Monday 26 September 2016

Men must change their way of thinking – we owe it to Jill Meagher

Published 05/05/2014 | 02:30

Jill and her husband Tom Meagher
Jill and her husband Tom Meagher

HE was anxious there in the Green Room, just before 'The Late Late Show'. You could see Tom Meagher just wanted to get out there like maybe a football player in the tunnel before a big game.

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Tom Meagher was about to tell his country the terrible story of how his beloved wife Jill was raped and murdered in Australia.

I have this picture in my head of Tom and Jill together. It is not a real picture in the sense that I had never met Tom and Jill as a couple. It's just an imagined scene. They are walking hand in hand, happy and relaxed in each other's company. You do an immediate, quick audit as we do sometimes on a streetscape and think "man, they're so good looking together. They have it all."

Life can defeat us on points or by knockout. The secret is to find a way to keep going. To find a reason for what it is that has changed your life forever or to find a cause worth fighting for. Tom Meagher is doing his best to make sense of the horrific rape and murder of his lovely wife and Tom Meagher has found a cause.

White Ribbon is a worldwide movement designed to end violence by men against women. The figures are truly frightening. One in three women suffer violence at the hands of men. Nearly all of us know of a woman who has been a victim of violence. Most men are truly appalled by men's violence against women. But we do have some responsibility to bear.

"Did you hear the one about the hooker . . ." so goes the opening line of a 'joke'. Do you say "stop it right there", or do you acquiesce in the telling of a story that dehumanises the prostitute by the very act of listening? I'm sorry to say I would have heard many so-called jokes over many years and just listened, uncomfortably, but without any rebuke to the teller. That's a big part of what White Ribbon is about. A big part of what Tom Meagher is trying to change.

I promised Tom I would write about his cause today but all week I struggled to get the import of what he is saying. But then it dawns on you that our words define us and the words we choose to listen to and leave unchallenged also make us what we are. When we tell jokes or support the telling of such stories by simply listening or even forcing a laugh from sort of misplaced sense of masculine social etiquette, our very being there and doing nothing makes us very much part of the problem. What may just be a casual telling of a dirty joke to a group of men can trivialise violence to women. The retelling all over the world a billion times over creates a template for those on the verge of acting out violent tendencies towards women. The years of build-up of such talk lodge until the perpetrators of violence against women see their actions as justified and the norm.

Tom's blog on White was published here a few days ago. It is an emotional but very well-thought-out testament to his belief that words and attitudes are accessories to the murder and rape of women. The old wartime warning "loose talk costs lives" very much applies.

We will quote from Tom on

"We see instances of this occur in bars when men become furious and verbally abusive to, or about, women who decline their attention. We see it on the street as groups of men shout comments, grab, grope and intimidate women with friends either ignoring or getting involved in the activity. We see it in male peer groups where rape jokes and disrespectful attitudes towards women go uncontested."

I saw it in a town in the west this week. A boy tried to grope a youngster. She pushed him away and didn't seem to mind too much but I sensed it was because she had no support. The other boys just let it be.

I would respectfully suggest that if you have a son, Tom's blog should be given to him to read over. Read it yourself. Most of us just don't realise the harm that is being caused. Tom tells of the first time he heard his wife's murderer speak in coherent sentences. He reasoned then that 'the monster myth' which explains away all violence against woman as being the act of a deranged, inhuman evil-doer is the easy way out for us men.

But it all starts somewhere. Maybe even on the side of a sunny street in the west of Ireland. If we men can change our way of thinking and the attitude of the men we socialise with, the positive effect will in some way help Tom Meagher and in some way make it up to his beloved Jill.

Irish Independent

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