Don’t be that guy

An Cailín Rua

POWERFUL MESSAGE In Police Scotland’s Don’t Be That Guy video several men describe intimidating, threatening or predatory actions towards women that are often passed off as insignificant.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

As a woman, the online space can sometimes be intimidating and hostile, much like offline, if you are a woman on your own. In the wake of a number of high-profile cases of murder and sexual assaults of women in Ireland and the UK, a murmur of anger among women has been rising to a crescendo.
For years, as women, we have been told that in order to protect ourselves, we must not walk alone after dark. We must not dress in certain ways. We must not court attention. And women are getting very tired of being blamed for being the victims of assaults and murders almost universally committed by men.
It was refreshing, therefore, to note the new campaign by Police Scotland, which called on men to look first to themselves when it comes to tackling violence against women.
‘Don’t Be That Guy’ is a short video, in which a number of men, to camera, describe acts that can (and are) frequently passed off as insignificant, but are in face acts that women can (and do) find intimidating.
Unsolicited compliments from strangers. Making vulgar comments to friends about women. Guilt-tripping or pressuring women into sexual acts. Sending explicit photos online. All these things happen, daily, and are passed off as routine or ‘boys will be boys’, but they actually form part of the wider picture of sexual violence and can cause distress and trauma that is frequently unaired and unacknowledged.
The campaign, which has been shared widely online, is probably the first time in Ireland that many have seen the discussion framed in this way. It is long overdue.
It undoubtedly makes for uncomfortable watching, but it is essential for everyone to engage with it if we are serious about tackling the issue of sexual violence. Men in particular must confront the issue with an open mind and a willingness to play their part, and to date, this has not happened.  
As horror greeted the murder of Sarah Everard in the UK – a woman who was just walking home, when she was confronted, assaulted and murdered by a serving police officer – the establishment response was to remind women to protect themselves. This was met with a wave of fury from women who have had enough of being blamed for being intimidated and assaulted.  
It was notable that the conversation consisted almost exclusively of women. The only notable contribution from men to the conversation was to protest that ‘Not all men’ were guilty. And that men too are victims of assault.
This is very true. Men are frequently assaulted by other men. Intimate partner violence in which men are victims is a reality, and it is an issue that also needs to be tackled. But not at the cost of turning the spotlight away from male violence towards women. There is room for both discussions.
No woman needs to be told that not all men are rapists or murderers. We work with men. We date them, we marry them, we have trusted male friends. We have fathers and brothers and uncles and sons. It is understandable that men might feel that they are all being painted with the same brush during these conversations, but there is no need to state the obvious.
In my own social media feeds, I did not see a single like, share or comment from a man I knew. There is a shocking lack of solidarity from men on the issue of sexual and domestic violence, and a very clear lack of willingness to confront or tackle the issue.
It is hurtful and it is disappointing and it is not good enough.
The Police Scotland video ends with these words: “Most guys don’t look in the mirror and see a problem. But it’s staring us in the face. Sexual violence begins long before you think it does.”  
If men now want to see this conversation changing, they have lots of opportunities to change it. Acknowledge your role and the contribution you can make.
Listen to women. Support them. Talk to your sons. Call out your mates and cut out the lad culture – it’s gone way past its sell-by date. And if you need, take an honest moment to look in the mirror.