Testosterone and social dominance go hand-in-hand. Yet another reason more women’s voices need to be heard, says Deborah Frances-White. And the listening has to be done by all of us. Not just men.
Some high profile tragic news stories have caused a lot of online discussion over the last few weeks:
The rape of an unconscious woman on a college campus and the lenient sentence for the rapist because of his ‘promise and potential’.
British and Russian football hooligans rioting in France and sending each other to hospital.
Another in a series of tragic shootings. This one a vile hate crime in a gay night club with 49 people murdered and many more injured.
The rapist blames alcohol. The tabloids fume about booze and football culture. The media blames the shooter’s fundamentalist religious beliefs and calls it a terrorist attack. Others point to lack of gun control. All of these external factors no doubt play a part.
Twitter regularly activates its NotAllMen hashtag in response to stories like these. And #NotAllMen is a given. Of course, not all men throw bottles and shoot and rape and kill.
But when these stories break it is #AlwaysAMan, isn’t it? I feel terrified just typing those words. My blood pressure rises at the anger that will come in my direction for voicing them, but the fact is, a female serial killer is a statistical anomaly.
It is fair to say if someone walks into a cinema with an automatic weapon and shoots in 25 different directions, a teenage girl is raped and left for dead or a suicide bomber boards a bus* in any part of the world – we already know before we’ve heard the rest of the story – the perpetrator is a man. Ninety-eight per cent of mass killings are done by men.
[*Female suicide bombers are on the increase, but the organisations using women as tools in their attacks remain predominantly male led.]
“If you’re a man, I challenge you not to offer your opinion at all – just for a day – even if you think a woman is wrong. See how it feels.”
#NotAllMen. Not the men we love; although someone loved and raised and held all those men. Just read the letter that Brock Turner’s mother wrote to the judge and try to imagine she didn’t adore him or try to ‘raise him right’. #LovedMen #EnoughMen #AlwaysAMan. Why?
We look for external forces like alcohol and religion but the truth is, violence is impossible without testosterone and men have 10 times as much of the stuff as women. However, it’s important to remember that testosterone itself does some good, necessary stuff and doesn’t cause violence. It just facilitates it. The current science on testosterone reveals that it greases the wheels for violence in certain environments.**
And that part is important.
When men are so consistently and constantly over-represented as leaders, decision makers, board members, pundits, storytellers and commentators, we all have to live in an overly masculine society. And #NotAllMen and #VeryFewWomen want that. Over-representation of men as influencers creates a violent society. We need to #MakeRoomForWomen. All of us.
This starts in conversation. Make room for women when you speak. The reason ‘mansplaining’ has been coined is that women often feel patronised, steamrolled and talked over. Don’t believe me? If you’re a man, ask a woman and wait to hear her answer. Then ask her another question and listen to that answer too rather than countering her original point with yours.
I challenge you not to offer your opinion at all – just for a day – even if you think a woman is wrong. See how it feels. Sit with what she’s said for a week and think about it rather than firing back a response immediately, just as an experiment.
If you’re a woman, call men on interrupting other women and tell them you want to hear her finish her point. #MakeRoomForWomen
This starts in the street. Make room for women in public places. The reason ‘manspreading’ has been coined is that women often feel men take up more than their fair share of room on the bus or in the boardroom.
Don’t believe me? If you’re a man, try to mirror the body language of the women around you on public transport or in meetings for a day. See if you feel different and ask yourself why they might take up less room when you take up more.
If you’re a woman try walking down the street and only getting out of the way for those who can’t easily get out of yours. Just try taking up more of the pavement for an hour and see how it feels. #MakeRoomForWomen
This is the most important one. Make room for women, wherever you have influence. Make room for women in your meeting, on your board, in your writers’ room and on your panel. Do not blame religion, gun control, alcohol and sporting culture for the violent society you live in and exclude women from shaping its future.
The world you live in – with its celebration of weapons, booze and fundamentalist religious values – is a huge throbbing manifestation of a lack of diversity. Birds of a feather are arseholes. Too many testosterone-fuelled guys running everything all the time, telling their stories their way, empathising with a single experience and being responsible for policy, legislation, sentencing and blockbusters is the problem, gang.
“As much as you might despise Brock Turner, the judge who sentenced him or the Orlando shooter, these men don’t live in a vacuum. They commute on your train and laugh in your locker room and snigger at the jokes in the TV shows most of us watch and some of us make.”
