Social Justice

How all men can join the fight to end violence against women

Not all men commit violence against women, but all men can help prevent and address it

A man holds a sign reading: 'Boys will be feminists' at a march in 2021. Image: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock (11853694f)

Anyone who has read the news recently will have seen that it is dominated by story after story about male violence against women

Let’s take a snapshot. On February 7, the top stories on the BBC website contained a piece about headteacher Emma Pattison and her daughter Lettie, seven, who were believed to have been murdered by their husband and father, who then killed himself. 

Alongside it was the sentencing of serial rapist David Carrick, a Met Police officer who was handed six life sentences and will spend more than 30 years in prison for committing 85 offences against women, including 48 rapes.

But these horrific stories are far from rare. Every few months male violence against women is thrust into the spotlight again by a particularly heinous case, only for it to fall off the agenda days later. 

Andrew Bernard’s sister was murdered by her partner, Ian Hope, who told his arresting police officers that she had been nagging him all day. Bernard (known as Bernie) has since set up Innovative Enterprise, through which he teaches young people why it’s important that we all challenge one another’s sexist and misogynistic words, phrases and actions.

Through his sessions in schools, Bernard hopes to help young people to “develop better relationships, build helpful masculinity, challenge sexism and misogyny and build equality and respect between the sexes”.

“It’s very uncomfortable for men to admit they have a problem”, he told The Big Issue, explaining why men are often so quick to defend themselves, to clear up their own image, when faced with stories of violence against women. 

But we mustn’t underestimate the power each and every one of us holds to change society. 

So, even if you think you’re ‘one of the good ones’, here’s how all men can help end violence against women. 

1. Acknowledge the scale and brutality of the violence women and girls suffer at the hands of men

“First of all, acknowledge it exists. Look at the statistics and the scale of it. And sit with that for a minute,” says Bernard.

Laura Bates, author of Fix the System, Not the Women, starts her book with a list of her experience of acts driven by misogyny, ranging from the seemingly trivial to major incidents. 

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Combined together, these acts “represent systematic oppression” of women and girls, Bates told The Big Issue on the BetterPod Podcast episode: Fighting institutional misogyny and everyday sexism. 

“There are literally a million ways our society forces us to either ignore these events,” Bates continues. For women to recognise them and list them is a radical act. As it is for men to face up to them. 

2. Make the White Ribbon promise

White Ribbon exists to engage men and boys with the mission to end violence against women and girls. The charity has created a pledge that all men can make: “To never use, excuse or remain silent about men’s violence against women”.

While making a pledge may seem performative, by doing so publicly and displaying it on your profile, email signature or desk, you will be bringing attention to the issue and encouraging others to follow in your footsteps.

Though of course, words must be followed by actions. 

3.Know how to be an active bystander

Transport for London recently launched a new campaign to encourage ​​”a culture of active bystanders on public transport”. The adverts displayed on Tubes, buses and trains are intended to inspire bystanders to recognise sexual harassment when they see it, offer support to a person who has been targeted, and report any incidents. 

Firstly, bystanders can attempt to defuse an incident of sexual harassment by “asking the person being targeted a simple question, such as: ‘What’s the next stop?’, or: ‘Do you have the time?’.”   

Next, make a note of what you have witnessed. Documenting and reporting it can help build a profile of the perpetrator and help police stop it from happening again. 

Finally, but importantly, make sure the victim of sexual harassment is ok. Ask them: “Are you OK?”, or let them know that what happened isn’t OK.

4. Call out your friends for words or actions that harm women

Andrews recalls when, at age 17, he described a mutual female friend as a “c-word” in a conversation with his male friends. Afterwards, his friend Joe took him aside, and told him that wasn’t ok. 

Until that point, Bernard says, he hadn’t considered the power of the many derogatory words commonly used to refer to women. “But that conversation stayed with me forever, and I have never used that kind of language when talking about women since,” he says.

And if you are a witness to a friend’s behaviour that is threatening, intimidating or violent towards a woman, staying silent signals complicity. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launched the campaign Have A Word With Yourself, Then With Your Mates, to show how men can use their voices to help keep women and girls safe. 

It’s not easy to be the one to challenge harassment or cat-calling in your friendship group or even in public, but it can be done in a non-confrontational way, by saying something like: “What are you doing?” or “That’s enough”.

5. Educate yourself about women’s experiences of violence and the systems that enable perpetrators

When faced with the issue of violence against women and girls, it can be difficult to see where to begin tackling a problem so vast, or to see the impact your own actions can have. Everyone has the power to change society, here are some resources to show you where to start.

In Fix the System, Not the Women, Laura Bates highlights “the interlocking systems of domination that define (women’s) reality”. It aims to show how women are not complicit in their own oppression, how society always finds a way to blame women for the violence enacted on them, and how to fix a system that is rigged against women in every part of life. 

Journalist Sophie Gallaghar campaigned to criminalise cyberflashing, before writing How Men Can Help: A Guide to Undoing Harm and Being a Better Ally, a tangible guide of things men can do to end male violence. How should a man behave if they see a lone woman at night? What is the #NotAllMen movement, how is it harmful, and how can you work against the narrative? It’s all in here.

Bernard recommends Women and Power by Mary Beard, as fantastic “look at the history of women, power and their marginalisation, being made to take the blame for all ills and to be wiped from history by men and male writers”. Famous myths about women including Pandora and Medusa give context to modern sexism and misogyny.

ENOUGH – The Violence Against Women And How To End It, by Harriet Johnson lays bare the harrowing and eye-opening statistics around male violence against women and girls in the UK and further afield, as well as the evidence of police ineffectiveness in prosecuting rape, alongside what everyone, and especially men, can do about it. “(It’s) one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read,” says Bernard. “Please read it too.”

6. Read literature written by women

Whereas women are prepared to read books by men, fewer men are prepared to read books by women, author Mary Ann Sieghart found while researching for her book The Authority Gap.

She found that in the 2021 list of the top 10 bestselling female authors, including Margaret Atwood, only 19 per cent of their readers were men. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Why is this a problem? Not only is it a contributing factor to why women are still taken less seriously than men, it narrows men’s experiences and understanding of the world.

“If men don’t read books by and about women, they will fail to understand our psyches and our lived experience. They will continue to see the world through an almost entirely male lens, with the male experience as the default”, wrote Sieghart in an article published under the name MA Sieghart – in the hope that men would read it, too.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Energy bills are set to fall but UK families have already lost £72bn to 'staggering' prices
energy bills
Energy bills

Energy bills are set to fall but UK families have already lost £72bn to 'staggering' prices

Poverty costs the UK billions each year. Politicians must commit to ending it this general election
Trussell Trust food banks
General election 2024

Poverty costs the UK billions each year. Politicians must commit to ending it this general election

Abuse survivor tried to take her own life after years-long battle with DWP over disability benefits
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
Department for Work and Pensions

Abuse survivor tried to take her own life after years-long battle with DWP over disability benefits

DWP under investigation over treatment of ill and disabled people after deaths of benefit claimants
Department for Work and Pensions

DWP under investigation over treatment of ill and disabled people after deaths of benefit claimants

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know