As society begins to speak out against the injustices of the patriarchy, Emily Clarke explores the significance and meaning of silence, and why it must now be broken – to benefit both men and women. 

‘We must not stay silent,’ were the words of Marie Laguerre as she posted a CCTV video of a man assaulting her outside a Parisian café onto Facebook. It was a video that entered into the zeitgeist of #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc – and caught in the tidal wave of flourishing feminist discourse, it quickly went viral.

Equality is woven into the French sensibility; a rallying cry in its motto. Yet Laguerre’s video – and the #BalanceTonPorc movement – went viral because egalité is simply not experienced on the streets of France: harassment and misogyny are a prevailing aspect of a woman’s daily life.

It happened to me, too.

France has, in recent months, introduced new legislation against sexual violence. With 83% of French women reporting that they have been subject to intimidating comments on public transport, new on-the-spot fines for sexual harassment are a step towards ensuring, as Emmanuel Macron said, that ‘women are not afraid to go outside.’

Photo: T. Chick McClure; Licence: Unsplash

Yet it is no surprise that for so many years, women have remained silent – and continue to be.

Challenging a man is a risk – when threatened, women learn the ‘survival tactic’ of diffusing the situation: avoiding eye contact; crossing to the other side of the road; smiling in compliance. In a patriarchal climate of silence, speaking out is often more trouble than it is worth. And even if a woman does raise her voice, she nevertheless may not bear the fruits of her labour – both Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh are in the White House today, despite historic allegations against them.

Blessed be the fruit.

Speaking out is important – I am certainly not discouraging that. We have come a long way in recent years in listening to women – and believing them. Yet the scourge of patriarchal silence is not solely an epidemic that affects women. Toxic masculinity is a poison that runs rife in the veins of men as well.

The patriarchy is a strong force. It has bound and gagged the bodies and words of all those who identify as men, women or non-binary for centuries.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 – and they represent 76% of suicides overall. 95% of prisoners are men; 87% of rough sleepers are men, and men report much lower life satisfaction than women. I know men who say they have felt inadequate because they do not have the same desire as others to intimidate women; who did not want to be part of a culture that disrespects women – and so thought there must be something wrong with them.

Toxic masculinity is an epidemic of silence. Men who fear they are different – who fear that there is something wrong with them – are afraid to raise their voice in a society that still sends out the message that they must ‘man up’. Encaged in a culture of machismo, men are too scared to admit – to other men – their feelings of inadequacy or incompetence. So many still follow the patriarchal crowd – even when they don’t feel they fit in.

The patriarchy is a strong force. It has bound and gagged the bodies and words of all those who identify as men, women or non-binary for centuries. It is not an easy power to overcome – but recent movements are beginning to shatter long-held beliefs and give people the confidence to stand up and fight. We are rightly beginning to listen to the voices of women – and embedding a new culture of feminism into the zeitgeist. Society is ready to listen, and men should play a part in this too: we must address both sides of the coin for this omnipotent epidemic of silence to finally be beaten.

Cover Photo: TitiNicola (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

  • retro

    Passionate about social change, Emily is a world traveller and activist who studied French and Spanish at UCL. After having lived in Montpellier and Valencia on her year abroad, she loves all things European - especially the food and wine - and now works in the charity sector. You can follow her on Instagram @emilyvictoriac93 or Twitter @clarkeemily93

You May Also Like

Breaking walls part 2: Drones, art, ships and abortions

This is the second part of a story by E&M‘s Beatričė Juškaitė & Ieva ...

Undiscovered Professions: Lecturer in International Development

Are you a post-graduate sick of scrolling through job adverts and seeing nothing that ...

BB

Nudism in Europe

Written by Elise Haddad, Marco Riciputi, John Smith, Lucy Duggan and Eva Sablovska Nudism ...