OPEN LETTER TO THE GOOD GUYS
(for the original newspaper article in Icelandic, click here.)
OK guys, things are about to get awkward because I'm going to address you as a group, but there's no way around it. The fact is that although only some of you abuse, rape or harass other people, there's no way of telling just by looking at you which one of you is a potential perpetrator.
For women and non-binary people who live in fear of being attacked, this means that every single one of you is a potential threat; a sweeping generalisation that comes at a great cost to all of us. This became abundantly clear in the responses to a public Facebook post with the question: "What have you done to prevent being raped?" Nearly a hundred people responded, all of them women. Not a single man responded.
What have you done to avoid being raped?*
An open question to the public, posted on Facebook May 10, 2021.
(Pinch to zoom in if you're reading this on a mobile device.)
What's my problem?
Without further ado, let me introduce myself and explain why I'm writing this letter to you, dear man. My name is Thordis Elva and I have spent 15 years working with the consequences of the violence your brethren subject women and children to. I have worked in a shelter where the youngest victim with a physical injuries was a three week old infant, and the youngest human trafficking victim was five years old. I have written books and short films on sexual violence, launched national and international campaigns, and served on government committees to curb the harm caused by men's violence. In the UK, the latest research shows that 97% of women have been sexually harassed. In Egypt, that figure is 99%. At a glance, these countries have no other cultural similarities, apart from the sexual harassment of nearly every single female citizen alive. Recently, what has been called "the second #metoo wave" took Iceland by storm, but for those of us who work in this field, violence doesn't come in waves. It is a steady, never-ending flow in every single country on earth, every single day.
I want your hearts to break
It wouldn't surprise me if at this point, you're thinking: "What the hell is your beef with me, Thordis? I haven't done anything!"
Exactly. That's exactly the problem. You haven't done anything.
I have attended at least a hundred conferences on how to prevent and decrease men's violence, and without exception, the only men in the audience are the technicians or the occasional politician, both of whom are paid to attend. And I'm tired of it. Tired of preaching to the choir. I'm tired of the fact that even this article will be read and shared almost exclusively by women, who have absolutely no need for this information. Women don't need to be made more aware of men's violence against them, they are already bending over backwards to prevent it. I repeat: Women are doing their absolute best to avoid being raped. The precautions they take are countless and taint their entire existence, what clothes they wear, where they go, what route they choose, where they park, how they react to men in their environment, whether they speak up, when they listen to music, whether or not they party and where, whether or not they use the bathroom, what type of drink they order, what time they go home and how and so on and so forth. Read the list above and let it break your heart. Because I want your hearts to break, guys. I want you to be as saddened and outraged as I am that women feel forced to limit their freedom and quality of life to this staggering degree, as if they don't live in a free country but in a war zone. I want your broken hearts to inspire you to end this war on women. Because the fact is that only you can.
The „good guys“ and the accusations
Listen up guys, I know you know what an impact it has on us to live in constant fear. I know you're aware of the nagging suspicion that "I could be next," which causes us to take countless precautions every day to avoid being attacked by one of you. It is the motivation behind your chivalrous acts, when you offer to walk us home in the evening, or ask us to send you a text when we have arrived at our destination. It is the reason why you cross the street when you meet a strange woman, in order make her feel safer. It is in the dark jokes you tell about how no man deserves to date your daughter, because deep down you know - just like we do - that men's violence and gender-based discrimination is one of the biggest threats to women's lives and wellbeing.
You k n o w.
We all do.
Yet, silence is still the average Joe's standard reaction when the problem grabs national headlines, which it does on a regular basis. The process is always the same, and begins with a famous man being accused of violence. This leads to a painful and deeply personal debate led by women about how abuse is far too common and far too little is done about it. The handful of men who speak up are usually defending the accused "good guy", people argue fervently in the comment sections, the Women's Shelter / Sexual Violence Counselling Center / Rape Crisis Clinic are hit with a a tidal wave of clients with new or old wounds reopened by the debate, and the authorities make empty statements about reform they don't implement, because they never invest any money in the issue. Little by little, the discussion dies down until boom: Another famous dude is accused of violence and the same process begins all over again.
Let's make one thing clear: This is not about individual abusive celebrities, but about a system that breeds and upholds attitudes that enable violence and discrimination against women. And guys, the issue isn't that too few of you see yourself as being a part of the problem, which makes you dismiss it as none of your business.
The issue is that too few of you see yourself as being a part of the solution.
Your silence is deadly
But that is exactly where the solution lies. It is YOU who need to change your behaviour, instead of women. It is YOU who need to take precautions that affect your daily life. Stand up. Speak out against locker room talk. Talk to your friend, the one who "can't hold his liquor" about his behaviour being unacceptable. Disrupt misogynistic jokes, intercept when women are being harassed on the streets or in nightclubs, take a stand against violent pornography, challenge masculine ideas based on elevating yourself at the expense of others, support your local women's shelter, listen when women describe their reality, read and share the articles that address the problem, show your support for gender equality, not just equal pay but also the equal right to live life without a constant fear of violence. Not because you acknowledge women's humanity, but because your own humanity is at stake. This is one of the biggest challenges of our time and being silent, feigning neutrality, is no longer an option. Your silence is, quite literally, killing us – given how the vast majority of women who are murdered fall victim to men who had previously abused them.
One more thing, guys: Stop saying that the victim could be your sister / your wife / your mom / your daughter. Instead, start saying: The perpetrator could be my brother / my dad / my best friend / my son and that's why I have to talk to him about consent, respect and boundaries.
Our well-being as a society is in your hands.
Women have worked long and hard enough to curb men's violence.
It's your turn.
PS: If you are doing your part to uproot gender-based violence and misogynistic attitudes, this letter is not to you, so there's no need to get offended. You're not the target audience, here.