It’s exhausting, but more importantly, it’s not working.
Women are still not safe. As the case of 33-year-old Londoner Sarah Everard has shown us, they can be plucked off the streets at any moment, by any man who spots a lone woman and clocks her as an unprotected opportunity. Everard was allegedly abducted and killed as she walked home alone. The man charged with her murder is a policeman.
It’s time to put the onus squarely back on men.
It’s time parents concerned themselves not just with their daughters, but also with their sons.
Instead of asking ourselves, “what if that was my daughter?”, we need to ask, “what if that was my son?”
By which I mean, not your son who was hurt (although we know misogyny hurts boys, too), but what if it was your son who did the hurting?
How would you feel if it was your boy who chanted vile anti-women slogans on a bus, or violated a girl too drunk to defend herself?
How would you feel if your boy was the kid who believed the best way to perform his masculinity was to humiliate a woman?
These are uncomfortable and difficult questions. It speaks volumes about how our society regards consent that it feels worse to imagine our boys as perpetrators than to think of our girls as victims.
The boys are victims too, of course.
Those of us lucky enough to have little boys in our lives know well their innate sweetness, their tender hearts. Adolescence can be a time when they come unstuck.
Author Paul Auster has written about “what a vulnerable age 14 can be”. “No longer a child, not yet an adult, you bounce back and forth between who you were and who you are about to become,” he says.
Parents of girls have a fair idea of how to educate their daughters on consent, personal boundaries and self-protection. They send them out into the world hoping it’s enough, and fearing that it’s not.
But parents of boys have far less guidance. How do they teach their boys to be men in a world which too often equates strength with force, and tenderness with weakness? How do we teach them to respect the feminine within themselves, and to cherish it, in a world that so often betrays its contempt for all things female?
How can we stop our boys from being both victims of and perpetrators of toxic masculinity?
Women can march in protest and attempt to protect themselves. But it will make little difference until we see strong male leadership, an etching out of new modes of masculinity. It starts with a clearly communicated zero-tolerance policy for disrespect of women.
Last week, boys from Melbourne’s exclusive Wesley College were overheard on a bus making “disgusting” comments about women following Monday’s March4Justice rally.
After a complaint to the school, Wesley principal Nick Evans wrote a strong letter to parents saying he was sad because it was the sort of behaviour “I have witnessed too often from too many men”.
“Casual misogyny and sexism are so often expressed in all male conversations,” Evans wrote.
He was ashamed because the behaviour reflected poorly on the school, “but also because there have been times in my life, particularly in my youth, when I was a bystander of such conversations and helped perpetuate them”.
Novelist Tim Winton has written about how boys “rehearse” their masculinity, trying on different versions of it, “wordlessly looking for cues the whole time”.
“Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men.”
What they get back from the men, Winton says, is unhelpful: “Good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.”
Women can only do so much to protect themselves and to defend their own dignity.
It’s time for men to start making that effort. Imagine if it was your son.
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Jacqueline Maley is a columnist.