“Run faster, girls!”; Where are the good guys, and why aren’t they helping us?
Harassed in the street, bullied in the work place and targeted by unrealistic advertising messages, women are too often at the mercy of entitled men. But there must be good guys out there; men who are supportive and generous. Amy Kean sets out to find them.
Kuwait has a harassment problem. An Instagram account called @lan.asket (Arabic for ‘I will not be silent’) details some horrific stories of stalking, harassment or assault across the country.
Kuwaiti fashion blogger Ascia Al Faraj announced recently to her 2.6 million followers that something must be done about it. “Every time I go out, there is someone who harasses me, or harasses another woman in the street. Do you have no shame? We have a problem of harassment in this country, and I have had enough,” said Al Faraj, as reported on the Al Jazeera website.
Do you have no shame? We have a problem of harassment in this country, and I have had enough.
Wales has a harassment problem, too. Former 400m champion Rhiannon Linington-Payne was in the news recently, taking a stand against abuse that women receive when they’re running on the UK’s pavements. 43% of women have experienced harassment whilst exercising outside, and 60% of women feel anxious running alone, with personal safety their main concern.
Above: Athlete Rhiannon Linington-Payne was in the news after receiving verbal abuse while running.
After a man threw a can of beer at her during training, Linington-Payne finally decided to speak up, and Welsh Athletics are now working with South Wales Police to tackle a problem that is found across the globe. As ever, women are trying to solve something caused by - and almost exclusively delivered by - men. My niece and I attempted a 10k recently on the sleepy streets of Ascot. “Run faster, girls!” jeered a 50-something man as we jogged along.
What on some days might be dismissed as ‘encouragement’ or ‘banter’ on other days is a spiteful dig at your body shape, or a demand to get your tits out.
My niece was still upset after the 10k had ended. “The same thing happened to me last time I went running,” she said. “Three days ago. But it was a group of boys.” She’s 17. I remember thinking: This is it, now. The rest of your life. Random men shouting at you for no reason. You, living on edge in case one of them gets nasty. And one of them will get nasty, from time to time. What on some days might be dismissed as ‘encouragement’ or ‘banter’ on other days is a spiteful dig at your body shape, or a demand to get your tits out.
Most men are shocked when women speak of the harassment they receive every day, because most men don’t see it. Apparently. Or maybe they turn a blind eye (more on that later). As we all know, some men don’t understand what it means to respect women until they have daughters (LOL). But when I examine the personal space I’ve curated in my life all I see are supportive, respectful men, who listen to me. (WOW, my benchmark for good behaviour is low). It would be very easy for me to assume that men are getting better.
Above: When it comes to ownership of the world, men think they've been given the keys to a theme park.
So why, in 2021, does widespread harassment continue?
Because men still think they own the world. And by ‘world’, I mean every single space - geographical, professional and virtual. It’s a man’s world, and we’re just making dinner, birthing babies, getting teary at The Notebook and quoting Marilyn Monroe in it.
The one thing I won’t miss when I’m dead is men telling me off.
Listen. Imagine if someone gave you a theme park for your 3rd birthday, and said: “See this theme park? It’s yours”. You’d act like it was yours. You’d ride everything immediately. You’d expect VIP treatment, and to skip the queues. It’d be fucking awesome. Ain’t no way in hell you’re giving that theme park away. If someone drank all the sugary slush drinks leaving none left for you, you’d get angry. If the price of gift shop merchandise was increased without your permission you’d be like: "ER, WANNA ASK MY PERMISSION NEXT TIME?". If someone threw a party… without telling you… in your theme park… YOU’D BE LIVID. Because it’s your theme park!
Men have been told since the age of three that the world is their theme park. That they can do, and ride, whatever they want. Men own the streets, they own the home, they own the office, they own the gym. The space is theirs. And because they own the world, they dictate the world’s behaviour. The one thing I won’t miss when I’m dead is men telling me off. In pubs (for swearing), in clubs (for not being pretty enough), in meetings (for talking too much) and walking past construction work (for not smiling).
“In your pursuit of inclusion, you’re actually excluding people… MEN!” a guy said to me the other day.
“In your pursuit of inclusion, you’re actually excluding people… MEN!” a guy said to me the other day, telling me off for the diversity work I do in the events industry. “We feel left out,” he said. “Did you ever consider that?” In a world that men believe they own, they also expect to own every important conversation, with women raising their hands to speak.
Above: Women are programmed to be conscious of their weight, but also enticed to eat ice cream, "because eating ice cream draws attention to our sexy lips".
Advertising - traditionally run and managed by men - has done a great job of reinforcing this ownership. Women have been taught to obsess over our waist size and to hate our wrinkly skin and flabby thighs, dry hair and crooked teeth. Yet we’re encouraged to eat ice cream because eating ice cream draws attention to our sexy lips. But we must also drink diet fizzy drinks because sugar is bad for us. Historically, lots of men have made lots of money from owning these narratives.
