The prospect of Geoffrey Boycott being knighted – despite his conviction for assaulting a former partner – will play on the minds of women even if they try to shrug it off, writes Laura Waddell.
One of the weirdest sensations of being a woman in 2019 – when there are so many nuanced public conversations about violence, control, and sexism, centred around the revelations of #MeToo, which have broadened our understanding of coercive control and the impact it has – is seeing abusers and sexists sail on by regardless, waved on by too many people.
Geoffrey Boycott is only the latest high-profile man to stand as a case study for how violence against women is overlooked. Earlier this week, when awarded an honour and quizzed on his conviction in a French court for assaulting a former partner, whose photographed bruised face has since circulated, he was comfortable to say on national radio that he just didn’t care.
Violence against women has historically been considered trivial or irrelevant, but sometimes it’s an entry ticket to certain circles excited by thuggish boorishness in men. A stance of macho bravado is associated with power, and for many years was the model of success everywhere from business to pop culture, with quality and intelligence often coming as an afterthought. Naturally, the craven gravitate to these men, who are really only the visible tip of the vaster supporting structure.
But the example of Boycott, and many others who’ve advanced despite their violence towards women, is only half of what’s going on here. The rest of the story is about the women who are pushed out to accommodate such men.
We are often told, with wagging fingers, that allegations are enough to damage a career. We are also often told by those keen to obscure the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, whether in the workplace, or otherwise, that they don’t even understand what the problem is, or that they’re scandalised at the idea a man can’t even flirt with a woman nowadays lest he be tagged as a pest. This is as disingenuous as it is dangerous. It is an excuse. It is an alibi being prepared in advance.
A recent American study showed that in the wake of Me Too, and increased public scrutiny on sleaze, men are choosing to hire less women, and to avoid one-on-one professional meetings. This mirrors Vice President Pence’s comments a few years ago, in which he revealed he wouldn’t be alone with a woman, lest he be tempted to sin.
Never before has there been a clearer understanding of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour when it comes to sexism and sexual advances in the workplace, but many choose wilful ignorance, finding it more palatable to cast women out of professional spaces than to expect professional conduct of the men within them.
Accusing women of hysteria to dampen down credibility is, of course, a very old tactic, used for centuries to extinguish a woman’s agency in standing up to abuse, and to perpetuate subjugation. That this knee-jerk defensive mode healthily flourishes today, whether from the infuriated and anonymous online, the commentator adopting a position of concerned (but dishonest) intellectual, or the suburban edgelord devil’s advocate in the pub, speaks volumes as to how wide-ranging the desire to disbelieve women is, and how slow-paced the battle for equality is.
It suggests that even today, after the many advances made in the workplace, politics, and myriad other areas, many men (as well as some women) still reflexively identify more closely with those accused of abuse, spending time defending men they do not know from accusations they have little knowledge of, rather than reflexively seeking to protect those who suffer consequences of abuse, and shaping our communities accordingly.
The talk goes hand-in-hand with concrete action to expel women from public realms. The workplace backlash is proof of this. The stories of actresses being blacklisted after rejecting wealthy producers is a reflection of this in only in its most decadent garb. If women were considered as full and equal in our humanity, our pain might not be considered a by-product of men’s careers and advancement, with those who cause it valorised. We might be sided with, rather than cast out.
Many want to grasp at a little bit of power. Many become apoplectically enraged at the women who refuse to accept and who stand up to abuse and violence, because it risks upsetting a structure of power, where men are so often at the top, and they either desire to see themselves in such figures or are comfortable with what they get out of pandering to them. Violent men carry on, backed by the fraternities around them.
In a warp of logic, some perceive no greater injustice than an abusive man coming face-to-face with his own actions. I’ve experienced this in my own professional life as a consequence of speaking out. I will write about it one day, but not now. On this subject, it’s difficult not to get personal, as on a micro level my mind goes to the animosity I have myself faced from those who gravitate towards abusers with their support, and the pockets of resentment I carry around that make my steps feel heavier as I go about my business. Yet still I will go about that business.
The bigger picture is how universal these feelings are. How many look around them and see men who have abused, injured, or intimidated them welcomed, promoted within, and celebrated in communities unwilling to value women. None of us are actually alone in these experiences, even if it often feels like it.
Society, as reflected in the public and private conversations, paying lip service to feminism but promoting violent men is gaslighting on a grand scale, and no wonder Geoffrey Boycott could not, as he said, “give a toss” that Women’s Aid have spoken out against his knighthood.
Many women will have seen the news that a man who beat his partner’s face was honoured, and tried to shrug it off, because we only have so much room for depressing political stories coming thick and fast every day. But it’ll play on their minds because, for so many, a violent man being rewarded is a familiar personal story.
It takes a lot of resilience and strength not to just give up on opposing the great structure that holds perpetuators of violence aloft, but anyone who values fairness and equality must. Ultimately, we need more people willing to draw red lines. We need more people to stop looking the other way when men who advance in our society have abused women along the way.