OPINION: 'Boys will be boys' is no defence for female harassment

People mourning Sarah in Clapham Common

Two women look at flowers laid on Clapham Common in memory of Sarah Everard - Credit: PA

Recent events following the tragic death of Sarah Everard, have re-opened that timeless debate about a woman's place and value in society.

Sadly, far too many of the contributors maintain viewpoints that should have been relegated back when boys still wore short trousers, including the former UKIP Norwich North candidate and now independent Police and Crime Commissioner candidate, David Moreland

Mr Moreland spoke to an Archant reporter and said: "In the old days, blokes used to work on building sites and they would whistle down to a girl walking past, and you know most of the girls would say 'Oh, thank you, thank you for thinking I'm good looking'."

I can almost see the misty dew of nostalgia in his eyes as he harked back to the days of yore when rampant misogyny was more socially acceptable.

Women have long said that they are sick and tired of men feeling that they have the right to comment on their appearance and that attention from them should be seen as something to be grateful for.

That sense of entitlement only goes to further the narrative that women are commodities for male consumption - free to be enjoyed and critiqued however men see fit. 

Outdated views like that are why we are still needing to have conversations about women's safety and we all have a responsibility to call them out when they rear their ugly heads.

So-called locker room talk, lad culture or toxic masculinity - whatever you want to call it, only serve to perpetuate negative gender stereotypes that are harmful to both men and women and when left unchallenged, cement dangerously inappropriate ideologies.

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Every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment from men and all too often the lower-level behaviours such as the sending of explicit images, cat-calling, flashing and unwanted touching are dismissed as "just a joke" and the women on the receiving end dismissed as over-sensitive.

Police and crime commissioner candidate, David Moreland. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Police and crime commissioner candidate, David Moreland. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Furthermore, the onus is continually placed on women to police such behaviours and we are blamed for letting it happen.

If every woman knows a victim then surely every man must know a perpetrator as it isn't the same few men doing all of the harassing and abusing. 

Men must stop closing their eyes to the everyday sexism that entrenches misogynistic attitudes and embolden predatory behaviour.

Men have a unique opportunity to play a key role in making the world safer for women and girls but currently they are squandering it.

The #NotAllMen hashtag has proven that too many men are happier to put their energy into dismissing women's reality and re-framing the conversation so that they too are victims.

Nobody is denying that men can also be victims of abuse but the reality is that they are far less likely to be and their own own perpetrators will still almost always be another man.

Natasha Harpley

Natasha Harpley, councillor for Sprowston Central, has been campaigning in recent years to make sending "dick pics" illegal - Credit: Natasha Harpley

The Office for National Statistics revealed that indecent exposure and unwanted sexual touching was experienced by around three times as many women as men and data from the Home Office Data Hub show that in the year ending March 2017, females were victims in 88% of rape offences recorded by the police, with the remaining 12% males.

The Femicide Census also writes that more than nine out of 10 killers were men.

This has all has been allowed to slide for far too long and we cannot continue to downplay aggressive male behaviour.

We have to stop letting men off the hook and start it young with no more 'boys will be boys' excuses.

We must flip the narrative from what women can do to protect themselves to how men can be prevented from abusing women.

Until we properly tackle this, many more women will have their lives ruined and even taken at the hands of men and become yet another sad statistic.

Natasha Harpley is a a Broadland councillor