Women have been taught to obsess over our waist size. Yet we’re encouraged to eat ice cream because eating ice cream draws attention to our sexy lips.
Men also think they own social media. I’m not talking about the death and rape threats high-profile women receive daily, I’m talking about everyday interactions. In the last week alone I’ve been told by a young man on Twitter that I have an ugly face; instructed by two men that I should be speaking differently; told by one other man that I’m using my ‘professional platform’ in the wrong way; seven men have ‘played devil’s advocate’ with me, and I’ve been DM’d various spins on the word ‘hey’ by circa 20 fellas.
I get messages from mansplained young women, sending me screengrabs of bullying behaviour. Recently the founder of Bodacious, Zoe Scaman, got DM’d pictures from a man of him wanking, (which she publicly shared on Twitter because too fucking right she did). Did you know it’s perfectly legal to send women unsolicited dick pics? Of course it is!
Zoe Scaman, got DM’d pictures from a man of him wanking, (which she publicly shared on Twitter because too fucking right she did).
But, as we know, it’s not all men. I wanted to find the Good Guys. So, I did. A quick request for GGs on Twitter served me hundreds of men who their peers or employees identified as furthering the cause of feminism and equality. It served me a couple of bellends, too, but that’s social media for you. I spent hours reading through the replies to understand what - currently - makes a good guy a Good Guy. For the most part, it was the way they treat women. The support they give, their generosity with their time, mentoring, being an excellent colleague, their fair recruitment policies and making sure women are paid equally. *Does genuine breakdance of happiness.*
Above: An online call to name the Good Guys of the advertising industry.
However, there’s a gap. I scoured the responses to find mentions of harassment or abuse, and saw only one. Lavall Chichester, Founder of GrowthSkills.co was highlighted as a guy who had not only protected female colleagues from intense predatory behaviour, but also worked to get the offender removed from the company. One might argue this is just being a decent human being. But it’s also going above and beyond.
I’ve been on the receiving end of harassment myself, and it’s disturbing and upsetting to watch these men continue to succeed when the psychological trauma they’ve inflicted will take years to undo.
We need to talk about how our male allies treat men who treat women badly. How they treat the men who harass women on the street, or at work. How they treat the men who mansplain or manterupt. How they treat the men hurling abuse at women on social media. How they treat the men who throw beer cans at professional runners (seriously, WTF?). When I spoke to Lavall about this he said: "I believe that you are complicit if you don't take action to stop and protect your female colleagues, or any colleague who is being harassed. It is not easy but has to be done. Your silence and inaction enables the behaviour and sends the message to the predators that this is acceptable."
After the Twitter thread I received lots of private messages. Messages about the men with histories of disgusting, abusive behaviour that are still roaming, devil-may-care, getting top jobs, with no one holding them to account. I’ve been on the receiving end of harassment myself, and it’s disturbing and upsetting to watch these men continue to succeed when the psychological trauma they’ve inflicted will take years to undo.
Professional support and mentorship is fantastic, but being an ally to women in 2021 requires more.
The founder of Make Love Not Porn, Cindy Gallop, said in a recent interview, addressing the GGs: “We need you. We need you to stand up to other men. We need you to report other men. We need you to intervene and to step in and to help women who are being harassed by other men. And we need you to tell other men that this is completely unacceptable.”
Above: David G Smith and W Brad Johnson's book is a good place for men to start if they want to confront the abuse women can face in the workplace.
Professional support and mentorship is fantastic, but being an ally to women in 2021 requires more. It’s the little things. Reacting when a woman gets shushed in a meeting for asking a question. It’s noticing and remedying when there aren’t enough female voices in the room. It’s flagging bad banter at work.
As International Women’s Day approaches, and we watch every big brand turning their logo pink, it’s easy to pretend that women finally have an adequate amount of respect and equality.
It’s also the big things. Ending abuse when you see it. Confronting the married mate you’ve known for 10 years because you know he’s sending young girls creepy messages on the sly. It’s calling out those terrible women-hating private industry groups that we all know exist. It is no longer turning a blind eye because you don’t want to risk becoming unpopular with the lads. (I recommend reading: Good Guys, How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace by David G Smith and W Brad Johnson as a starting point). If you are a good guy, you have power. And if you’re happy to be named and celebrated as an ally, on a list, then we will hold you accountable.
As International Women’s Day approaches (it’s like the Feminist Christmas, but less feminist and more commercial), and we watch every big brand turning their logo pink, it’s easy to pretend that women finally have an adequate amount of respect and equality. We don’t. We still need to address the issue of male ownership in all the places where women just want to exist and thrive.
As much as I’m desperate for women’s problems to be solved, and am determined to keep going, I’m way too tired to run faster.
So, to the good guys: you can help us offset this by going the extra mile. Women have been running those extra miles ever since we were born, and we’d love to pass the baton now. Please. Because as much as I’m desperate for women’s problems to be solved, and am determined to keep going, I’m way too tired to run faster.