“Ready or not here I come, you can’t hide,
Gonna love you and make you love me…”
This song by The Delfonics came up on a play list the other day. And I realised just how creepy the lyrics were. I posted about it on Twitter and people immediately responded with other songs that were equally dodgy. One pointed to Roy Orbison driving all night to creep into a woman’s room. Another to Extreme emotionally blackmailing a woman into sex in More Than Words. And let’s not talk about the paedophilic overtones of The Knack’s My Sharona.
We can dismiss these songs as just inconsequential art. Or as artefacts of the past. But they are a constant feature in our culture. And the lyrics of today’s music are no less troubling. These are earworms that constantly reinforce a set of cultural norms that continue to threaten women. That advocate for men taking what they want.
I’m not arguing that we should ‘cancel’ these songs. But rather that we should hear them for what they are. That we should recognise what they are saying. And how resonant their messages are with some of the daily travesties that women face. Because men continue to take what they want from women.
Culture of violence
The story of Sarah Everard may have captured the headlines, but the Femicide Census shows just how common the murders of women by men remain in the UK. A woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK. One in four women in the UK have been sexually assaulted. There is a 1.5% conviction rate for rape, and victims are treated abominably by the criminal justice system, leading many to avoid reporting, as responses to this tweet shows
If you have been raped and you know that there is a 1.5% chance of successfully convicting your rapist. Considering all the trauma of going through the process. Would you report? #CriminalJusticeReform
— Charlotte Kneer (@C_Kneer) March 24, 2021
Outside the criminal domain, women continue to bear the brunt of the labour of care and running the household. Women have been disproportionately disadvantaged by COVID in many different ways. It might seem jarring to place such a banal example next to the shocking crimes above, but one woman’s Twitter thread documenting what happened when she stopped clearing up after the male members of her family just illustrated the daily contempt that men often show women. Even the ones we love.
Two days ago, I decided to stop doing the dishes. I make all the dinners and I am tired of having to do all the cleaning too. SINCE THEN this pile has appeared and at some point they are going to run out of spoons and cups and plates.
Who will blink first? Not me. pic.twitter.com/IZkOwP3a6B
— Miss Potkin (@MissPotkin) March 17, 2021
“Not all men!”
Accompanying the stories of both horror and domestic disputes have been the voices of various men. There have been some noble attempts to get men to think and behave differently. But they have been largely drowned out by the fragile egos chorusing “Not all men!” The whatabouterists complaining that women should also talk about male-on-male violence. And for the most part, silence.
I understand that silence. And to some extent, the desire to shout “Not all men!” Because what is the alternative? It is to admit that even if we are “good” men, we benefit from women’s continuing subjugation. I find it difficult even writing that. But it’s nonetheless true. if I look back over both my personal life and career with real honesty, I can see multiple occasions where being a man has been an advantage. An advantage that only existed because of the continuing inequalities between men and women. An advantage offered to me daily in a thousand ways I don’t even see.
That advantage may have had nothing to do with violence on my part. But it is intrinsically connected to the violence that others commit. And to the culture that continues to promote men’s right to take what they want from women. We must acknowledge that these things are connected and not discrete phenomena.
We can celebrate the progress made on women’s rights. Universal suffrage. The Equal Pay Act. But we shouldn’t be under any illusion about just how far we still have to go. This is a long, slow change process and it remains slow because the status quo advantages half the population – the half that retains the balance of power. And because we reinforce the status quo through our media, unconsciously imbibing every day corrupt ideas about what constitutes a healthy relationship between the sexes.
If we want the pace of change to accelerate, we need to challenge it all. At the very least, in our own minds.