She was just…

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By Dora Czerny – Senior Account Manager

Sarah Everard was JUST walking home from a friend’s house. Ashling was JUST going for a run. Bibaa was JUST celebrating her birthday with her sister Nicole. Everyday activities we can all relate to.

Sadly, I think most women and non-binary people can imagine how the events unfolded. How their hearts sank when a stranger walked up to them. How they had their earphones in, but maybe weren’t actually listening to music. How they maybe even tried to make – or fake – a call to throw the attacker off.

It is all too relatable.

But is it really only relatable because they were attacked while doing things anyone could?

I am lucky to have never experienced any male aggression in my life. So why is it my default to hold my keys in my hand and send a tracking link to my partner when I get in an Uber late at night?

And why would I teach my daughter to do the same?

Because we have all JUST been raised with an awareness of some men’s inexcusable behaviour potentially making us a target.

These behaviours, rooted in gender norms, aren’t new.

They are, in fact, so ingrained in our worlds that we rarely realise how much context they provide, let alone how they even create context for gender-based violence.

We know catcalling is out of line. So is manspreading. But what about the gender pay gap? Or developing a health app for the biggest phone brand, with no option to track periods? Our world is run by men, focusing on men.

But how do we, as a society, address this? A vigil, an ad, a conversation are certainly a good start but none of these focus on the underlying issue: toxic masculinity.

From the minute we are born, we are assigned either male or female. We are given our roles and most of us never question them. Girls are encouraged to be pretty and play with dolls. Boys, on the other hand, need to man up, not cry when they fall. They may never identify as male, yet, they are pushed into the gender cliché.

This toxic masculinity, created by our society, and up until recently enforced by advertising, continues to form habits we haven’t been able to shake for centuries. Habits, that in some circumstances, with the ‘right’ individuals may grow into something much, much darker.

To get out of this vicious cycle, we need to reset our systems. Reconfigure our norms in all areas: in our homes, religion, education, clothing, language, politics – and advertising.

Police Scotland’s ‘Don’t be that guy’ and the ASA rules are a great start to put gender and stopping male violence on the agenda, at a time when there is a momentum for both.

But we need more. We need all of us to actively rethink the way our brains have been programmed over centuries. And we need the advertising industry to lead the way: by enforcing the rules on gender stereotyping, promoting men showing and talking about their emotions, putting people of all genders in decision making positions, calling out toxic masculinity wherever we can – and only creating content that educates young and old to unlearn our gender attitudes.

We at The Union know that behaviour change takes time. So, the sooner we start, the more lives we can hopefully save.

Note: When working on this thoughtpiece, Michael Hart, Creative Director at The Union, pointed me to a book – ‘The Descent of Man’ by Grayson Perry. I am only scratching the surface of this issue, so I would highly recommend it.