In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.
Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’
It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.
You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.
The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.
For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?
Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’
I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.
Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.
But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.
We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.
We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.