- It’s not enough anymore to say…. I’m not that guy!
It’s not enough anymore to say…. I’m not that guy!
After one of the darkest weeks in Tullamore – and indeed across the country – we felt that the following words, written by Psychology student Damian McManamon, were worthy of sharing (with permission):
I’m not that guy.
Wednesday the 12th of January 2022 was a day that will be etched in mine and many people’s memory forever. Ashling Murphy a 23-year-old primary school teacher who taught in our local National school Durrow just outside Tullamore lost her life. She lost her life along the canal in Tullamore while innocently going for a run, along a stretch that I’ve travelled up and down thousands of times. I go there regularly with my young family and dogs to exercise the mind and body and always feel better for it. When the news came through about what had happened, I felt numb. I was shocked and a cloud of sadness, anger, hopelessness and grief descended upon the town of Tullamore. Ashling came from a lovely family with a musical background and was a gifted musician, athlete, teacher and human being. The principal James Hogan is a good friend going back many years and both him, all the teachers, and Ashling all took great pleasure in shaping the lives of our little one’s minds through music, sport, support and love. As I arrived home on Wednesday evening to the news of what had happened it felt like life in Tullamore would never be the same again. I spoke to my partner Genevieve, and my Mum in law Gretta about it and was even more stunned when they relayed stories to me of the fear they had as women in their everyday lives. A fear that shocked and surprised me greatly.
You see I’m the guy who felt none of the issues women had with men had anything to do with me. I’m the guy who felt he was as sensitive as he could possibly be to a woman’s needs. I’d always be sensitive to walking behind a woman in a quiet place, often stopping or crossing the street or road so as not to make that woman feel threatened or nervous by my presence nearby. I’m the guy that would always try to make a stranger who is a woman feel safe in my company by mentioning who I am, my partner Genevieve, my kids, etc. I’m the guy who, as I’m driving along would always avoid eye contact with a woman driving or walking along the road. I did this to make sure I didn’t make them feel like I was looking at them, for fear of their negative reaction or how it would make them feel. I’m the guy who panicked one evening while walking along the canal with my dogs when two young teenage girls asked if they could walk along with me because they loved dogs. I said No, for fear of the thought of anyone thinking that I as a male was walking along the canal with two young girls for anything other than innocent reasons! I felt overall as a male I was doing enough to change the fear women felt towards men in certain situations. I was wrong.
I was lucky to have been brought up by a fantastic human being in my Dad. A fantastic male role model in every way possible. Dad always drilled into my two brothers and I how important it was to have respect for women and in particular my Mum, my sister, and Grandmother. We would get a telling off if we entered a room, the car, or anywhere before my Mum, Sister or Grandmother. We were taught to speak and treat all women with respect, and to treat them as equals. As we got older and later in life as we started to go out at night we’d always be reminded as we went out the door to have respect for women, ourselves or anyone else we met that night. I always felt this respect I had for women was enough but now I know it’s not! It’s not enough for me to say now I’ve done enough, I’m doing enough.
I’ve come a long way in my attitudes these last few years. My empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard for my family, my friends, for all human beings and for myself has grown to a level that is unrecognisable these last few years and months. I felt that in the last few years my understanding of what a woman goes through in life had gone from 0 to 100. This was mainly down to my partner, a strong supportive woman whom I’d always pick as a first choice if I was ever going into battle. Her strength in transforming from a strong independent woman to a strong Mum has been an inspiration to myself and all the family. My understanding of the pain she went through psychologically and physically before, during and after she gave birth to all of our kids gave me a better understanding of what a woman has to go through to be a woman. Hormonal changes, monthly periods, morning sickness, the pressure of getting pregnant, the pressure of having a time frame to have kids, the pressure of not being able to have kids, the pressure and connection of carrying a baby, the loss of losing a baby, giving birth, breastfeeding, postnatal depression, hysterectomies, menopause, hot flushes all part of a woman’s life I felt I had a greater understanding of due to my partner and the strong women including my Mother in law, Sisters in law and Daughters I’m blessed to have in my life as a constant. I felt up until last Wednesday evening I was as in tune as there could be out there for a male on women and their issues. How wrong could I have been.
