A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
Where to start…
I’m grateful for some of the conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks with men about men’s violence against women. Though mostly, those conversations have deviated somewhat from that specific topic.
And I want to preface this by saying: my heart is full of love. After all the learning and self development I’ve done, it would be frankly pretty disappointing if I was just really angry all the time… yet there’s a lot about how we’re interacting as men and women that feels ‘off’ to me. And I want to speak about that without fear. So I will. I speak from love. Please understand that some of the difficulty you may have in reading this stems from internalised patriarchal views about how women ‘should’ speak.
Firstly: why is this called ‘men’s violence against women’ and not just ‘violence against women’. Because, it is predominantly men who are harming women. It is also predominantly men who are harming men. The statistics on this are stark. On balance, men are doing the harming. You and I know that there are situations where women harm men, but they’re in the minority. While that doesn’t make them unimportant, it does mean that they’re not the societal problem I’m addressing here.
Every woman has a catalogue of events where they felt uncomfortable in the presence of a man or men. The first time for me, was when I was 11 and turned around to see an old man exposing himself to me. At 14, a man walked past me and it was only after I’d taken a couple more steps and computed what he’d said, that I realised he’d been guessing my bra size. Aged 18 I was in the car with my driving instructor who was in his 60s and he was talking about clitoral piercings. Aged 20 I went on a wilderness course as a solo woman and a man in his 40s told me ‘we’re all men, we could do anything to you out here and no one could do anything about it’. These experiences happen to women and girls everywhere, all the time. I was actually quite an unusual woman in my thirties who hadn’t experienced any physical harm from a man.
Then, as some people already know, in 2020, a male massage therapist sexually assaulted me during a professional massage. And there’s a sliding scale of other events- including hearing every office of administrative women no matter what age called ‘the girls’. Whether it’s actual bodily harm or belittlememt of our skills and abilities or innate worth, it’s absolutely rife. I’m not speaking from the sidelines. I’m in the arena. Not, you understand, by choice. If you take a moment to reflect… do you (if you’re a man) have any similar stories about women objectifying, threatening or actually physically harming you? If you’re a woman, I know you do. I want to Segway here to say I apologise for the binary gender segregation. I know there are people identifying in different ways and I’m educating myself on your experiences as we speak, but this article is written as a woman, intended mainly for men who’ve lived in male bodies to understand our experiences.
And yet… I believe in restorative justice. I learnt today even that there’s even something called ‘transformative justice’, which sparked my curiosity further. I don’t believe punitive justice works (the figures speak for themselves), and I don’t believe that shame, guilt and hatred will move us any further forward. There are other women out there doing this work too, if taking the personal responsibility for our own healing so that we can approach the world from only more love.
But I am angry.
And I am commited to using my voice.
So many times when I have done so, I’ve been told to temper my angry tone, lest my message be distorted or too difficult to hear.
Yet I hear from every man I’ve spoken directly to that you DO care, you just don’t know what to do or say. As well as having a sense that anything that you might do or say, will be wrong.
And this is not just an issue for me, it’s a feminist issue. One of the things I want to speak to is the patriarchal structure (and if you don’t believe it impacts your world, than you’re a beneficiary of the system), which impresses upon girls and women the need to adjust our voices to be palatable. Our voices are valid, whether we speak calmly and clearly, or whether we scream and rant. We’re angry. And men have been used to women shrinking themselves for their comfort for too long. I realise that some of the things I’m saying are probably confronting, and here’s my secret hope- that I’m saying things that the women in your life may have been saying for some time. I’m hoping that reading this might spark a conversation. I’m actually really just hoping that you WILL read this. Stick with me if you are.
The thing is, you see, I’m a very solution focussed person. So when I was assaulted, I set about healing. But it cost me. A lot. It cost me time, energy, money, wellbeing. It costs me things that many women don’t have to spend. For four days I couldn’t pick up my own son because my whole body tensed up so badly I was wracked with physical pain.
It also gave me clarity, motivation and the knowledge that I’m an absolute badass. But it did feel a bit like cleaning dog shit off my shoe. Who let their dog shit? Why do I have the responsibility of cleaning it?! This is an unpleasant and time consuming job! Why couldn’t they just have accepted responsibility for cleaning up their own dog’s shite?! Why does anyone, ever, think that this is ok?!
And maybe you’re thinking- ‘well, I would always pick up my dog’s shit’ or ‘I only have cats, so this isn’t relevant to me’ or ‘why is she even talking about dog shit, I haven’t stepped in any recently’.
