Accountability is integral to change, more so now than ever. We cannot move forward without those who oppress taking responsibility for themselves, reflecting on their actions and making a choice to do better. This is applicable to transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism and more - those who take the time to come to terms with their behaviour and actively make the choice to change are helping to create safer environments.
As a white woman, I’ve spent the last few years trying to learn (I’m still learning now, and only just scraping the surface) how to be an intersectional feminist. I know that I have privilege in other ways people do not; I wouldn’t be where I am now without the privilege of my skin colour, my class and how I choose to present myself. This is my version of accountability, which is being constantly changed as I educate myself more.
There are many cis men, including many whom I grew up with and still know, who have never faced having to come to terms with being an oppressor. Throughout their lives, they have been surrounded by support and love, and see anything that doesn’t fit within their identity as aggressive confrontation. They have never had to reflect on their actions and take accountability.
I’d like to ask these men, and all those who perpetuate and enable patriarchal violence, to genuinely reflect on your actions. Not for posting online, not for sharing with anyone - just for yourself. Ask yourself if you have ever committed sexual assault, rape or abuse. Is the answer no? Are you sure about that?
Have you ever made a person feel uncomfortable? Been unnecessarily physical? Commented on their body?
The lines of definition for sexual assault are so blurred your first reaction would be no - a large number of men only see sexual assault in terms of a narrow definition that includes dark alleyways and hooded figures. For example, they wouldn’t consider it sexual assault to move past someone and grab their waist, but this non-consensual contact contributes to a power dynamic. By doing so, you’re telling that person that you have the right to place your hands on their body, regardless of whether they want you to. You are displaying power and asserting dominance. At that moment, you are dancing on the line of consent - is it just a ‘little inappropriate’? Next time, consider how it’s a reflection of your power, and of the disregard for the person that you are touching. This behaviour creates a culture that passively accepts rape, harassment, assault and abuse.
So many of the male reactions I’ve seen have been rooted in shifting the blame, playing in to ‘Not All Men’ like it’s a parody, emphasising how they would ‘never do that’ - but the fact is, they’re excluding their own behaviour by sticking to this narrow definition. I can name hundreds of times that my close male friends have played on this line; making me feel uncomfortable, small, and powerless - I can guarantee they see themselves as ‘nice guys’. It’s very simple - the reason we are still discussing these topics is the refusal of average men (and those who perpetuate patriarchal violence) to examine their own behaviours, question their treatment of others and take accountability for their actions.
'The Virtual Vigil' is a series of perspectives, emotions and poems written in response to the current political climate. As a feminist art collective we want to use our space to empower the voices of those affected by gender based violence. In doing so, we hope to challenge existing narratives and teach men that they have a collective responsibility to speak up and call out inappropriate and violent behaviours. If you would like to take part in our virtual vigil, please feel welcome to email us at email@example.com.
Images by Emily Mort.