As a cis white man, I’ve spent a large part of my life not realizing the privilege I had or how I benefited from this privilege daily. I definitely thought I knew what racism and sexism were, and I probably would’ve taken any opportunity to tell you just how MUCH I cared about these things and how much time I spent thinking about them in a really DEEP way - but I never really considered the ways privilege had informed my personality, my desires, my beliefs, how I wanted people to see me and how I treated the people around me. The fact is, I’m someone who has benefited from multiple forms of privilege - I now realise racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and patriarchal violence are not abstract concepts to consider and discuss after a few drinks - these are real-life, everyday things that should be informing the decisions I make every day. Educating myself about my own privilege and the violence around me should inform each action I take. Of course, right now the reality is (very) far from it, but I’m trying to consider this every day.
Following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, the conversation around patriarchal violence and the role cis men play in enabling and perpetuating it, has yet again shown just how inadequate and disappointing their response has been. Below I’ve included three examples of responses that seem to pop up constantly, and need correcting and addressing asap.
Hopefully it goes without saying, but just to be clear: I have regularly done these things and although I’m trying to unlearn this behaviour, I still have a long way to go. The point is that unless we address these topics, none of us are ever going to be able to change.
Expecting Woman to do the work for you - pretty self-explanatory. There aren’t many men who can honestly say that they are not aware of the shit the patriarchy puts women & members of the LGBTQ+ community through- so why don’t we do more? We don’t go out of our way to protect victims of the patriarchy (unless it’s beneficial to us), we don’t challenge ourselves or others (more on this in #2) and we don’t question what we ourselves find acceptable. Well, we might do these things in passing, but rarely in a meaningful way and almost NEVER without prompting. Something shocking will happen, and issues of privilege and accountability will be brought up, but as soon as the pressures off, it slips from our minds and we’re back to our privilege devouring ways. If we really believe what we say, we need to be making an effort to change daily, without waiting for an easy prompt from women and a quick pat on the back.
Calling out other men - again, pretty self-explanatory. It seems basic, but it’s an area in which we are all lacking massively. All men have been witness to and complicit in the harassment and abuse of women, and we’ve all had the opportunity to prevent it and made the choice to do nothing. Calling each other out for toxic behaviour and reminding each other that it’s unacceptable is the quickest way to actually make a real-life change in the lives of victims of the patriarchy. It’s not an abstract thought experiment, it’s saying and doing something right now.
MEnS MeNtAl HeALtH - Men’s mental health is often unhealthy, masculinity is toxic and men can be victims of the patriarchy - this is all true, but it is 100% not immediately relevant when victims of patriarchal violence are trying to tell you their experience. Cis men have all the privilege in the world to discuss these things on their own terms, in their own time, but it is our job to do it, no one else's, especially not actual victims. You can't avoid responsibility for your actions and your privilege by making yourself a victim. Why do so many men only bring up these valid subjects as a way to manipulate the conversation around patriarchy?
Obviously, these few points are barely scratching the surface, but overall it is just so important that as cis men that we actually start listening, considering how our privilege has impacted us and committing to doing something about it.
Jacob Kelly / @jaacobkelly
'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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images by Emily Mort.