Well. Because the streets are covered in dog shit and we (women) are stepping in it on the daily. So there’s definitely a problem. Even if you have the use of a car, and you can’t see it. (For clarity: your male body is a car. No ones blaming you for having the car, or saying you shouldn’t have the car of that your car is abhorrent or part of the dog poo problem). Also- and this is where I truly commit to speaking truth to power- can you HONESTLY hand on heart say there aren’t times and places when you’d consider it ok to leave a little dog poo. You know, on the verge… in the woods…
Why should you care, as you sit in your car? Well- you could just care because you’d like us to have nice clean shoes and not have the burden of cleaning it up. But also- there’s the small issue of the fact we walk it all over the carpet.
Anyway, I’ve really flogged that metaphor, so I’m going to leave it for now.
Maybe this feels like a tangent.
It isn’t. Whenever I talk to men about men’s violence against women or read their comments online, there are tangents aplenty. Some of the less considerate ones include:
move aside and let’s read some real news
‘Slow news day is it’
‘Probably another distraction’
‘This is just clickbait’
But then there’s also the more considered responses, such as:
‘Violence is hard for everyone’
‘I would never do this to anyone’
‘Women also hurt men’
But then there’s also the actively misogynistic views about women who speak up about sexual violence against them from powerful men such as:
-‘she didn’t complain when she took the money’
-‘poor little rich girl’
-‘wow, what a coincidence this coincides with her book coming out’.
-‘so she talks about it now when he’s not here to defend himself’
-why didn’t she say something at the time, not decades later
And never just, ‘shit. I didn’t know that this was happening on this scale, so severely or so flagrantly. I’m so fucking sorry to hear of your experience’.
Well, not never. But not often.
As if it’s easy for women to talk about being intimately violated. As if that often works out well for women. As if women are routinely believed. As if it doesn’t usually take a multitude of women accusing a man in order to bring him to justice. As if speaking up doesn’t re-traumatise women who’ve been living with the consequences of someone else’s actions for their whole goddamn life.
Did I mention I’m angry?
The commonly agreed truth, based on analyses of the actual data, are that it is overwhelmingly men who are harming women. Read here for more information if that’s something you feel the need to dispute. 81 women have been killed in 28 weeks since Sarah Everard’s death. And this is tied in to the issues around sexual violence because it all stems from the fundamental idea that men own, or at least control, women. And maybe you don’t believe that, which is good- but we’re often not very good witnesses to our own processes. So it could be that there are signs that you maybe do believe it a little bit… like, believing in marriage as an institution, or having ever felt jealousy. And honestly I think there’s more than that, because when men have got honest with me, I hear them say they’re not sure where they stand if women are equal. What is their role? And I think this speaks to a relationship dynamic which I have spoken about many times, called the drama triangle. You can read more here about the ins and outs. Essentially, men are saying- but if I’m not the saviour, what am I? My argument is this: we do not need saving, we need supporting in loving lives as the creator. Empowered women take radical personal responsibility for themselves. When I do that, I think I’m the most attractive a prospect as a partner for a grounded man that I’ve ever been. Men should find women’s empowerment exciting, as an invitation to shake up what it means to be a man. An opportunity to rid the shackles of toxic masculinity and redefine yourself. Women are doing it, and it’s really a call to action. We are not prepared to masaage egos, reassure you that you’re still needed or diminish our gifts in the world to make men feel more comfortable.
In conclusion, both men and women seem scared to talk openly and honestly about the issues around men’s violence against women. I think it’s time we got comfortable being uncomfortable. One thing I think men can do is to be commited to having these hard conversations, listening to understand the experience of women and girls and to learning more about the issues involved.
Another is to educate yourselves on the issues involved. Attend a reclaim the night rally this weekend. Engage with the many conversations being facilitated. Seek them out. Get comfortable being uncomfortable sitting in those spaces. Listen to the podcasts I’ve pointed to below. Listen to your partners. Hear their experiences without seeking to save, undermine or match them. Call out people who send you sexist shit. Make complaints alongside your fellow woman about misogynistic views expressed by politicians, media outlets, influencial people. Sign petitions to support funding to end gender based violence.
But MOST importantly, crucially, address internalised patriarchal beliefs in your own mind. I have them, so do you.
Men’s violence against women with Jackson Katz. Jameela Jamil ‘iWeigh’
Reevaluate justice and eradicate gender based violence. Marlee Liss ‘The Sensual Revolution feat. Nneka Macgregor
While not many of us like to think of ourselves as victims, there are often situations in which we feel victimised, hurt or vulnerable. It is a necessary part of relating to others to encounter difficulties, and my personal feeling is that we can get huge personal growth through these points where we are forced to look at our ‘stuff’. I have often presented the victim triangle to clients, in order to help them understand the dynamics at play in less than healthy relationships. In the victim triangle, the victim is subjected to the unpleasant behaviour of a perpetrator, and sometimes saved by the kind actions of a saviour. Whether the perpetrator is being unkind, or the saviour kind, the victim remains the victim. This is the problem with the victim triangle. There’s nowhere ‘empowered’ to go. You either move to become a perpetrator (for example, if you don’t ‘appreciate’ the saviour’s kindness, you may become their perpetrator), or you become a saviour (otherwise known as focusing on other people’s lives and relationships, and ignoring the issues in your own). Maybe I sound harsh, but I’m just a really big fan of exiting the victim triangle, you see. It seems to me, that anything between a victim and a perpetrator is a dynamic I would rather not be involved in, and the saviour role is the epitomy of being all up in someone else’s business.
