It Is Plain for All to See: A closer look at gender

by Robert Lutz

Visual poem capturing the absurdity of gender divides

“I see the lack of gender justice in our world as a real tragedy. I have written several stern ‘think pieces‘ about gender as a result.

This is neither the only approach out there nor is it the best or most promising one.

Let’s face it: the fact that the societies we live in vehemently insist on treating men and women differently because of whether or not something is dangling between their legs is completely absurd–it makes no sense whatsoever.

We cannot defeat an irrational beast with logic, but what we can do is draw attention to the inherent absurdity and force the audience to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors.

My visual poem ‘It Is Plain for All to See’ does exactly that: it forces a confrontation with the unjustifiable rules and social norms that split people along gender lines (even if their own bodies and lived experiences do not comply, as in the case of people who are intersex or trans). Whether or not you interpret the struggles of the pencils and flowers as tragic or humorous is up to you.” Robert Lutz, 2016 

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‘Having it all’ and other myths about being a woman

by Siân Ryan

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Growing up, I thought I had free choice. As a millennial, my parents taught me that I really could ‘have it all’. The teachers at school stamped it into our malleable brains that if we worked hard, there was no limit to our success.

If we passed our GCSEs, we could take our A levels, if we worked hard for fantastic grades, we could go to university, and if we put a bit of effort in on top of all the partying, we could finally get a decent job. With a decent job, we could start to earn money, be able to climb the career ladder and have a lifestyle which was comfortable and enjoyable.

Our destiny was in our own hands and no one ever mentioned this little thing called gender inequality. Apart from the sociology teacher, who everyone thought was a bit of a joke.

Well, I’m sitting here wondering what has happened to that decent job and above average pay cheque. I don’t even earn enough money to support myself yet and I am twenty seven – an age where I thought I was supposed to be someway to ‘having it all’

I am not alone, a lot of women my age feel as though they should be achieving more than they are. It has been widely acknowledged that across all age groups, women are being paid less than men. There is undoubtedly a significant pay inequality between the two genders, and women in my age group are suffering increasingly, due to taking on part-time employment that tends to be lower paid because they have children.

The expectation that we should start to think about whether we want to have a family starts in our late twenties, as we are all reminded so often by the media, biology means we cannot afford to hang around.

Our eggs are not limitless and are diminishing all the time. Last year when I heard that Apple and Facebook were going to start offering their female staff the option to freeze their eggs so they could continue their careers I thought YES. This could finally be the answer to ‘having it all’! Although, looking back, I’m not sure if it was relief at the thought of an empowering choice that could progress my career and raise a family simultaneously, or blind panic that I hadn’t yet considered I was running out of time to procreate…

We see plenty of inspiring stories of business women who have a baby and a career, so surely that should reassure us mere mortals that it can be done? We are told that women have never had so many options.

I was recently shown a picture of a woman on Instagram who was posing in her luxury office, holding her three day old baby whilst wearing ten inch heels, an immaculate face of makeup and a sexy blow dry.

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Most of my girlfriends that have had babies – by day three – are struggling to sit down because their vagina has been ripped open, they have nipples that look like cow’s udders, and a baby who doesn’t know how to latch on. Most women struggle to leave the house three days after they’ve had a baby, let alone get back to their career

Like the majority of content on Instagram, those images aren’t a real representation of ‘normal’ life and can result in making women feel like failures if they don’t match up to these ‘inspirational’ women.

The expectations placed on new mothers are confusing. Some believe women really can ‘have it all’, by continuing prosperous careers whilst juggling babies, and those who believe the only way to raise children is to stay at home with them, however the latter choice has become less prevalent in recent years.

The number of stay-at-home mothers dropped by a third in 20 years, to a historic low, according to an Office for National Statistics report and with government legislation encouraging more women into work by increasing childcare access and tax credit gains available for working mums, staying at home is becoming less favourable.

The confusion sets in when you start to examine whether these changes are adding pressure to women’s lives, forcing them back to work when really they want to look after a family and a home, or empowering them with the independence.

The term ‘stay at home mum’ still has something reminiscent of a 1950’s housewife about it. Not enough people recognise the hard work that goes into raising children.

I’ve heard countless people, men and women, call maternity leave a break. I know friends who think it’s ok that their husbands sleep in a different bed so they aren’t disturbed when the newborn baby cries in the middle of the night because they have work the next day

I’m often left wondering what the hell their husbands think their partners are doing the next day. There are no breaks when looking after a newborn baby – mothers are thrown into the depths of sleep deprivation, torturous crying, endless washing cycles – not to mention the trauma that their body has experienced.

The expectation that this is the easy option, is not an easy one to swallow.

Even though recent government policies enable women to continue working after having children, women are lambasted if they do choose to work at the same time as raising their children.

When Rachida Dati, a former minister in the French cabinet, returned to parliament, in heels, five days after a caesarean section, this sparked nationwide controversy and debate. The Daily Mail asked whether she was ‘right to put the demands of her career ahead of her child? Or was she crazy to miss out on some of the most precious months of her life?’

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Rachida Dati returned to her position in the French cabinet five days after a giving birth

The negativity surrounding her appearance and her desire to return back to work placed yet another expectation on new mums. So now they were supposed to go back to work, but look less glamorous? And it appears that there are rules about when to return to work – too soon and you risk damaging your babies’ wellbeing – too late and you lose your independence or risk your career.

There are so many expectations placed on women whatever age they are, but for women having to make lifestyle choices about their futures in their twenties, the expectations can be overwhelming.

The idea of ‘having it all’ seems as far away to modern women as it did to women in the 1950s. We have different pressures now, and we do have more choices about how we want to raise a family, but the choices we have are greatly shaped by decisions out of our hands.

