Men: When our presence itself is a problem

There’s a brilliant clip doing the rounds by Daniel Sloss, which is very frank on how men need to do more to end the culture of violence and intimidation suffered by women.

It drives the message of male complicity by inaction and makes us reassess our own values. You’ll see fragile egos leap to their own defence on social media (#notallmen), as if praise should somehow be merited or critique spared if you’re not an abuser.

As Sloss says, that on its own is not enough. It stems much further, to cultures of toxic masculinity, intervening rather than ignoring, situational awareness, emotional intelligence, and – terrifyingly – the lack of legal protection for victims.

We must be active problem-solvers

It strikes me that these interventions go beyond the obvious issues and obvious solutions.

It’s more than ‘how can I be a better ally if a woman is walking alone at night?’. Sometimes, it’s about ‘how does my mere presence in a space cause problems?’

I’ve got an example of this to share.

In my PhD years and even beyond, I was a user of Student Minds – a discussion forum and community that helped people with difficulties, notably eating disorders.

I used the service for three years in two different cities. It was incredibly helpful – a lifeline, even – and that hour ended up being the highlight of my week. Had I been more secure in myself during those years, I would have been more public about how supportive it was.

But there was something very uncomfortable that underpinned it.

I was the only male user. Every time we showed up for the first introductory session, there would be a room full of women. Almost all of them never showed up again.

Nobody knew the reasons for this, and it’s risky to assume what they might have been. I was acutely aware of what it looked like. These women needed a safe community that didn’t include men.

The organisers – bless them – told me not to worry about it. It wasn’t their job in this scenario to solve an unspoken problem around what a safe space might look like. Equally, they didn’t want to make me feel any more guilty just because I showed up and wanted help.

But that doesn’t mean that my presence didn’t cause these women a problem. The more stories I read of harassment and abuse, the more I recognise how my presence as a man can be problematic in ways that I may not be directly responsible for, but that I should be more proactive in finding solutions for.

Even if it’s not my fault directly when people are uncomfortable in my presence, that’s entirely trivial compared to anything a victim has faced that might cause that situation to arise.

Sloss openly admits in his talk, he doesn’t have the answers. Nor do I.

But I just want to take a moment to reflect and regret that this happened, and to hope that nobody missed out on assistance that may have helped them just because I happened to need it too.

I wish I had been able to find an answer.

2 thoughts on “Men: When our presence itself is a problem

  1. You did absolutely nothing to apologize for. You sought help for a condition that afflicts *people*, no matter their gender. It’s incredibly disheartening. I apologize for humans who lack empathy.

    1. Thank you for your support. 🙂 I don’t feel guilty any more, but that doesn’t mean I can’t regret any consequences there may have been by my attendance. Admittedly, it doesn’t help that I do not know what these might have been. It’s just a glimpse back at one moment in time, with better knowledge than I had then, and thinking, ‘it’s not for the organisers to do this – how can I help?’ I’m glad that I can still learn.

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