So, I present to you, the alternative. Within exactly the same relationship, with the very same people, it is possible to remove the metaphorical acetate sheet with the victim triangle written on it, and to re-apply one with the empowerment triangle. Here we have the creator (who takes over from the victim), the challenger (who was once a perpetrator) and the coach (who may or may not be fulfilled by the person who was acting as a saviour). As a side note, more than one role can also be fulfilled by one person (for example, someone my caste you as a saviour one minute, and a perpetrator the next, regardless of your actions being the same in each circumstance. They would be operating in the victim triangle).
Within the empowerment triangle, the creator takes agency over how they are seeing the situation, first and foremost. I could write a whole post, or book, about becoming the creator in your own life. Primarily, this is about moving away from the illusion that you are seeing things as they truly are. It is about divorcing ‘reality’ (hence the blog name), and looking for fresh, more empowering ways to view your situations, relationships and the people around you. This is the groundwork for creating mental freedom, and emotional flexibility, in my view. Without this step, we are always falling prey to the old stories we have, which were often created when we had very little agency in our lives (when we were much younger, for example). As the creator, you start to have choice around the meaning you are making of any given situation. You get to stay curious, and to increase your capacity to relate to others from a more ‘adult’ place. This is not always easy, and having this conversation with clients can also be tricky. Who really wants to think they’ve been a victim, a perpetrator or a saviour? I know I’ve tried my hand at all three, on numerous occasions.
The coach can be an actual person, a book, a podcast, a TED talk or a friend, colleague or professional. It can even be a moment of clarity from within you. Self coaching is an excellent skill, and one that gets more intuitive and easier over time. Meanwhile, life will, of course, continue to bring you challenges. In the form of people, situations or scenarios you’d rather just avoid. They are not, however, uniquely out to ‘get you’, and believing so will land you firmly in the victim triangle.
Which brings me to my final point, which is about awareness. If there’s one thing I’d love for you to take from this blog post, it’s that you can always bring more awareness to your processes. You don’t have to be faultless, you need not strive for perfection, but if in any given moment you are able to bring even 10% more awareness to the processes at play, and to your own ‘stuff’, it will serve you in becoming the creator in your own life, and in relation to others.
90 % of single parents in the UK are women. That’s quite a shocking statistic, and it got me thinking about how that could possibly be. I feel passionate about the rights of women and girls, and it seems to me that we might have a long way to go if this is really the case. Where do the men go, I wonder? Where are the dads? They can’t all be so terrible that they’re incapable of parenting.
I remember listening to an American divorce coach (The Kickass Single Mom) who talked about 50:50 parenting, and who said the number one reason women gave not to was that they didn’t trust their ex-partner. Her response was: he’ll figure it out! This seems to me to me a very reasonable idea. After all, over the last four years, I’ve figured out a plethora of issues. It’s been on me to sort childcare, school uniform, snacks, lunches, sports kits, tired school mornings, play dates and even, during the pandemic, home schooling… For four years (seven if you count the years I was married), I did all the drop offs and all the pick-ups, the sick days, everything. I took the financial hit. Y
It’s a natural consequence, I think, of all the work that I’ve done on my ‘stuff’ that things change across time, or rather that I will make changes to my external circumstances as I find what needs to be addressed. It seemed to me that rather than struggle on, trying to find solutions to the endless sticky situations that being a single parent with the majority responsibility for the kids left me facing day in, day out, I could make a change that supports me in moving forward. Rather like that lovely saying ‘nothing changes, if nothing changes’. The difference between addressing stress and addressing the causes of stress is covered in Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book ‘Burnout’, which gives excellent tips and strategies for doing both, even in the context of patriarchy.
The way I see it (and another insight from the Kickass Single Mom) is that if issues like childcare and sickness don’t affect men in the workplace, nothing will change. I believe women have been taking the responsibility (and costs) of raising children almost single handedly, for too long. Nowhere is it more stark than in single parent households. Instigating a 50:50 parenting setup is one small act of everyday feminist activism for me, and I’ll advocate for it while I
A) Have an uninterrupted shower/ sex-for-days/ hot cup of tea…
B) Write this blog and other creative pursuits
C) Envision a life that goes beyond hamster-wheelesque levels of ‘doing’.