When I was six and he was five years old, my brother Gary nicked the Walnut Whip that my mother had been saving up and ate it. When she discovered it was missing, she locked us in the kitchen until one of us owned up.
Eventually, after denying emphatically to me that it was indeed him, he finally ’fessed up. “But Debs,” he pleaded, “I’m always in trouble. Will you say it was you who took it?” I adored my brother and agreed to take the punishment for him.
Released from the kitchen, I said: “It was me, mum.” To our gobsmacked amazement she gave me a kiss and then punished my brother. Of course, unbeknownst to us she’d been listening at the door the whole time. Thereafter, even if it had been me who committed the crime, they always thought I was covering for him – and to this day our family joke is still “if in doubt, blame Gary”.
If you look at the worst atrocities in the world today – the situation in Syria; human trafficking; radicalisation; violence towards women; child sex abuse; rape; sexual harassment; and so on – there is one thing that they all have in common, one word that links them all. Men.
I can’t remember the female equivalent of the word misogynist – at any rate, I’m not one. But we do ourselves a disservice by not naming that which is obvious. Of the 86,000 people in prison in the UK, 82,000 are men. About 41,000 men raped women in 2016/2017. Men account for approximately 85 per cent of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88 per cent of crimes against the person, 90 per cent of murders and 98 per cent of sexual offences. Men don’t restrict violence to women, of course. Many of the victims of male violence are men themselves.
Male behaviour, like all human behaviour, is on a spectrum. At the one end we laugh off some inappropriate male comments that make some of us feel a bit
uncomfortable as “banter”. At the other end of the spectrum we end up at war.
Of course, it is often charities that have to deal with the fallout of toxic male behaviour. We need women’s refuges, aid for refugees, rehabilitation programmes for ex-offenders, child protection charities… the list is frighteningly long.
I can’t help but wonder if there is something badly wrong in the way we are bringing up our boys. Do we accept slightly questionable behaviour or attitudes at an early age because “boys will be boys”, without understanding the longer-term consequences?
Most men are not violent warmongering abusers, but are they inadvertently colluding in a male culture that seems to accept that male violence, aggression and sexual harassment is inevitable? Do we need more good men to do more to call out other men for behaving inappropriately and actively work to create a better culture that respects and protects women, children and the vulnerable? It isn’t somebody else’s job – men need to own it. I suspect these problems won’t improve until the chaps admit to eating the Walnut Whip.