I’m sorry what did you say..?

A short outburst mid conversation from a department official who I think should probably have known better prompts me to give the outburst it’s own post:

I just don’t think we will get anywhere if we are calling our issue a women’s issue.  Unless men are bought in, told that things are happening to them too, then nothing will happen.  It’s the same with breast cancer, because like it or not the world revolves around men, everything we do is for the attention of men, children and young people know it, women know it everybody knows that the reason women get dressed in the morning is really for the attention of men, it’s just the way we’re made.  That’s just my personal opinion…

(1)  Firstly your personal opinion? really?  It’s ‘just your personal opinion’ but clearly it is revealing that it is what influences your decision making, your policy writing and service delivery and even the way you try to relate to stakeholders.  Sure we all know our opinions and values shape our professional conduct, decisions and integrity but we at least attempt to dress it up as informed perspective.

(2) Probably quite a big mistake, to share an opinion like that to a group of stakeholders at a domestic and sexual violence consultation.  An issue that has been rooted in the women’s and consequently minorities movement/sector/agenda for potentially hundreds of years and at least the last sixty.  An issue that would not have anywhere near the services, research, funding, legislation or political lobby it has today had it not been for the women advocates, victims and survivors that risked arrest, injury, death to make sure it got talked about, challenged and resourced.

(3) There has been many a political, medical, economical and social comment made about the momentum behind the breast cancer awareness and fundraising strategies particulalry in the West, given that it’s a woman’s experience of illness, tragedy, loss and survival led by, with and for women, not because men are equally affected by breast cancer or at least they were told they were just to get them behind it !?

(4) Whilst the experience, exposure and desconstruction of patriarchy and sexism could generally support a statement that says “the world revolves around men” I find it very hard to use said statement to manipulate sexism and patriarchy to address a problem such as violence against women and girls which in itself is perpetuated by these aforementioned power structures.  When it comes to violence against women, those who are tackling it are generally not men, the advocates and activists are women.  Sure, there are plenty of male champions, but my point is, in this world, the world of tackling violence against women, this world doesn’t revolve around men.

(5) This personal opinon, issued from a lofty ivory departmental tower betrays a worrying motivation for this push to neutralise the gender based violence issue.  There is a sustained effort to maintain a neutral definition of domestic and sexual violence to provide affordable and equality of access, which is a flawed premise in my view.  Is the desire to neutralise the phenomenon of gender based violence rooted in a reluctance to leave or operate outside of male dominated politics, economics and civil service departments?  I would go further to suggest that this is, of course, not just about the people (the men) but about the way we’ve always done things; it’s the best way to stay in budget, to keep everybody happy, to fulfill our equality duties, regardless of what stakeholders are saying and how effective our strategy is in tackling gender based violence.

(6) Most children and young people spend a lot of time in female led/strong environments, it’s a big shock to many to discover the mistreatment of mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, daughters etc in the wider world.   Implying an inate, biological or physiological desire for male attention for both children and women is beyond unhelpful and again, weirdly inappropriate given the context.  The suggestion that women are constantly dressing, preening and seeking to attract male attention   is such an old fashioned and limiting perspective on the gender relations at play in the culture we live, work and play in.  This comment is also incredibly assuming that heterosexual attraction informs all male/female relationships.

Suffice to say, I was left reeling, and hugely disheartened by the people in charge of major money and decisions in this small part of the world.   I came away wondering, what would actually happen if you interviewed people for these posts based on their experience with the issue rather than a skill set, pay grade or length of service.   I guess the powerful don’t want to give the passionate and informed any responsibility because that could lead to so much activity, change and impact that it would upset the comfy chair they’re stitting in.

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