#HimThough is the pertinent response to #MeToo, both of which have been trending recently on social media. #MeToo makes the effects of gender-based violence hyper-visible, but it also demands that survivors put their trauma on display. They are the ones who share their story and say #MeToo. That’s where #HimThough comes in. The hashtag makes sure the priority to end gender-based violence is placed on those with the privilege to dismantle it: men.
If you’re a man and you’re reading this, whether you’re directly responsible for violence against women or not, it’s still time to take ownership of how you can help end gender-based violence. It starts with contributing to shifting attitudes and behaviours away from rape culture and the sexism and misogyny inherent in our society. It starts by doing your bit to create an inclusive, safe society for all genders. Try these suggestions:
1 Away with ‘locker room talk’
‘Locker room talk’ is rooted in machoism that thrives on the dehumanisation of women behind closed doors – often starting as a ‘joke’. Phrases like ‘Boys will be boys’ are synonymous with locker-room talk. But joking about women, objectifying them and degrading them as ‘harmless fun’ among your guy friends (when there isn’t a woman present to call you out on your shit) is part of the culture that’s slowly but surely desensitising many men to violence against women. We’re not saying every guy who cracks a sexist joke is a rapist, but we are saying that every guy who cracks a sexist joke is contributing to the inherently dangerous rape culture we live in today. And it’s this culture that’s perpetuating horrific levels of gender-based violence.
The challenge: Next time you’re eavesdropping on a conversation where men think it’s a safe space to flex on their misogyny, speak up. Don’t take seemingly flippant comments (OR RAPE JOKES) for granted; the words we use have meaning, history and power. The first place to start is re-evaluating how you talk about women and acknowledge how the language used to describe and interact with women is part of the problem. We need you as an ally!
2 F*ck respectability politics!
What a women wears, how she carries herself or if she’s drunk are not conditions that ‘ask’ for assault or harassment. Historically, what women do with their bodies has been a source of scrutiny. We are policed to the point where our choices are weaponised. Respectability politics says that ‘provocative’ clothing or being too vocal/independent/resolute are partly to blame for the violence women experience. They’re not! We need to stop blaming the victims and turn the spotlight onto the perpetrators.
The challenge: If you believe that what a women wears or how she presents herself means she’s welcoming an attack, it’s time to reflect on why you think that. And to challenge that school of thought in others around you. Teach yourself, your friends, your sons, your nephews, your brothers – everyone! – that self-control and respecting the autonomy of women is what prevents gender-based violence and rape, not mandating longer hemlines or covered-up cleavage.
3 No more victim-blaming
When/if survivors of assault do have the courage to come forward, the reactions of others are often muddled with victim-blaming. Questions like ‘Why didn’t you speak up earlier?’, ‘Why didn’t you lay a charge?’, or ‘You did x so that’s why you deserve this’ disregard the dynamics of a culture that silences women and their attempts to seek help. It is never the survivor’s fault and yet the ‘blame’ is often shifted on them to make men feel comfortable in the knowledge that they cannot be held accountable. Stop asking these questions. Instead, start asking questions like, ‘How did this happen? Why did he do this? How is he being punished? How are others being protected against him? What can we do to stop this happening again?’
The challenge: Trauma should be handled with compassion, empathy and understanding. If someone tells you a story of their abuse, focus on listening. Show them you care and that you will do everything you can to create a safe space for them. Be like the David Schwimmers of this world. Offer women chaperones if they’re walking into a situation where they’re vulnerable or isolated. Realise your privilege and power and use it to make women feel safer. (Side note: David is our hero for offering a female journalist a chaperone when she interviewed him in his hotel room, to ensure she didn’t feel vulnerable while alone with him.)
4 Stop saying ‘#NotAllMen’ as a response to #MenAreTrash, dammit
Listen, #MenAreTrash. I want this printed on a T-shirt and tattooed on my forehead. If you feel the need to vehemently defend a system you’re supposedly exempt from, you’re part of the problem, bro.
The challenge: Try not to be obtuse. #MenAreTrash is a deliberate resistance against a system that normalises toxic masculinity. If you’re taking it personally by centring your feelings instead of taking issue with the systemic violence against women, maybe it’s time to put some things into perspective. Instead of getting offended when someone tweets #MenAreTrash, why not ask yourself, ‘How can I do better?’ It’s things like offering a chaperone (I know: can’t shut up about David) that help men do better. And yes, it’s up to you, men, to do better – not us women to try and make you seem (and feel) better because, shame, we just called you trash.
5 Hepeating, mansplaining and any variation thereof? Just don’t
These micro-aggressions are harmful in a number of ways. From capitalising on the ideas of women (hepeating) to trivialising our experiences just because it doesn’t include your frame of reference (mansplaining), it only reinforces a culture where women will always come second.
The challenge: Instead of ignoring these micro-aggressions, when you see them happening on and offline, be vocal about it. If someone in your office took an idea from a woman who shared the same sentiment and none of the praise, say something. If you see a dude centring his own limited frame of reference and applying that to every opposing experience a woman has, step in and tell him that his opinion/ideas are not the only valid ones.
6 Body language, do you read it?
As creatures who are able to communicate in myriad ways, there are clear signs that someone isn’t keen on the attention they’re receiving. This includes earphones in, reading a book, arms being crossed, or an unwillingness to engage in conversation. Most of the time, women engage in situations they’re not comfortable with for their own safety. It’s much safer to indulge someone’s unwanted attention for five minutes than to overtly refuse to interact and have to deal with the potential consequences (an angry guy with a bruised ego can be terrifying for a woman). The truth is, even if she’s smiling and nodding and pretending to give a shit, if you entered that situation feeling entitled to her attention, time and energy, she’s probably really uncomfortable and seeking ways to escape.
The challenge: Walking behind a woman who’s alone on the street? Give her a few metres, or cross over, so she’s doesn’t feel tailed or followed. Don’t corner a woman in a bar – if you’re approaching her to introduce yourself, make it physically clear she can leave or remove herself from the situation if she wants to. And be aware of body language because – newsflash – you don’t have any right to insert yourself into a woman’s space, time or energy. If she’s looking wary, uncomfortable, nervous, hostile or cornered in any way, back TF off. Taking notice of those social cues is important for respecting the personal space and boundaries of others.
7 Rape apologists are gross
Rape is rape is rape is rape. Finish en klaar. There are no excuses.
The challenge: Stop giving your money to rapists (I’m looking at you R Kelly, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, etc.). Yes, that means never, ever buying R Kelly’s music every again, or funding Woody’s films. Stop making excuses for them. Stop giving them life.