Dear boys I know,
Here at Reclaim the Campus, we’ve been thinking about culture change. We’ve realised that policies are extremely important, but they need to be backed up with concrete change outside the vice-chancellor’s office. Sarah Everard’s murder hit us hard. Many of us have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault, many of us have been blamed for it.
The following is an open letter to all the boys I’ve ever had classes with. It’s based on my own experiences, those of my friends and other girls. Yes, I understand that ‘it’s not all men,’ but no, I’m not a man hater. Please read it, and listen to what I’m saying.
First of all, stop saying ‘it’s not all men’ and start saying ‘it’s too many’. I cannot stress this enough. At best it’s annoying and at worst, you’re deliberately derailing an important conversation. Calm down, dear. Realise that language matters, and words hurt. Don’t make rape jokes or laugh at them. If you find them funny, it’s not me, it’s most definitely you. Don’t dismiss our feelings, or take the piss behind our backs when we tell you it’s not funny. Don’t flirt with me and a thousand other girls simultaneously, it’s rude and no one likes a snake. Don’t rate girls’ physical features in an attempt to humiliate them - it’s fine if you don’t find someone attractive, but don’t be a dick about it. Don’t share intimate photos of a woman or details about your sex life in a lad’s chat. And don’t whistle at me, I’m not your dog.
Don’t expect your girlfriend to pick up after you, she isn’t your mother [but you should probably call yours, because she misses you]. Don’t expect the women in your life to wave a magic wand and solve all of your problems for you. That’s your job. Seek support if you are experiencing mental health issues, there are people waiting to listen.
When you’re on a night out, have fun, but not at our expense. Don’t grope me after I told you no and don’t sexually assault my friends. Don’t shark the freshers, don’t get off with a girl who’s too drunk to say no and don’t turn a blind eye if you see someone being harassed or assaulted.
Do realise you can help in that situation. Unfortunately, a creepy guy seems more likely to listen to another guy than to us. If a person seems visibly uncomfortable, tell the aggressor to back off, tell the bouncers, tell someone. Offer to be a witness if a girl needs it.
Choose your friends wisely. Understand they should treat women with respect, firstly because we’re people, but secondly because if they’re horrible about girls in private, chances are they’re being horrible about you behind your back. Call your friends out when they’re being sexist. You don’t need to be preachy or confrontational, just say why something was uncalled for. And lead by example.
Realise that you may unwittingly be part of the problem. Remember that time you made a rape joke, or stayed silent when your mates were being disparaging about their one night stand on your group chat? You were also to blame. That’s not to say that you’re a terrible person, we all make mistakes. But understand that if you do this consistently, you’re being a dick.
Join your women friends when they protest against sexual violence, we really need your support. Gender inequality is something that concerns us all. Combating it will keep us safe, but also help you too. It will break down toxic stereotypes that boys don’t cry, girls can’t throw and show that we’re all fundamentally the same.
Finally, listen! When a woman tells you she’s experienced some form of sexual violence, believe her! It’s actually incredibly rare that we make this stuff up. On the contrary, we’re more likely never to tell anyone. Read this report if you don’t believe me. And this open letter from a survivor to a rapist. And remember these statistics.
To all the boys who looked out for me, who have been my friends and made me laugh: thank you!
To all the boys who did any of the above, I think it’s time for you to grow up.