A Man’s Guide: Actions to Achieve a Society Where Women Live Without Fear
Published: 20 Dec 2018
Do not kill, do not rape, do not assault, do not harass, do not threaten, do not insult anyone today. And don’t insist. This should be the only guide men would have to follow to the letter in order to end male violence. I wish nothing else was necessary; but unfortunately it is not so. There are many guides, but they are aimed at women. They are lists of tips on how to minimize the risks in the face of possible male aggression: walk in groups, in well-lit areas, agree on a security word with a friend in the face of a dangerous situation, store the police department’s number as a speed-dial number on your mobile phone… It’s easy to get the impression that the responsibility for being raped or killed lies with women if they do not follow the guide’s recommendations. But what about men? Beyond not killing, raping, assaulting, harassing, threatening, insulting and insisting, can men do anything to minimize this sense of insecurity?
A group of experts and citizens propose and analyze what to do and what not to do, in these 12 steps.
1) The first thing to keep in mind is an obvious one: Not all women are the same and not everyone is uncomfortable with the same things. Talk to friends and women in your family about their experiences of harassment, fear and intimidation. It’s the first step to put yourself in their shoes, that is, to empathize.
2) Assume that, in certain contexts, even the mere presence of a man can be perceived as a threat. In what contexts? In many of them. On an empty street, in the countryside, in an elevator, in a doctor’s office, in a home visit. In general, in any situation that involves being alone with a woman, even in a public space.
Journalist and activist Stéphane M. Grueso says: “It’s a difficult process to recognize that ‘they can regard you as a threat,’ that you belong to an oppressive majority. You (me), who has never done anything to anyone. You, who thinks that being alone on the street with a woman, you would do your best to protect her, when actually you increase her insecurity with your presence… Once you understand that, and ‘grieve’ for being a man (in the context of a society where men regularly mistreat — and kill — women for being women), it becomes more straightforward. But it’s not easy.”
Patricia Del Rosal, Iñaki Alastrué and Miguel Lázaro, from Masculinidades Beta (Beta Males), or MMβ, point out that men tend to adopt a “defensive attitude” when they are made to see that they can be perceived as a threat. “We have to stop complaining and start thinking about whether we are contributing to positive change.”
Fortunately, more and more men are asking questions about these issues, about how to “minimize the sense of threat”, in the words of David Kaplún, secretary of the Men’s Association for Gender Equality (AHIGE). This debate is also increasingly present among groups of friends and on social networks.
3) In any isolated environment with an unknown woman, avoid communicating your intention to “reassure” her. Don’t use expressions like, “I’m not going to do anything to you,” or, “Relax.” It’s obvious that these words will only have the opposite effect. Just don’t speak to her. Not with gestures, not by whistling “calmly” to yourself. “The fact that a man ignores you makes you feel safe,” says Patricia del Rosal.
4) If you walk behind a woman who is alone on a street or in an isolated area, change sides of the street and try to move ahead to enter her field of view. If this is not possible, pass her quickly, or slow down and let her move further ahead. Or choose an alternative route. By now you will have understood that it is about you not walking behind a woman, or near her (even if you are in front of her). It doesn’t matter whether it’s day or night. Obviously at night the sense of threat increases; but it also exists during the day.
Publicist Manuel C. says: “If I am in a parking lot at night and I see a woman, I make myself visible immediately. And I even once took out my cell phone and pretended to have a conversation so that she could hear my voice and stay calm. I only did that once because the woman seemed a bit nervous about my presence.”
5) If you are in a group with other men walking behind a woman who is alone on a street or in an isolated area, stop and wait until she walks ahead and you lose sight of her. In addition, avoid shouting and singing of any kind. The AHIGE points out: “Not only does our presence intimidate, but also our voices, so be aware of the volume when you are talking in public spaces.”
6) To accompany or not to accompany. “If you know the woman, do not assume that she will feel safer if you walk with her. If you are both going the same way, ask her if she wants you to accompany her,” says David Kaplún. It is important not to insist; respect her wishes. “Chivalry is not the same as being polite,” says Patricia del Rosal.
7) The elevator. MMβ recommends distinguishing if it’s an elevator at work, in your own apartment building, or a busy office building. In general, if just you and a woman are waiting for an elevator, opt for the stairs (as if you usually do) or let her take the elevator alone first. If several people are in an elevator and you notice that everyone but one woman are getting off, don’t stare at her. Look at your cell phone. Mind your own business. If you and a woman are going to take the stairs, go first.
“The way of looking at a woman is important. We men have the privilege of examining, staring, inspecting [a woman] from top to bottom. This is intimidating and there are women who must endure it dozens of times a day,” says Miguel Lázaro.
8) In an empty train or subway car, on an empty platform, or at an empty station, stay as far away as possible from her. If both of you get off at the same stop, stay on the platform for a few minutes, until she has gone. Stéphane M. Grueso notes: “If I am alone with a woman in a subway car or something like that, I act calm and reserved.”
9) Leisure, partying, hooking up: MMβ suggests reconsidering male leisure activities. Male dynamics tend to revolve around the act of “going out to hook up.” That’s not necessarily female dynamics. “Many women go out simply to have a good time, with their friends or whoever.” We men have to attempt, above all, to “not bother.”
10) Courtship, rejection: Don’t catcall at women, especially strangers, nor comment on their clothes. Even if you consider it a compliment. Men do not have a “right to compliment.” There is a right to security, and to a sense of security. In addition to the objectifying look that we already mentioned, another male behavior that generates fear is not knowing how to accept “no” for an answer.
“Men have to learn to accept rejection and ask themselves why sometimes they even eroticize a woman’s rejection and even their fear,” says Patricia Del Rosal. “In general, our desire falls when a man rejects us; for them the opposite happens,” she adds. “It’s good to eroticize consent (that is, desire), and not to eroticize intimidation, or rejection, or conquest.” Del Rosal emphasizes the need for men not to insist when they receive a negative response. “It appears that insisting is not violent, because they are only words, but it is. There is a famous feminist motto: ‘To insist is to harass, and to harass is to assault.'”
Ask yourself why you never stare or try to flirt with a woman who is with a man. Ask yourself how you behave in the presence of another man and why. In the same vein, ask yourself why you don’t make certain comments when there is a woman facing you.
11) If you see a man bothering a woman, MMβ recommends intervening. One option is to distract the man. Ask him something, to give the woman a chance to leave. Men must make a stand before other men. “We have to break the tacit pact between males about how to behave with women,” says Iñaki Alastrué.
12) WhatsApp groups. The same stance has to be made in WhatsApp groups when comments about women are sexist, objectifying, denigrating and even threatening. “Feminist men must make their peers uncomfortable,” says Miguel Lázaro. “Sometimes there is a ‘spectator effect’ in such groups: men who do not agree with what they read but say nothing.” It is important to draw attention to them, because that can encourage other men in the group to express themselves. If necessary, it’s even good to leave the group. “When you don’t take a stand yourself, you’re an accomplice. Other men have to be held accountable for their own behavior,” says MMβ.
To sum up, and regardless of the context: in any situation, think about whether you can be perceived as a threat; if so, don’t prolong the situation. And another thing: bring up this discussion topic with your friends and in your workplace.