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Make PSH Illegal: a male's perspective.

Throughout my whole life, I’ve felt a real drive and devotion to helping my fellow Scot.

Sometimes excessively so… there’s a real charitable string of DNA in me that I get from my Mum and I’ve always channelled this towards my local community.

Coupling this is a real sense of patriotism that I get from my auld man. He’s someone that’s worked tirelessly to get where he is now… and that’s all validated by taking pride in where he’s from, knowing his sense of identity is enshrined in that same community. All because of his efforts. I’ve always admired that about him.

This blend fuels a burning desire to give back to my country in any way I can. It began with volunteering at my local community centre every summer as a teenager & then that same passion evolved into an unstoppable ambition to restore politics into the hands of regular people.

Last night, I attended an event co-hosted by someone I’m now delighted to call my friend. Not only are her exemplary principles immediately evident in her kindness, I see a lot of that same raw desire to achieve and give back to where she’s from. She loves her country and devotes every waking second to make it a better place.

Sally Donald, and her team, launched the ‘Make Public Sexual Harassment Illegal’ campaign up at Holyrood last night and it could not have been more of a success.

Although fitting, this isn’t about the considerable backing they’ve managed to gather in a short space of time or the ability to host a Parliamentary event with such ease… I’m speaking to the powerful and emotive content that had me taken aback for the whole duration.

There was a certain shock factor expressed in their shared experiences that not only had you engaged… it had you turning back to fellow audience members in utter disbelief. A dark confusion at the prevalence of this issue.

The evening began with video footage of a guest speaker, Graham Goulden.

Goulden, a former police officer, has made a respectable name for himself guiding male leadership against gendered violence. He started #DontBeThatGuy, aimed at curbing men’s behaviour by taking ownership and responsibility for careless actions.

He asks men to reflect on the things they say, in the hope a ripple effect will emerge of growing respect for women. It’s a tried and tested preventative measure.

This message was echoed last night. He talked about the need for active bystanders in situations where women are being harassed. The staring, the intimidation, the comments, the wolf-whistling… we were encouraged by Goulden to act in these moments and ensure safe interventions to protect women.

I’d encourage anyone reading this article to get in touch for more information on his teachings.

Following were two powerful speeches that touched on personal experiences to express the severity of what’s actually happening to women in today’s society. No easy feat itself, by the way.

Sally brought her campaign partner, Alice, and indeed many in the audience, to near tears as she eloquently spoke about what she had been through. The emotion was palpable.

Several instances were described. Each of these sexually-driven exchanges that were forced upon Sally from as early as her school years, all added to and reinstated these traumatic emotions nobody deserves.

It’s forced a crucial question that simply must be addressed. In her words, “what gives him the right to exert that control?”

Alice built upon this message with a striking speech.

Similarly, uncomfortable experiences were shared. Jaw-dropping statistics, such as the 97% of women aged 18-24 having experienced public sexual harassment, were dispatched with the force and anger that was evidently within her.

And a notable, chilling moment brought the room to dead silence.

“If you are a bystander, you are a culprit.”

It was at this moment I couldn’t shake the feeling of shame. Not just with men generally, but also with myself.

I’ve known men that have acted in this way and failed to alter my behaviour towards them. I’ve been in the company of men speaking in that kind of manner and chose not to act out of awkwardness, cowardice and fear.

Fear of retaliation. Cowardly protecting myself. Not confident enough to speak up. Sometimes without even realising.

I now, however, truly realise how incredibly selfish I was in those moments.

Don’t get me wrong, my mates are good people. I surround myself with folk that treat women with respect and I’m so proud of that. Our ability, as a friend group, to see past gender, sexuality and race is something that I’ve always liked about us.

But, just as I gathered at that moment, I’d be kidding myself to say I’ve never been in an environment where I should’ve properly addressed something said… and I either chose not to act or my bottle’s went.

It could be at the pub before the football, where you get a sense of community amongst fellow fans even if they’re strangers… and in spirit of maintaining that sense of community, you’d turn a blind eye to certain comments.

They’re your 90-minute family. Chill out, we’re all together. Let people have a laugh, one might think.

In fairness, football culture is an environment in that you go into conscious of avoiding trouble at all costs. People may, logically, weigh up getting hooked in the jaw, knocked out, hospitalised and off work for two weeks. All for the sake of a steamin raj who wouldn’t have listened to you anyway.

So anaesthetised, you could’ve paid him a compliment and he would’ve still found a way to take it as a wide remark. A kickin might be to follow. Emotions do run that high in some environments.

It's a risk I took calling out a racist comment last season which thankfully never ended that way… but you can forgive men for that, at least, crossing their minds in these scenarios.

Taking that fear-inducing risk, however, is the least we could do for the 97% of women that have that same experience… except it’s forced upon them. They don’t have a choice.

It’s also worth noting this is an extreme example. I reckon most men my age would be giving their minds peace if they didn’t own up to hearing a joke or comment made by a friend, friend of a friend or family member that, even without the threat of violence, wasn’t properly addressed.

Heck, there will have been things I’ve said in my past that I didn’t even know were misogynistic or had the potential to create a domino effect. The same effect that only ends one way: someone, somewhere, going through a threatening, intimidating, or at least uncomfortable experience.

Some will point out ‘ach well he didn’t know any better at the time’ or ‘he was only having a laugh’… but that’s unacceptable these days. We do know better.

There is surely now enough awareness to eliminate all ignorance.

And something I learned last night was the underlying premise of what Sally and Alice were talking about: if we aren’t cautious with our language, if we fail to amend our behaviour and if the jokes don’t stop… those that take it too far won’t either.

Safety surely precedes comedy.

The campaign is careful to acknowledge that nobody is perfect and people make mistakes… they’re not looking to create criminals out of this legislation. They want to educate and create a wave of easily-implemented behaviour that will make a significant difference to the mental and physical well-being of all women.

If compassion and understanding are reciprocated, then Scotland will be so much safer.

So, I made a promise to myself last night. A promise to never let that barrier of fear stop me from intervening again.

As I said, it’s the least I can do.

I have the responsibility to own that control. I urge men like myself to start asking themselves: if I don’t exercise that control to make a positive difference, how much better am I than an actual perpetrator?

I’m proud of my upbringing that’s grounded in respect for everyone, including women… but it is ignorance to tell yourself you can’t do more. There is always more that can be done.

And that was the promise: do more. You’re not a ‘kill joy’ by forsaking a bit of patter to contribute to a wider cause. There is something much bigger than that exchange. Monumentally so.

On the week of International Women’s Day, that is the message. Be better whenever you can.


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