Empowering Society

Women are not the problem, it’s men

As a feminist and a young woman, I was both horrified and excited when the #MeToo movement began last October. Horrified, not because I was surprised that these things were happening every day, but because of the sheer number of women who bravely shared their experience with sexual assault. And excited, because I felt a spark of hope inside me – we were heading for change.

Last year, I’ve spent many hours thinking about how we reach that ‘change’ which we are  so desperately in need of worldwide. I felt frustrated that once again, we (and by “we” I mean women) were given the task to make people care about and understand just how comprehensive the problem really is. In particular, I was looking for more men to participate in the conversation, but -from my viewpoint- they seemed to be missing (out).

Sexual violence in statistics

Global estimates published by the World Health Organisation indicate that 1 in 3 women worldwide have been exposed to either physical and/or sexual violence throughout their life.

An extensive survey from 2012 conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights highlighted the sexual violence women face and experience within the 28 European member states. With 52% of women having experienced physical or sexual violence, Denmark takes the number one spot followed by Finland and Sweden.

In other places around the world, such as in Vietnam, the percentages are significantly higher. Research by International Charity ActionAid in 2016 found 87% of women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetimes. Conclusion: Sexual violence is everywhere.

But exactly who commits these assaults? In America, according to a 2010 survey by National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence, more than 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men. Interestingly, 93 percent of the perpetrators of sexual violence against men are in fact also men. Taking these facts into account, we must address the elephant in the room – one gender is more prominent than the other in these statistics. If men are at the center of the problem, then, they are integral to the solution.

So why do men struggle to engage themselves in the conversation?

Taking the lead

Wade Davis, a former National Football League player is now an activist and educator. At a conference on gender and workplace, he said , “Here’s what men don’t get about the #MeToo movement: It is not about women, it’s about us.” Suffice it to say,  by “us” he meant men.

Educator, filmmaker and author, Jackson Katz, hosted a TEDxFiDiWomen talk where he stated that sexual violence is not a “women’s issue”, but instead a “men’s issue” due to a number of reasons. The primary reason is indeed, calling it a “women’s issue”. “This gives men an excuse to not pay attention.” He then illustrates that using the passive voice in relation to men excludes them from the conversation. With an exercise made by the linguist and author, Julia Penelope, he shows exactly how:

“John beat Mary.”

“Mary was beaten by John.”

“Mary was beaten.”

“Mary was battered.”

“Mary is a battered woman.”

Already in the third sentence ‘John’, the perpetrator, has left the picture and ‘Mary’ is now the focus. Katz says it illustrates structurally how we think and literally how language conspires to keep our attention off men. The goal, he explains, is to get men who are not a part of the abusive culture to challenge those who are, and use the bystander approach to interrupt and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable.

“There’s been an awful lot of silence in male culture about this ongoing tragedy of men’s violence against women and children, hasn’t there? […] We need to break that silence, and we need more men to do that.”

This article is not a battle of genders. The problem is more so the structure of society that is off. How we speak about these issues is essential to cultivating a conversation where men are actively participating. It is also essential to furthering men’s willingness to take on their part of the responsibility. If we are to see a change in the future, we need to start challenging men to be leaders in these conversations and encourage them to be allies against a system of patriarchy. 

I therefore invite all men to take a step towards change.


by Emilie Yung Meiling

Photo credits

Statstic, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2012

UN Women’s HeforShe Campaign, UN Women, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Azul Exclusive Auction Dress for 2lei, Bea Serendipity, CC BY 2.0