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It's #NotAllMen and we need to change that


I remember the first time I realised that I live in a different world than my female friends. Chatting over drinks a friend told me that, if she didn't know me and saw me walking towards her on the street at night, she would cross the road.

That was a bit of a shock and I went straight into denial mode. Yes, I'm 6'2 and have been shaving my head since the late 1990's but I'm lovely. How could they possibly think anything else?

When my wife first read this piece and found out when my Road to Damascus moment was she was incredulous. "How could you not have known?" she asked. In my defence, why would I know? I was a guy in his twenties living the privileged life of a guy in his twenties so the steps women had to take on a daily basis just wasn't on my radar.

I think of this reaction whenever I see #NotAllMen trending on social media. Maybe I'm being naive but I think a lot of the people who respond with #NotAllMen when the problem of male on female violence raises it's ugly head are having trouble linking their own self image and experience with the world that women live in. It's an ego thing. It's "I'm lovely. I know I'm lovely and I don't like being lumped in with the men who do these things. Stop blaming me!"

While I have little sympathy for it, I can totally understand this position. I took much the same position in the pub way back when. I have long since learned to take my ego out of the discussion. Not just my ego either but my voice too. My role in the discussion had to be to shut up and listen. It's hard to learn when you refuse to hear the lesson.

The sad truth is that not all men have an appreciation for or an understanding of the precautions women have to take or the gauntlet they run just by leaving their homes. I can't think of a single time I was out with a bunch of lads and heard one of them shout something at a woman who just happened to be passing. Not once and yet all my female friends have had something shouted at them when they happened to be passing a bunch of lads.

I've never been standing at a bar and had a guy put his hand on my waist as he leaned in to order. Nor have I ever put my hand on someone's waist as I leaned in to order at a bar and yet women regularly find strange men's hands on their waists. If I'm not doing it, and if I'm not seeing it then I don't know it's happening, right? Just because I'm unaware of it, doesn't mean it's not happening though and when someone tells me it is happening my first reaction should not be that this is somehow an assault on my masculinity.

So if it's not us doing it, what can we do to stop it?

The first thing we can do is look at our own behaviours. Of course we're not catcalling women or groping them in bars. That's all those other guys. But what are we doing that is, unbeknownst to us, making women uncomfortable? If I'm walking down the road and see someone walking towards me my immediate reaction is to walk on the outside. After all, a gentleman always walks on the outside. It never occurred to me that by doing this I am forcing a woman, who does not know me, to walk trapped between me and the wall. Now that I do know this, I either give them a wide berth by walking on the road or just cross the road.

Ask yourself what you are doing that could be putting women on edge. When you're out with your mates, do you force women to walk through the group or do you step aside and give them room? Do you cross the road? Are you walking towards lone women with your hood up and your hands hidden in your pockets?

These are just examples of the simple stuff that probably wouldn't even cross your mind. I'm working on the assumption that you don't try to start conversations with lone women late at night, that you never demand a smile from women you don't know, that you don't mistake the politeness of a woman on a cash register for an invitation to make personal comments, that you keep your hands to yourself when moving through a crowd. I mean, that sort of thing is just obvious, right?

"Why should I change my behaviour?" you might ask. "I'm not a threat to women. I'm never going to attack anyone." I get that. I hear you and I hear you when you say that making these small changes might even feel like you are in some way admitting that you may be a danger. It's not about that though. It's about seeing yourself as a stranger sees you. It's about how just adjusting your behaviour in a tiny way can have a ripple effect on the behaviour of your friends, peers and people you didn't even know noticed. It's about how those ripples can eat away at the bedrock of a society that makes the women in your life have to adjust their behaviour every day just to try and stay safe.

When we hear of a random attack, which is usually what triggers the #NotAllMen wave, we like to think that we'd have stepped in, that we'd have given the guy a hiding and prevented a tragedy. The chances of being in the right place at the right time are incredibly slim but how often will you find yourself in the position to make a small change? Is it really too much to ask men to just park their ego and cross the damn road rather than put a woman on edge?

We know that #NotAllMen want to hear this. It's #NotAllMen that are willing to admit that, through no fault of their own, they can make women uncomfortable. It's #NotAllMen that will accept the truth and try to change things. It's up to those of us who do recognise the impact we can have on strangers to adjust our behaviour, to spread the message and to start a change.

It's #NotAllMen and we need to change that.