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Fellas: How can you be feminist on nights out?
By Rachel Brown
It was two years ago that Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech extended a ‘formal invitation’ to you fellas, citing gender equality as ‘your issue too’. Since then the UN campaign described as ‘the new solidarity movement for gender equality’ seems to have watered down its male target base, with no mention of men on their website, but plenty of subtle feminine pink graphics!
Perhaps the UN is too scared to say that gender equality has loads to do with male attitudes. But with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, I think it’s time for us to see violence against women as a men’s issue and that demands all you fellas to ask women: How can I be feminist?
The first thing you can do is close your eyes. Imagine being a woman. When you started university, did you pack a panic alarm or experience the very real alarm of living on campus, a place where a third of women experience sexual violence? You probably only had the joys and thrills of freshers week to look forward to whilst at the same time, almost half your female peers would experience sexual harassment on a night out and, feel fear from the incident.
You can open your eyes now. This was just a glimpse into the ‘culture of fear’ that oppresses many women every day. It is not only sexual violence itself, but the fear of sexual assault that is harming women’s freedom on a daily basis. We should actually have a state fund for all the money women spend on taxis late at night – an expense most men avoid because they feel safe walking home.
The ‘culture of fear’ leaves us women with two choices: Risking personal safety in the name of personal freedom, we can defiantly walk home. Alternatively, we feel the fear and are forced to go home early or trump up the taxi fare.
That’s where you come in. I remember asking a close male friend to walk me home and being told, ‘You’ll be alright, Rach’. Don’t be that guy. Defining when a woman should and shouldn’t fear her personal safety makes you the real feminazi.
But there is also a dilemma for feminist men on nights out with female friends. At the other end of the spectrum, we see men trying to do the right thing and walking a woman home. Yet they cast themselves in the role of ‘chivalrous knight’, escorting damsels home - steed optional.
The chivalrous knight poses a problem for feminist women like me too. I’d rather walk home alone through a gangster’s paradise at 4am than actually subjugate myself via the act of asking someone to accompany me. The dilemma for feminists today is that I don’t want to be a damsel in distress any more than you want to be a knight. Whilst we are all comfortable talking about sex these days, the actual taboo of our generation is talking about how to get home.
It’s a taboo we need to bust open. Getting home safely should be discussed often. It’s got to be standard chat when planning nights out. Like the ‘designated driver’, why not designate folk to walk people home after clubbing? Or have a solidarity taxi fund where everyone chips in the fare for women partygoers?
The feminist fella also has to go beyond his women pals. Unless you’re wearing the classic, ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt - all the time - the woman in the street doesn’t know you’re an ally. Men have to think about how their behaviour and body language reads on nights out. Cross the road to avoid walking behind a woman at night and show you are not a threat if you have to. Solidarity can be that simple.
The feminist fella cannot see their role in sexual violence as over just because they aren’t a perpetrator. You can do many things like showing solidarity with women on student nights out. That does mean remembering woman are not a homogenous group by listening to their individual preferences – some women feel fine walking home alone. But why not start the conversation and find out? Ask a woman student pal what she’d like to happen when it comes to home time. These small acts would make you a great HeForShe feminist.
What other feminist acts could male students do to show solidarity with women?
I'm a mature student graduate studying political theory at the University of York. Writing for the student perspective column, I'll explore what current affairs mean to students and how today's news affects us as an interest group. With experience in feminism and activism, I'm keen to share my take on the student political agenda. A Southerner migrated north, I'll emphasise decentralised student opinion – showing an active student life exists north of London. I'm passionate about student political awareness, believing students to be the lifeblood of civil movements and social solidarity. Bringing you my perspective in a bid to offer refreshing insights, I aspire to both inform you and motivate you to action.