Despite the passing of nearly 35 years an event I experienced in my early years as a police officer has remained with me.
In the late 1980’s I was supporting the policing of a rugby international at Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh. My job that day was to manage one of the busiest traffic crossroads on the detail.
That day I had been on the traffic point for around two hours. I was tired and getting frustrated at the pedestrians who were crossing the road, confusing me and the many drivers in their cars who just wanted to get to their destination. Even in my yellow jacket I knew I was losing. Being quite new to the job I had a tutor officer with me. He allowed me to manage the point but eventually shouted for me to stop all traffic. In that moment he didn’t have to give me any more instruction because I knew exactly what advice he had given.
When I stopped all of the traffic, I got the respite I needed. My next steps became clearer and after a minute of horns sounding, I was back on it, and in full control. I knew exactly what was needed.
At this time, with all the debate around men’s violence against women, the role of men or whether the Metropolitan Police misjudged the crowd at Saturday’s vigil, we are all at our own crossroads and in danger of being overwhelmed. It’s time for society to take a moment to think about what happens now.
Yesterday I posted a series of tweets which started to ask what we can do better to engage boys and men on the issues that have filled our newsfeeds over the past week. All of the responses highlighted what men need to do but not how we get men on the page. I could highlight a number of things that men can do but, in my view, we have to get them in the room first.
The good news is that I sense curiosity from many men who want to learn more and do their bit. I think many men, and women are guilty of ‘social loafing’. A sense of “I get that but what can I do on my own”. The point that needs to be made clear is that it’s not so much a singular act by a single person. Its more about many different acts coming from many people. In my view any team that creates a ‘flow’ in the same direction will win the game. So, we need to work hard to develop and build this team, a team of men working alongside others to address the issue. The question is how.
So, let’s start with our challenges and maybe then, we can learn to overcome these, to help men and to address men’s violence against women.
Past research suggests that men grossly mis-perceive the attitudes of their peers, with many men believing that male friends actually support sexist attitudes and behaviours. We also know that men who believe that others have sexist views are less likely to intervene when a peer or anyone for that matter behaves in an abusive way. These studies really communicate that men have misinformed views of what those around them are actually thinking when it comes to sexism and sexual violence. This, in my view presents us with a perfect storm of non-abusive men remaining silent and abusive men acting with impunity.
So, what does all this mean for what happens next?
As I say above there’s good news in the number of men who want to do more. The work now needs to focus on bringing them all together developing that flow I discussed earlier. In a recent blog I talked about how the focus is always on trying to change social norms that support violence. I think we simply need to find ways to communicate the healthy norms that already exist.
Bad behaviour is usually more reported than good. It’s what people talk about, it’s what the news media report on. It’s what the advocates in specific fields use to highlight the problem they are so passionately working to prevent. Talking about it generates readers for the media and support for the advocates.
This approach might feel effective, but on its own it’s not. It’s similar to the display of knife images by the police. The approach simply communicates that the bad behaviour is the social norm. Telling people to go against their peer group never works. Just now we are simply telling men to go against other men. A better strategy is to focus on the good, giving people credible evidence that among their peers, good behaviour is the social norm.
This works why?
Because when we don’t know what to do in a situation, we naturally look around to see what other peers are doing. From these observations we learn what is appropriate and that we will likely be supported from others.
Now to be clear I feel we still need to allow victims of men’s violence to talk about what is happening, but we need to find balance. US psychologist Robert Cialdini has in the past suggested that when we simply discuss the negative, we run the risk of making what he calls the ‘Big mistake’. He also suggests we need to find a balance.
In reality, the strongest influence on our decisions is the example of the people around us — even, oddly enough, when they are imaginary.
T Rosenbert – The destructive influence of imaginary peers
So, what’s needed?
The issues I have raised before suggests we need to create spaces for conversations. These may be one to one with friends or family. They may be with bigger groups within schools, universities, military, sports teams or in workplaces. These may be uncomfortable for some, but conversations will allow groups of men to share their views. Many of the issues that need to be discussed are invisible to many men. Privilege has a habit of doing that. They were invisible to me until someone gave me the space to talk openly on the issue. Making the invisible visible is a daily goal for me.
When we create these discussions, we achieve a number of things. We will help to:
- Raise awareness of the issue(s) – It’s becoming clear that men are asking how they can prevent likes of rape and murder. That’s the first mistake we need to fix. In my last blog I discuss how violence usually always starts with another behaviour (See BLOG).
- Open a dialog on issues that many men are now wanting to talk about – when we do, we start to develop the flow I discussed above. We provide reassurance that healthy personal attitudes are the social norm.
- Safely challenge thinking – In past week it’s still clear we have a road to travel when it comes to discussing an abuser’s behaviour rather than the behaviour or actions of a victim.
- Inspire personal and collective leadership – I’ve seen it myself. It’s almost like a light bulb moment for many men. Whilst some men get angry and fightback the output of a conversation can lead to men starting to use their anger to demonstrate the leadership that is sorely needed on these issues.
In her 2013 TEDx talk Esta Soler discussed ‘How we turned the tide on domestic violence’. Within the talk she discussed that solving a problem as big as domestic violence would not happen with 50% of the population sitting on the side-lines. Her data told her that men felt indicted and not invited into this conversation. So, they went to where men where, in schools as teachers and as coaches. We can learn from Soler’s talk
In 2013 I met Tony Porter from ‘A Call to Men’ in the US. Back then I was in the early days of my own personal journey. I asked him what is the best way to engage men? He looked at me in the eye and said “Graham, you need to meet men where they are at”. There’s a lesson form us all there. Remember some of you will be well through the book of prevention. Many others haven’t even picked it up yet.
As I say there is good news and I feel that men actually want to be having these conversations. I was asked the other day why I thought there had been so much outpouring of emotion around the Sarah Everard case. I said it was a mixture of anger. Anger that women are still being told to protect themselves. Secondly, Sarah was an ordinary young woman doing what she should be doing without any fear. I’m sure some men saw their daughter, their wife, their sister, a female friend when they saw the last images of Sarah.
This is a both a reachable and teachable moment for men. If we as men don’t step up, we fail girls, women, boys and men. So, let’s come together.
For the men who already get this need, don’t be in such a hurry to criticise a man for not thinking as you do. Remember there was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.
It’s just so important not to act.