I just popped into the bank to put some money into an account, and it ended up being a bit of a weird and uncomfortable experience. I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the hot July streets of Madrid and felt the cool whir of the air-conditioning touch my sweaty little face. I walked up to the machine.
‘Hey’ an angry voice said a couple of inches from my ear. I looked up in surprise to see a man of about 40 years old staring directly into my face. ‘I was here first.’
‘Oh,’ I said, genuinely surprised. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see you’
He scoffed and elbowed me aside to get the machine.
‘Hey’ said a less angry and more bewildered voice, also male. It was another customer in the bank. ‘There is another machine right beside her.’
Clearly, I hadn’t pushed in after all. Man 1 mumbled something inaudible with his back to me. I repeated, ‘there’s another machine just there.’ Man 1 looked me up and down and raised his eyebrows, to show me he didn’t give a toss whether or not there was another machine, and he started using the machine he had pushed me away from. I stood there for a couple of minutes in surprise before I walked to the second machine.
Man 2 opened his mouth to say something but I shook my head at him, and smiled to show it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to ‘cause a scene’ as us women are so often accused of doing when a man exerts power over us.
Man 2 and I left the bank at the same time and he looked quite upset. ‘He was just a dickhead.’
‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘but I don’t think that would have happened if I wasn’t a girl.’
This is a small example of a man who belittled me and made me feel I had to back down, even though the tension was caused completely by him and was not my fault. He created a problem, and then made me feel that I had to keep quiet in order to keep things running smoothly.
But you know what? Billions of women are biting their tongues and smiling at a billion stupid little things every day, and it really does get quite tedious.
What’s the big deal? Perhaps you might ask. This guy was rude, but has it really got anything to do with gender?
I would argue that yes, it absolutely does. You see, I am reading a book at the moment called ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ by Rebecca Solnit and it is really helping me see the big picture when these small aggressive acts take place.
In her chapter called ‘The longest war’ she explains the masculinity of violence, something which no one really seems to be talking about. For fear of being called a feminazi bra burner? Perhaps. Solnit explains that there are many lovely and kind men who are allies to women. For example, Man 2 could see that something wasn’t right and he spoke up and tried to help me.
However, there is a very clear and serious link between masculinity and violence against women that needs to be addressed. Solnit explains that there is ‘a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked’ and that ‘violence doesn’t have a race, class or religion, but it does have a gender.’
She explains that nearly all the perpetrators of violent crimes are men. That doesn’t mean that all men are violent. Most aren’t and many also suffer violence, though it is generally at the hands of other men. Of course, women also can be violent but the statistics do tell us that in the cases where women are involved in violence, particularly that against men, the consequences are not as grave and it rarely leads to serious injury or death. What’s more the majority of men who are killed by their female spouses are actually done so in self-defence
As Rebecca explains violence is all about exercising control over another person, showing them that you are more powerful than them. So, it is a serious human rights issue that a woman is beaten by her husband every 9 SECONDS, in America alone. Of the 2 million women that are beaten every year, 145,000 require overnight hospitalisation.
Violence is a form of control, and murder is carried out by men a shocking 90% of the time.
Like I explained, not all men are violent. Most men are kind and good and allies to women. However, it cannot be denied that violence is intrinsically linked to masculinity and if we don’t address this head on I don’t see how we can ever make progress towards a safer world for all people.
It does matter that the man in the bank pushed me away from the machine, because he was taking my power away. And, like society has taught me to do, I bit my tongue and smiled to avoid conflict, rather than recognising what he was really doing to me. He wasn’t really being rude in the bank, he was really showing me that he believed he had the right to control me and hold power over me.
Violent masculinity has the same death toll as 9/11, every 3 years. But the women being murdered by men is a war on terror that we aren’t having. What’s more, this is a trap that not only disempowers women, but also traps men. We cannot really be free until we address this structural power dynamic which is effecting us all.
Thank you so much for reading. I really recommend reading the book ‘Men explains things to me,’ which was very enlightening, accessible and short. You can get it on amazon here