our position.
After Sarah Everard’s death, women were reminded of the actions that they needed to take to protect themselves. That they should not walk alone at night; that they should let someone know where they are going; that they should hold their keys in their hand.
But women are now – understandably – demanding why they should be the ones to modify their behaviour when it is men and male violence that are causing the problem.
We men may feel threatened when we hear that men are the problem. We might argue that only a tiny proportion of men are involved in the kind of violence that results in the death of women. And indeed the hashtag ‘not all men’ began to be shared on social media when women questioned notions of masculinity and raised the broader problem of male violence in the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s death.
But even though not all men are causing the problem, it affects all women and they have no choice to escape it other than by the defensive measures I described earlier. So men cannot wash our hands of this problem. Instead, we need to think about what all men can do to create a world that is safe for women.
The first thing we can all do is to play our part in creating a culture that respects women. There are varieties of behaviour that we should not just avoid but actively call out when we see others engaging in them.
We need to make sure that we don’t put girls or women down by using casual sexist language or engaging in sexist stereotypes.
Nor should we tolerate boys or men who treat girls and women merely as sexual objects who are there for their gratification, commenting on their looks or clothes. Nor can we treat women’s bodies with contempt by assuming their availability and touching them or their clothing.
We need to challenge the portrayal of women in pornography which often features the debasement and humiliation of women and which reinforces a warped vision of female sexuality, suggesting that women are the willing and endlessly available sexual playthings of men. Pornography is no guide as to what a mutually loving and consensual relationship looks like and we always need to be aware of the need for consent in physical relationships.
We need to be aware too of the impact that large groups of men can have on women and how intimidating they can be. The combination of drink and the euphoria of being with lots of friends can be particularly toxic and women often end up bearing the brunt.
We also have a responsibility to create a culture of respect and safety when we are using social media. The added layer of anonymity and distance means that we don’t always see the best of people online. So, we need to avoid sexist language that belittles women and ensure that we do not send or share compromising images.
That’s a fairly long list of things that we shouldn’t do.
But the key thing we should do is to stand up for women by refusing to tolerate the kind of behaviour I’ve described when we see other men indulging in it. Pull them up on it; call them to account; don’t just accept it. Take responsibility for female friends seriously. Make sure they can get home safely. I would ask our students to think about their behaviour for example on the School’s Joint Bus Service with the girls’ School of St Helen and St Katharine, have they ever done anything that might make girls uncomfortable. Or have they seen other students doing something of this nature and failed to do anything about it?
We men are often uncomfortable talking about what masculinity means and seem to become quickly threatened when it is put up to debate. But surely we can have enough self-confidence and inner strength to be prepared to be challenged and to confront notions of what it might mean to be a man. We need to listen and engage when women say there is a problem and not just revert to self-justification.
Ultimately, male violence is a male problem. So it’s up to all us men to do something about it. What are you going to do?
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