Being a superwoman and doing everything isn’t sustainable or fair yet it seems this is what the modern woman is expected to be.

6 ways society fails men who survive rape

by Laura Mundy

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Recently, I worked for a short time at Mankind Counselling in Brighton & Hove, UK. They are a charity providing counselling for men who have experienced sexual violence, abuse and assault.

At Mankind, the average age of men coming forward to seek help is 43 years old, and yet the majority of these men suffered abuse during childhood. This means men live with the effects of abuse for decades before speaking out.

It’s estimated that 12% of rapes in the UK are against men. Yet many choose not to come forward, either to report the crime or seek the support they need. Furthermore, 94% of those who use rape crises centres are female, one of many indicators that male survivors are not getting the support they need.  Why is this happening?

1. Lack of awareness and understanding

When I started at Mankind Counselling, the statistics that I was exposed to in my induction days really shocked me. One in six men worldwide will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. One in six. That accounts for 17,000 men and boys in my city of Brighton & Hove alone.

The stigma surrounding male sexual abuse both from a survivor’s point of view and that of society makes it very difficult to address.

Pandora’s Project, a survivors non-profit said:

“The preconceptions that prevail in society make it harder for males to be seen as the victims of sexual crime. Myths and incorrect assumptions propagated by both survivors and non-survivors lead to a veil of silence, driven ultimately by fear about how others will see you, as well as how you see yourself.”

The result is that there is alarmingly insufficient awareness about male survivors, and limited opportunities for men to speak out and seek help.

2. Survivor support materials aren’t specific to men

England and Wales police crime figures show there were 3,580 incidents of rape or sexual assault against men in 2014, but Survivors UK support service believe that only 2-3% of men report abuse. Those who come forward cite not knowing where to turn as a major reason for staying quiet.

19-year-old Dean who was raped by a fellow school pupil, told BBC Newsbeat that he thought he would “be seen as the criminal” if he turned to police:

“The lack of conversation about it, means people don’t know what to do.”

Dean stayed silent for four years before finding the courage to tell his family and friends about the attack and agreed there’s not enough support for female rape victims, but even less so for men.

“I know there would be so many people who would benefit from just knowing there was help and support out there.”

3. The unbelievable belief that men cannot be raped

Whilst following the support organisation Survivors UK on Facebook, I came across a provocative ad. The intended message was that those close to survivors, like family and friends, are indirectly affected when a man is raped too, and that the organisation can also offer them support as well.

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But sadly, the statement was misunderstood, with many commenting ‘when you say male rape, you mean people who have been raped by men, right?’ or ‘does male rape mean male attackers or victims?’

These comments, facetious or not, are a worrying indicator of wider attitudes and elude to victim shaming statements such as ‘How can a man be raped?’ ‘Surely he had the strength to fight them off?’ This victim shaming is divisive, dangerous and ultimately creates further stigma around male rape.

4. The taboo that a man’s masculinity is compromised if he is raped 

Survivors UK’s CEO Michael May recognises that reporting an experience to police is particularly hard for men. “Police are one of the major alpha male representations in our society, so we’re essentially asking someone who has been robbed of masculinity to go to the biggest man in the room to talk about it,” he says.

The 2015 report ‘Silent Suffering: Supporting The Male Survivors Of Sexual Assault‘ commissioned by the Greater London Authority also found that many men are concerned their sexuality will become the focus of the investigation when speaking up about their ordeal.

May told the Huffington Post:

“Society is generally afraid to see men as victims. From infancy males are told that they should strive to be resilient, self-sufficient, protectors, dominant in sexual interactions and able to defend themselves.”

He adds: “An experience of rape or sexual abuse contravenes all of these masculine expectations. It leaves the survivor feeling ‘less than a man’ and society feeling that without a firm, inviolate masculine ideal – so safety is fundamentally compromised.”

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5. The assumption that the perpetrator or the victim is male and gay

Michael May summarised the struggle male survivors face: “From infancy we’re told that your role is to penetrate, so if you’re raped and you’re penetrated, what does that make you: a woman? Gay?”

But this is far from a ‘gay issue’. The ‘Silent Suffering’ report states that 60% of victims of male rape or sexual assault are heterosexual and research suggests most men who rape men identify as heterosexual.

In the eyes of UK law, women are legally unable to rape as rape is defined as non-consensual intercourse by a man with a person i.e. penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. But any gender can be victims of sexual assault and any gender can be the perpetrator.

If a man ejaculates or gets an erection during the assault, he could be left questioning whether the crime was indeed a crime. But experts stress that any physical reaction on the part of the victim is, of course, purely physical and due to stimulation rather than enjoyment.

6. Lack of exposure of male survivor organisations

I had never heard of Mankind Counselling, despite it being in my city of Brighton & Hove for 16 years and being 10 minutes’ walk from my house. Mankind is one of only 20 organisations throughout the UK that are able to provide services for men who have suffered sexual violence.

However, of £1,292,666 of funding allocated by the Mayor of London in 2014 for specialist support services for victims of sexual assault, only 2.5% was allocated specifically to services for men and boys, and Survivors UK faced an 100% axe of government funding in April last year.

Without specialist support services, how can men recover?

These reasons show how poor societal attitudes and a severe lack of resources perpetuate the fear among men of disclosing and seeking support for sexual abuse. I hope that this also highlights how society can learn to create a more supportive and understanding environment for men, why should anyone suffer silently?

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Survivors UK talk to thousands of people in London every year, if you want to talk more about male rape visit www.survivorsuk.org for support, or for Brighton, visit Mankind’s website http://www.mankindcounselling.org.uk for more information.