I originally hail from Hartlepool, a small town in the North East that I regularly go back to. My parents and family are still there. In fact, my fabulous and talented daughter is studying there at the Cleveland College of Arts and Design. But to be honest, not a huge amount that is newsworthy happens there. Imagine my surprise then when I came across this story making waves (it’s a coastal town, geddit) in the daily mirror.
This poor headteacher is being pilloried for being in the vanguard of protecting her weak naïve charges from the clutches of those dastardly men and boys. Why, all she is doing is trying to protect their modesty. My God! Don’t these people know its 1915! Because apparently the last 100 years have not happened in the education system in Hartlepool. (I would also add, having suffered the fate of being a teenage boy in Hartlepool 20 years ago – very few girls in Hartlepool are weak and naïve – they were very much more in charge).
Unfortunately for the the Headteacher, she almost certainly does have the best interests of her pupils at heart. She wants her pupils to go to a school and be free from harassment, judgement and potentially danger because of the simple fact that they are women. 2015. A headteacher feels that this is still needed in 2015. What is worse is that I can absolutely understand where she is coming from. She has identified the problem correctly, but in my opinion, she has identified the wrong solution. Harassing someone, judging them or putting them in danger is very rarely THEIR fault. It is the fault of the person doing it.
So what is the real problem? Well, surely a culture where women don’t feel safe wearing whatever they choose to is the problem of the society, not the individual? We have to start off with a basic unassailable fact – people find other people sexually attractive from around the age where there body decides they are becoming sexually aware. That is it. Can’t get away from that. It has been quite important to us – without it we would never have survived as a species. It is fundamentally important. Therefore, people will be drawn to look at your body – it is a biological imperative. However, this shouldn't lead to harassment, judging and assaults. Sadly it does.
This is a worldwide problem – and demands a worldwide conversation and response. Whether this is SlutWalks taking place in North America and Europe http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13739876 , demonstrations in India by female students in Delhihttp://metro.co.uk/2015/10/14/even-cinderella-had-til-midnight-female-students-protest-unfair-630pm-curfew-in-india-5438750/ or various other acts and protests around the world, women and men are standing up to try and change this. What else can we do?
Next week sees the annual International Men's Day. This ties in with Universal Children's Day and International Women's Day. The aims of International Men's Day are to promote men's and boys' health, promote gender equality, improve gender relationships and highlight positive male role models and their importance. What can be more important to a man than to ensure that your sons and daughters understand the right and wrong way to treat other people? To role model behaviours that show respect for other people, for their lives and their choices in how they look?
Gender relations and the equality of genders will never, ever happen through women alone changing their behaviours and their actions. This change needs to come throughout society. And the discrimination on the basis of gender needs to be addressed in both directions. It must be with a large dollop of irony that International Women’s Day is supported by the UN, however International Men’s Day is not.
Please support International Men’s Day. If we truly want to work towards a world where men and women know how to show respect to each other and feel safe being themselves, then this change needs to come from all of us. Otherwise we will have another 100 years of the well-meaning trying to protect our pretty little women from themselves.
If you want to know more about International Men’s Day http://www.internationalmensday.com/
About International Women’s Day http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/