Last Wednesday evening as I sat in shock in my living room it was said to me “Why was that girl down the canal on her own” I questioned that statement as as a Dad of two beautiful daughters I’d want them when they were older to want to run down the canal on their own rather than be afraid to. Later my Mum in law relayed a story to me of the streets and places in Tullamore she had never walked down day or night! I was shocked. The next day a close female friend relayed to me a story from her college days of finding herself one of two women in a room of eight male college mates on a night out and the fear they both felt when they realised. So bad they made an excuse to leave for fear of what would happen if they stayed. That wouldn’t have happened if it was eight women and two men.
That night as I lay in bed I couldn’t sleep and as I sat and thought more and more about things, I suddenly realised to my shock I had no idea at all what it was like to be a woman. That despite what I had thought of what it felt like to be a woman on a daily basis we still live in a world that favours men. You see it dawned on me that I’ve never ever had to think about whether it was safe to go somewhere for a walk or a run in my life, never. I’ve never felt the fear of someone walking or running behind me wondering if I was safe or not. I’ve never had to wonder as I dressed myself in the morning for work, a day out, or a night out whether what I was wearing would attract the wrong attention from women. Whether what I was wearing would get condemnation and my personality would be attacked for what I was wearing. I’ve never felt the fear of attack, the fear of rape, the fear of condemnation, the fear of a gang of women attacking me! I’ve never walked through a bar or nightclub being touched inappropriately by women as I do. I’ve never had something derogatory shouted at me by a woman as I’ve walked by.
As the days passed since Wednesday evening my eyes were opened even more by another close female friend with another story as to why she gave up sport and cycling in secondary school. As a younger man in my opinion young women gave up sport because they just didn’t enjoy it as much as us younger men. Again, I found out I was wrong as my female friend told me the reason; she gave up sport in secondary school was because of her uniform. She wore a uniform to school and gave up sports and riding her bike to school because she was conscious of remarks made by her male colleagues on her underwear. Her underwear could be visible at times under her pinafore during sports. Again, my mind was blown, and I remembered how restricted my own sister was compared to her brothers in relation to where she was going and who she was going with.
So, what I’m trying to say in this piece is that up until last Wednesday if I sat in front of a woman and felt I had as much empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard it was possible for a man to have towards a woman then how wrong I was. What I’m also trying to say is that no longer is it ok for me as a male to say that what happened last Wednesday to Ashling Murphy has nothing to do with me as a male. It has, and the fear women have towards men in any situation has to be changed by my sons, my male friends and I. Anything unacceptable has to be called out and the attitude towards women by men has to change. I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but it can happen slowly but surely with the re-education of our young males. I have two that I can influence greatly in a positive way along with a strong group of male friends who have the utmost respect and admiration for all of the strong women in their lives. Toxic masculinity are two words that don’t sit well with me. Up until last Wednesday I’ve sometimes felt aggrieved that they were associated with men as I’m not one of those men, but they are two words that need to be talked about by all men now not later in relation to women. I might not be able to change the world, but I can change my little part of our world so that one day one we can hopefully live in a fearless world where women and my own two daughters can do anything a male can do without fear. I’m starting today as since the sad mind-numbing death of Ashling Murphy many men’s eyes have been opened more than ever before. It’s not enough anymore to say…. I’m not that guy! Women of Ireland and all over the World I want to stand with you. I want to listen and hear what you need to feel safe, to learn what I need to do to make you feel safe, to teach my sons and any males out there that don’t understand the fear you have how that feels, and finally to change the world for women and men everywhere by changing men’s perceptions of what it’s like to be a woman…. I’m now that guy….
A conversation has been sparked over the past week, a conversation that is – arguably – long overdue. Change is needed. If any of our Townmore team wishes to discuss this further or to propose ways in which we can more positively show up for all members of our community, please contact [email protected]