It is a strange week. It started with International Womans Day and ended with Mothers Day (and a disgraceful police approach to women staging a vigil for a murdered woman).
I suppose it typifies the feel good aspiration of respect for women (Monday) and the stark reality that merely being a woman can be dangerous (Saturday).
I am clearly no expert on Feminism. It is hard in 2021 to see that Feminism circa 1972 was part of the whole counter-culture experience. Although I appear as a rather timid figure, if I ever saw or heard anything that was “counter culture”, I threw myself in.
Now it seems that it just a beginning. It seems the bar was so low.
Was it really the case that in 1973, SDLP a party of progressive ideas and (in 2021) including very capable women like Dolores Kelly, Nichola Mallon, Sinead McLaughlin, Sinead Bradley and others waiting in the wings did not even have a female candidate in the first election in which I canvassed?
It seems now easy to dismiss the progress. For example, there was still a time in the 1970s when “Mrs” and “Miss” were still in common usage. Hard to believe that people though “Ms” (in my recollection originally “Mz”) was so controversial. Hard to believe we had “Chairmen” and women had to struggle to be called “Chairwoman” or simply “Chair”. And of course easy to dismiss it all as women burning their bras…an easy target for comedians who were relics from the 1940s and 1950s
Maybe I over-estimate its influence. But one song from that era had a profound effect on me. Pause for a musical interlude. Helen Reddy sings “I Am Woman”. This version features the lyrics and Id like you to read them.
A little known fact is that the song was co-written by Helen Reddy and Robert Burton. So it was a collaboration between a woman and a man.
And I think that is the thing about “rights”. In the 1960s, it would have been very difficult for Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and Jesse Jackson without the full hearted support of the young white “freedom riders” who journeyed at great personal risk into Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia and the rest of Dixieland.
Of course Feminism did/does move on.
I was born into a family with a mother (obviously) now dead and later I had a sister. Two grandmothers who both died before I was 9 years old. And of course my aunties are all dead and most of my female cousins.
But I have a new family …a wife, two daughters in law, a surving granddaughter, neices, sisrtrs in law and my sister is still alive.
But that is the point that I am making. Every man………every MAN has at least one female relative. And the older we get, we are more acutely aware that some of the women we have known for years or worked alongside have had very bad experiences of abusive men
Ten years ago I was at a Slugger O’Toole event at Duncairn Gardens in Belfast. During a discussion on womens rights, I mentioned that it was an issue that should concern men. I was quickly put in my place by some 21st century feminists. Basically ………mind your own business.
Back home with my wife, she was very re-assuring. She got what I was saying.
Which brings me to the tragic murder of Sara Everard and the disgusting Metropolitan Police reaction to the vigil in support of her and to highlight that the streets are unsafe for women.
As has been pointed out many times since Saturday, the police reaction to a peaceful vigil by mostly women is in sharp contrast to the week before when the police in Glasgow and Belfast just handed the streets over to celebrating (sectarian) football fans.
It is not a good look for the police…passive in the face of mobs and agressive in the face of a peaceful vigil.
Simply put, the police backed down in the face of men.
So how would a reasonable man react if his wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister was being attacked by police. Well of course, any form of violence would be wrong but the mere presence of men might have made police think twice.
Will I change my behaviour because of what I saw last weekend?
I am tempted to say that a totally right-on “woke” person like myself has no reason to change. But actually I think all men (even the good guys) need to change.
If I stay at a distance from a lone woman, I am not signalling that I am to be feared. I am signalling that “I get it” and if enough men do this, it is a powerful signal of support.
A minority of men are a threat. The majority are a potential ally. A resource.
Human Rights are rights for us all. Equal pay for women has made my wife better off but the real point is that it has been a benefit to us all. Likewise Maternity Benefit and Leave benefits men as well as women.
Yes, some men dont get it.
But the key line that Helen Reddy sings ….”a long long way to go before I make my brother understand”.
Most of us WANT to understand.