You are the problem if you continue to co-author a system that does not make room for women. Do not shake your head and tut about shootings and lives lost if you are telling your story, creating your platform, devising your policy or managing your project (no matter how noble or lovely) with an exclusively male voice. #MakeRoomForWomen
If you’re about to say, “But we have a woman – one on my board,” let’s be clear: one woman can’t be responsible for reshaping your piece of the patriarchy on her own. If you have one woman, she will either have to play the boys’ game to keep breathing or she will be mowed down, mute and impotent.
A pair of breasts doesn’t equal diversity. You need ideally half or more of your voices to be female if you want to be the change you claim you wish to see when people are bleeding to death in a stadium.
This problem is shared and it’s structural and we can’t chillax even if Hillary’s in the White House. She’ll be working in the men’s room for four years, or eight if she’s unlucky.
This is not just a job for men. Women need to make room for women too. If you want to produce a successful comedy show, it’s easy to fill the bill with men who’ve already been given a platform that punters trust and recognise.
If you are in a position to promote people, you may feel reassured by candidates that ‘look right’ because we’re all products of a system that favours white guys in suits, despite the fact they’ve shown us over and over again that left as an unsupervised, homogenised group they make terrible decisions that tank the economy.
Women – this is a tough one – we need to make room for women whose opinions we do not agree with. We need to allow platforms for feminists with views we dislike, those whose HBO specials get on our nerves and even those who are on the opposite side of the political divide.
We need to stop thinking an individual sister has to speak for all of us and realise a more female landscape is its own goal. Men get to represent a kaleidoscope of viewpoints, so we need to make room for women we don’t even like.
If society doesn’t make room for women who collectively have an equally human but meaningfully different world view, biochemistry and ability to reproduce, nothing will change. This might mean rethinking parenting leave. This might mean some of the turkeys putting on Santa hats. It will mean diluting a culture that celebrates the best things that testosterone yields all day every day with other stuff that’s also great and currently doesn’t get a look-in because it’s being judged by a male metric.
This also might mean over-including women whose experience to date has been one of being pushed into the margins. A friend of mine recently tried to put together a diverse panel to speak at a conference about a new technology that was disrupting her industry, and couldn’t find one willing woman because ‘none of them felt qualified’.
“The world you live in – with its celebration of weapons, booze and fundamentalist religious values – is a huge throbbing manifestation of a lack of diversity. Birds of a feather are arseholes.”
She pointed out that none of the men knew any more about this unexpected turn of events but they were happy to share their ad-libbed opinions, ad nauseum regardless of their age, race or experience. She virtually had to strong-arm a woman into it and chair the thing herself.
This is probably because women have not found these environments inclusive and hospitable in the past and are wary of them – and because guys have a biochemical lie called testosterone coursing around their body telling them they’re rock stars.
It is not enough to invite women, we need to insist on them joining in and create panels they want to be on and make sure they have a good time, so they come back and spread the word.
If you’re wondering how a little mansplaining contributes to a culture of mass murder, then ask yourself whether shooting down girls in conversation makes them more or less likely to express further opinions, contribute and reach out for influential roles as they mature and develop.
Ask if not trusting women in leadership or high profile positions contributes to a world captained and powered by undiluted testosterone, then read this article from Time magazine and reconsider your own patch carefully.***
As much as you might despise Brock Turner, the judge who sentenced him or the Orlando shooter, these men don’t live in a vacuum. They commute on your train and laugh in your locker room and snigger at the jokes in the TV shows most of us watch and some of us make.
It’s #AlwaysAMan and he’s always drunk on booze, religion, power or something. If you really want the right to use the hashtag NotAllMen, then #MakeRoomForWomen and let’s begin to change the world.
And while we’re at it, #NotAllWhitePeople #NotAllStraightPeople #NotAllCisPeople – we should really #MakeRoomForOthers.
**As with all hormones, testosterone is really complicated stuff and the causal arrow seems to fly both ways. More reading here.
Deborah is one half of the excellent The Guilty Feminist podcast, alongside Sofie Hagen. The latest episode features our very own Sarah Millican talking about worth.
She also hosts Global Pillage, a diverse and international comedy panel show podcast.
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Deborah Frances-White is a comedian and screenwriter. Her BBC Radio 4 show Deborah Frances-White Rolls the Dice is currently on Mondays at 11.30am and ListenAgain. Episodes one and four are about how she found her biological family, including Kate and William.