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Why teach women to be fearful?

March 21st, 2021 5:05 PM

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LAST week we celebrated International Women’s Day. There were great stories of women’s achievements, accomplishments, successes and not least in our own newspaper.

But, unfortunately, it was also a week in which we heard about the violent death of Sarah Everard in the UK, and the court case in Dublin of a man who bundled a female stranger into the boot of his car.

What followed both reports was an outpouring of stories from women all over Ireland, and the UK, about violence or harassment, both physical and mental, that they had suffered at the hands of men.

Sinead O’Leary from Rochestown in Cork city once more recounted the horrific tale of the night her best friend Nichola Sweeney was stabbed to death in her own home, as they were getting ready for a night out. Solicitor Sarah Grace spoke out about the violent sexual attack she experienced and how it has traumatised her.

The violent death of a lone woman is a story that is familiar to us in West Cork, too.

And not forgetting that our local charity – West Cork Women Against Violence – has had one of its busiest years, with many women trapped with violent partners in lockdown.

It makes one wonder what the #metoo movement of a few years ago has achieved.

There is hardly a woman in Ireland who has not experienced some type of unwanted behaviour from men – be it comments in a work setting, on a street, online or, at the other end of the scale, fullscale physical, verbal or mental attacks.

Women have been taught to brush it off, to ‘get over it’, to ‘move on’. In other words, to accept it as a part of life. From a young age, women have been conditioned to be afraid – so they will be on their guard at all times. And they have been coached to know what is and isn’t ‘acceptable’ styles of dress.

Seeing sexuality as something shameful led us to the situation where thousands of women were sent to Mother & Baby homes in the past for bringing ‘shame’ to a family or community, simply by getting pregnant, thereby revealing to the world they had the temerity to have sex.

What was so evident from the conversations of this past week was that women are – a bit like Peter Finch in the movie Network – mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.

They don’t want to be told how to dress, where or when to walk, and why they need to be alert at all times, to ensure their safety.

Isn’t it time we stopped telling our women to ‘stay safe’ and to be fearful, and instead started telling men how to behave?

We need to start educating men from a young age to treat – not just women – but all citizens, with greater consideration.

Because maybe it’s a good time to broaden the debate, too. Should it really be just about men versus women? Surely it should be about consideration for all.

We should not forget, just a few short years ago, we were also worrying about random attacks on young men walking home at night – by other men.

Let’s start educating men – no matter how young – about one element that is sadly missing from much of the world’s dialogue today: respect.

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