‘We men must oppose the violent, demeaning attitudes that put women into graves’
Opinion: Get angry and feel sad at Ashling Murphy’s murder but, above all, change
Flowers and candles are left at Leinster House during a vigil for Ashling Murphy. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins
Anger and sadness make a bitter mix of emotions – and that’s what’s in the hearts of the overwhelming majority of men over the murder of Ashling Murphy.
But we can too easily feel as though experiencing the anger is the totality of what we can do. It isn’t.
We need to turn the anger, and the sadness behind it, into a determination that something fundamental will change.
I was very struck by this, from broadcaster Louise McSharry on Twitter on Thursday night: “Show me the story where a man was senselessly killed by a woman jogging at 4pm on a straight stretch of path named for another woman who senselessly went missing in a similar incident. Show me the stories of men repeatedly being killed by women while simply going about their business.”
And it is this toll taken again, and again, by the violence of some men towards women that disturbs and pains the overwhelming majority of men.
One man responded to the tweet with this: “Show me a tweet where you’ve said something similar when a man was senselessly killed…”
Is this really a moment to get into a back and forth about whether a response to a killing should have been “balanced” by a response to other types of violence? Especially since instances of men being killed by women are, actually, rare?
To men inclined to get into arguments of this kind, at this time, I would say that confronted, shockingly, with such senseless killings we need to let into our hearts the sadness of the loss of life after life both out of doors and, more often, in the home.
The emotions we feel now can, and should be, transformative. If we let those emotions guide us, perhaps we can make a kinder society and one that places a high value on respect for women’s human rights.
In that society will we still have the killers, the husbands with their fists at the ready, the exploiters of children, the revenge porn low lifes, the even lower low lifes with their date rape drugs?
Yes, but as a dwindling and not a growing – as it feels right now – deviant minority.
And men will not only see demeaning attitudes towards women as unacceptable but will be willing to say so when their friends express these attitudes in conversation. That is the part that many of us – including myself – have been too shy about doing.
We also need to bring violence against women more into our consciousness in general. Year after year, Kitty Holland has reported in this newspaper on suicides among young mothers in Dublin. One of the common threads in these terrible cases was domestic violence.
Where is the outcry about this? Really, it passed by, so far as I could see, without a ripple on the surface of society.
Is change possible? Yes, but it’s hard to do. In the 1970s Irish society became aware of what was called “wife battering” and also of the prevalence of rape and how poorly it was being dealt with. This awareness, in each case, led to important changes in the law and in the provision of services.
But something remained very wrong beneath the surface. Move forward to the present day and we find that lockdown was accompanied by an increase in violence against women in the home. Outside the home we have had the long, sad line of murders of women who should, today, be living their ordinary lives.
The overwhelming majority of us, both men and women, are disgusted by the behaviour of those who beat up their partners, who make women afraid to walk along the street on their own at night, afraid even to jog along a canal in the daytime.
What goes on in our hearts is crucial to changing this. When you feel in your heart that a woman’s life is less than a man’s life, then the consequences can be fatal. How many feel that way in their hearts? A minority of course but a minority capable of inflicting great suffering.
Changing hearts can be partly helped by the education of both boys and girls on this issue – not in a way designed to demonise them or to darken their concept of themselves but to bring into every heart respect for the lives and freedom of all. Children can be educated not only to give respect – and that is already woven into the culture of schools – but to expect respect also. That can be a big step towards making a kinder society and a better quality of life for all of us. And such an ethical and emotional education needs to be extended to adults too, in a variety of ways.
We need now to pledge as a society to make changes in attitudes because attitudes can kill or liberate. The wrong attitudes put women into graves, or leave them with permanent disabilities or make them afraid to go around as is their right to do.
When men speak up against attitudes that diminish women, it is these eventualities that they are speaking up against.
Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and his regular column appears in The Irish Times Health & Family section