Liam Stevenson: This is the moment I realised how harmful my attitudes towards women were


Political activist and Tie Campaign co-founder Liam Stevenson explains why men must tackle the harm masculine culture does to women – and be honest with themselves in the process

IF THE recent Harvey Weinstein scandal has put a spotlight on anything, it’s that behind the glitz and glamour, the cash and corruption, the drugs and celebrity of Hollywood, lies a deeper conversation about wider society, male culture and power.

There is evidently still a massive problem when men meet, or feel, power. Far too often, men believe that the acquisition of power and status acts as the perfect conduit for their own sexual gratification and, until recently, they could remain confident that they would get away with a multitude of abuses.

Six years ago, I became the father of a little girl, and she changed my life. I underwent a period of deep self-reflection, and I considered what life had taught me. Raising my daughter made me re-examine my own attitudes.

READ MORE: Kirsty Strickland: Why it’s time for me to speak up about sexual violence

I found myself confronting my own socially-ingrained masculinity. I began to acknowledge how I had looked at women, and how I had behaved towards them.

Of course, it shouldn’t take having a daughter for men to realise that our behaviour towards women, our language about them and our relationships with them can often be damaging, but for most of us it does signify a new dawn of introspection.

The reality for many is that until they can feel something tangibly and palpably, they will not embark on a process of self-reflection and self-criticism.

I realised that I once believed men were superior to women. Indeed, I now understand that I was raised and conditioned in a world which actively injects notions of male superiority in all of us; that these outdated ideas spawn from a wider social phenomenon and were introduced to me, and enforced in me, by my father’s generation.

There are some standout examples of how this mindset shaped my own understanding of social life and my role within it.

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At 11 years old, following the breakdown of my family, I was told that I was now “the man of the house” by my dad. This led me to conclude that I was the one who had to protect my mum, to make sure that she was safe and supported.

The inferred idea was that she wasn’t capable of doing that on her own, without male influence, whether that came from her partner or her 11-year-old son.

At such a raw age, being told that you’re now the one with the responsibility, only gave me an undue air of entitlement. Later, in my teenage years, I was under the impression that I could tell my mum what social activities she could engage in.

I must have been about 16 or 17 when I remember being furious because my mum wanted to go to a nightclub, and I interjected to tell her that she couldn’t.

It sounds ridiculous now, but it’s obvious to me that my sense of authority – over my own mother – came from the notion that I was somehow atop a hierarchy, simply because of my gender. I was “the man of the house”, after all.

I must have been about 16 or 17 when I remember being furious because my mum wanted to go to a nightclub, and I interjected to tell her that she couldn’t.

It’s really not difficult to see how that mindset would shape my attitude towards women, whether I understood it or not.

I remember one early relationship, with someone I really liked, which fell apart quite quickly. It was only years later that she told me that the reason she ended it was because of the way I spoke about women.

I didn’t understand what she meant at the time, because when I was in that bubble I didn’t see the issue, but it’s since become clear to me that in my younger years I predominantly viewed women through a sexual lens.

When meeting a woman, at that age, the first thing on my mind wasn’t her career, her personality or her skills – rather, it was whether or not I wanted to have sex with her.

This is an expectation which is placed on young men: to be promiscuous, to have multiple sexual partners – the “lad culture” which is still celebrated and reproduced today.

I’m speaking to the men reading this right now: this culture is ours and it is our responsibility to face it.

It’s a patriarchal system and attitude, built upon silverback masculinity, which has so many layers to it, and which has a hugely negative impact on women. Yet we continue to recycle it.

Still, young men are taught to view women as sexual items. The Sun’s long-running Page 3 is the perfect example: why is it okay that a man can open the first few pages of a newspaper in the morning and, right there next to the latest breaking story, is a half-naked woman for him to peruse as he slurps his tea?

It sends a highly poisonous message to young men – one which undeniably impacts the way they view and treat women.

But ultimately, sexual abusers cannot hide behind an excuse of cultural and social conditioning for their behaviour. The continued objectification, subjugation and abuse of women cannot be framed as acceptable – ever.

There is an undeniable gendered phenomenon at play. Not only are women predominantly the victims of this behaviour, but the perpetration of sexual abuse is overwhelmingly male dominated.

READ MORE: Naya Koulocheri: All the Weinsteins of our world have this one thing in common (9 letters)

It is clear that masculinity is playing a prominent role, and this can only be rectified by men with the guidance of women. We need to shut up and listen.

My old attitudes are no different to those that most men still hold today, and it was widespread throughout my friend and peer groups in my younger years.

The issues facing women, which are fuelled by male culture, are my problem too: not just because they are my (our) daughter’s, but because I (we) have contributed to them. These issues start and stop with men, and so I’m speaking to the men reading this right now: this culture is ours and it is our responsibility to face it.

My generation needs to take ownership of this and understand our faults. We need to make it our work to ensure that this culture, these attitudes and these behaviours are not replicated among future generations. It’s time to break the cycle.

Picture courtesy of NCinDC

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