WHEN I WAS 16, a 17-year-boy raped me in a field, and in the same year a much older man sexually exploited me for a period of four years. In college, I was twice seriously sexually assaulted. I’ve been groped, felt up, harassed and followed home.
All women can relate to this.
This is my call of hope to the men of Ireland.
Because despite everything I’ve been through, I am hopeful. My hope was never eroded by friends or indeed a society, who shrugged incidents off, minimised them, denied them, blamed me, or avoided it.
My hope was never eroded by the teachers who knew something was wrong, but ignored it. My hope was never even eroded by those men who to chose hurt me. But what does erode my hope, what chips away at it every day, and it’s sad that this is the category with the power to do that, is the silence and passivity of good men, men who do no harm to women or girls, but who also, just do nothing.
Men need to help dismantle the culture
When we talk about men’s violence against women, we talk about women; we talk about the victims and the survivors. We talk about how ‘not all men’ are violent, but leave out the fact that most men are very much silent. We don’t talk about how every single man can help dismantle our rape culture from the inside.
We don’t talk about it because don’t want to offend, we don’t want to scare them off. We want to be liked. We don’t want people to be uncomfortable around us. We want to keep men on-side when discussing, what I like to call ‘men’s issues with women’, rather than ’women’s issues’.
I am angry that I feel I have to cajole my man pals into caring. I hate that I consider my tone when speaking to them about these things. I hate that I censor myself in speaking my own truth because I am afraid it might make someone uncomfortable and therefore less likely to engage on it.
Men are built of tougher stuff than this. I hold men to a high esteem and a high standard.
They can handle compassionate non-judgmental but tough conversations. I know they can because I’ve had these conversations with them.
Afraid of causing offence to others
At 32, I am finally okay with ‘causing offense’, and men calling me a ‘militant feminist’, and a ‘feminazi’, and a ‘man hater’, or whatever else they want to say, if it means they might also be getting a little bit uncomfortable and thinking about how their behaviour may or may not be enabling a rape culture.
Because in every situation, personally, politically, societally, the only time significant change happens, is when we’re uncomfortable.
Peer influence is the greatest catalyst of change. So why should the men who objectify, harass and intimidate women, or the men who sexually offend, or the men who sit on the sidelines minimising the existence of sexual violence, ever have to think about their attitudes, when the men around them don’t mind and have nothing to say about it?
It’s time for all men to get a little bit uncomfortable. Whether you are rapist or not is completely irrelevant, just as it’s completely irrelevant that I was once a rape victim. We all exist in the world together, everything is relevant to each of us. It’s not about women telling men what to do, it’s about spreading the empowering message of ‘do what you can, where you can, with what you have to give’.
What I want men to know
And I want the men who do get involved, who actively try to dismantle and call out entitlement and objectification of women, which are the ingredients of sexual violence, how much hope it gives me, as someone who’s lived it.
I want you to know how supported I feel when you share an article about rape culture online.
I want you to know how encouraged I feel when you denounce the latest lenient rape sentencing, when you decry sexual exploitation, when you interrupt a sexist joke, when you challenge male entitlement.
I want you to know how strong I feel, when I hear that you volunteer for the Rape Crisis Centre collection day, when I hear that you don’t use porn because you don’t want to contribute to an industry that abuses women.
I want you to know how my world shines bright with hope when a man steps up and against any form of victim blaming.
I want you to know how much hope I feel when you listen, when you just want to discuss these things with me; these things that affect all men and all women.
I want you to know how safe the world feels when you have the balls to say not in my name. And I want you to know, in my darker moments, when the past comes and tries to take me down for a while, how healing it is to know that men like you exist.
I am an activist, not in spite of, but because, I have faith, hope and love towards the vast majority of men, who do no harm to women, but who could, if they want to, make such significant change. It’s time for those men to step up and say “I’m here to help, what can I do?”
Mia Doering is a White Ribbon representative, writer, activist, lapsed artist, and psychotherapist. She is interested in equality, creativity, social change, and psycho-education. If you would like to know more about the White Ribbon Ireland campaign to end men’s violence against women, please visit the website.
This was a speech delivered at the National Women’s Council annual Women’s Day Soapbox event.