Men should listen more and dictate less - Euan McColm

Nothing quite sums up the contempt in which many men hold women than the declaration that a female victim of violence or abuse was “asking for it”.

For as long as I can remember, this grotesque form of victim-blaming has been commonplace. What did she expect if she went out dressed like that? How was he supposed to react when she kept answering back? And, anyway, why should we take her word that anything happened at all?

You might think - if you’re a man - things have substantially changed for women and that these sexist attitudes are on the wane. I’m certainly guilty of, at times, having lazily reassured myself the misogyny that permeated society during my 1970s childhood was very much a thing of the past.

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Of course, it is not. Women may have campaigned relentlessly for equality and against male violence but we’re kidding ourselves if we think these battles are won.

In recent days, we’ve seen horrifying reports of young women in a number of UK cities falling victim to attacks in bars and clubs where assailants have injected them with unidentified sedatives. It used to be that we urged women never to leave a drink unattended in case it was spiked. Now we must ask them to be vigilant to the possibility that a stranger might stab them with a hypodermic needle.

How women can protect themselves from such an attack is not at all clear. That’s their problem.

Reports of these attacks came just days after it emerged the SNP MSP John Mason had attended an anti-abortion protest outside a Scottish hospital. Mason, the sort of Christian whose views hugely increase the appeal of atheism, told women that abortion services are neither “essential” nor “vital” and said protests outside hospitals gave them a last chance to “realise they have a choice”.

Abortion - whether through choice or medical necessity - is rarely a step taken lightly and those women who do undergo the procedure require physical and emotional support. Men like John Mason may see themselves as defenders of the unborn child. Others are entitled to see them as cruel ba**ards.

It used to be that we urged women never to leave a drink unattended in case it was spiked. Now we must ask them to be vigilant to the possibility that a stranger might stab them with a hypodermic needle. Photograph: Paul Bradbury/Getty

A campaign to create buffer zones outside clinics so that women might be able to access the medical care to which they’re entitled without having to face angry protestors seems a very good one, indeed. Hopefully, it will soon be illegal for people to torment women as they attend hospital appointments.

If this happens, there will still be ample opportunity for the harassment of women whose behaviour doesn’t conform to the demands made by men.

Take Kathleen Stock, a professor or philosophy at Sussex University. Last week, as part of an ongoing campaign of vilification, more than 100 people gathered at the university to demand Stock’s dismissal.

Stock’s crime is to have raised questions about whether a change in the law allowing men to self-identify as women might have implications for those born female. Stock - and countless more feminist campaigners - have been the victims or the most aggressive harassment for daring to talk about the importance of safe spaces for women.

Women, it seems, cannot win. If they don't carefully guard their safety, they may expect to be blamed if they fall victim to attack. If they - as Stock and others have - assert the right of those born female to have access to spaces from which male-bodied people are excluded then they may expect to be accused of attacking transwomen.

As ever, women are expected to defer to those born male.

A separate protest last weekend, outside a feminist conference being held in Portsmouth, saw fettle attendees subject to hateful abuse. The mental gymnastics required to say that it’s perfectly fine for women to be confronted by angry protestors holding banners bearing slogans such as “suck my d**k, you transphobic c**t” are, I’m afraid, beyond me.

It used to be the case that women were criticised for seeking equality. Now they are stacked for seeking the wrong kind of equality. If only they would keep up and learn the rules of engagement as dictated by those of us who were born male.

The SNP-Green Scottish Government has signalled its determination to proceed with a change in the law to make it easier for individuals to identify as whichever sex they prefer. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is deaf to the concerns of women who say that such a move would be open to abuse by predatory men.

So far as I am aware, Stock and other high profile feminists such as the writer and campaigner Julie Bindel and the novelist JK Rowling, who assert that biological sex matters, have never once suggested that trans people should be “erased” or that they should not be allowed to live as they wish. They have simply made the point that there are areas where the rights of women and the rights of male-bodied people may be in conflict.

For daring to put their concerns about women and girls first, these - and countless more women - have faced calls for them to lose their jobs. And many have received threats requiring the intervention of police.

We live in strange times when many men think it their right - even their duty - to explain to women what feminism is.

Maybe this is a progressive and I’m wildly out of touch but I’m willing to risk being wrong and say men should listen more and dictate less.

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve seen women suffer grave inequality, abuse and violence in a society structured to satisfy the demands of men.

Maybe it’s time for men to allow women to talk about the need for real equality without subjecting them to a volley of abuse and death threats.

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