News Comment

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Manning up to create a safer and fairer world for women

Ruairi McKiernan

Published 11/06/2014 | 02:30

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Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
Picture posed. Thinkstock Images

Shocking figures revealed by the 'Just One Day' campaign show that on one day last year, 467 women and 229 children in Ireland sought support due to domestic violence. In India recently, two teenage sisters were raped and left to hang from a tree. In California, a young man went on a killing spree as revenge against women who wouldn't have sex with him. In Leitrim, a young woman claims to have been gang raped by men on a stag weekend.

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It's clear that the latest debate on gender is badly needed and we all need to get involved.

Ireland has come a long way since women were allowed the right to vote 100 years ago, or just over 40 years ago when women had to give up their jobs if they got married.

Some will argue that the gender debate is over, that women are free and equal now, but the reality rips through this. Progress is happening, but in politics and industry, unions and media, corporations and churches, it is men who still firmly rule the roost.

Just 15pc of our elected representatives in Dail Eireann are women, the lowest level in the developed world. In industry, only 21pc of senior managers are women.

Things take a more sinister twist when you consider the evidence of violence against women. Globally, at least one in three women have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland has reported a 38pc increase in helpline calls over a three-year period while at the same time suffering a 30pc cut in funding.

Women who are courageous enough to report rape cases to the gardai can hardly be encouraged by a justice system with a conviction rate of just 1pc, the lowest in Europe.

Nor can they take comfort from scenes such as those in a Kerry courtroom where a priest led up to 50 men to shake hands with a rapist in front of his 24-year-old victim.

Every day, many of our wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, aunts and colleagues fear for their safety in ways most men can't imagine. It's a situation that has become so normalised that it is rarely discussed.

We should be asking why women don't have the same freedom to walk the streets at night.

The link between the mass availability of violent and demeaning pornography and the rise in rapes and gang rapes needs exploring.

Amid the growing popularity of porn and prostitution, a new misogynistic lad culture is creeping in. Derogatory comments about women are common. Rape jokes sometimes infiltrate the banter.

This war on women is nothing new. Christy Moore sings about it in the song 'Burning Times', which describes the Roman Catholic Church's inquisition that led to the deaths of millions of women. The song describes how these women, once revered as 'healers and teachers', were seen as a threat to the male-dominated religion. You won't read much about that in the predominantly male-written history books.

Thankfully things are starting to change. Just as women are standing up, increasingly men are starting to ask questions of ourselves, about our suffering, our roles and what privileges we possess.

Whereas some men abuse power, men are also victims. Men largely suffer at the hands of other men, but sometimes too because of abusive females. Men, or at least some men, may still rule the world, but it is also men who make up 80pc of suicides. Men die younger and suffer in large numbers from heart attacks, addiction and homelessness.

An emerging men's movement is asking questions about what healthy masculinity looks like, about what it means to be a man.

These questions are rarely answered by a society that doesn't provide adequate rites of passages for young men in an increasingly pressurised and sexualised world.

I know this has been the case in my own life as I've often struggled to navigate the rocky road to manhood.

For centuries, men have been taught to be warriors, soldiers in a fight for survival where aggression is king. Vulnerability and sensitivity is seen as weakness.

No wonder then if men aren't more forthcoming with our emotions. It's a dog-eat-dog culture that permeates everything from politics to banking and business.

It explains in part why women don't often rise to the top of the testosterone-fuelled halls of power.

It's not that masculine traits should become redundant. We will always need the way of the warrior, only harnessed in healthy ways. In fact, it can be argued that we need men to become more manly, wilder and free, rather than tamed by corporate culture or pushed into an unrealistic femininity.

Most men are good men but it's time we started to hold others to account. How can we sit by and accept a status quo where so many women feel threatened?

Manning up means facing up to our issues in the same way that women must face theirs.

Surely we all want to build a safer, fairer world for mothers, wives, sisters and daughters? Women gaining more power shouldn't threaten us. It's not about us versus them.

It should be about power with, not power over, co-operation not competition.

We need neither patriarchy nor matriarchy, but fraternity and equality for all.

Ruairi McKiernan is a social innovator, campaigner and member of the Council of State. His website is www.community.ie

Irish Independent

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