“How complex the nuances of consent can be”
Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo, by Sam Mills, is a long-form essay exploring attitudes and behaviour in a society where men can gain kudos from being regarded as feminists. In public they are perceived as empathetic and supportive of gender equality. In private there are still those who surreptitiously exert toxic power over women they choose to be involved with. The foundation of the author’s deliberations is her personal relationship with a gaslighter – the term is defined for those unclear as to its meaning. She explains how even an empowered woman can lose agency, and how difficult dealing with this can be when a man’s word can negatively impact one’s career.
Alongside the author’s own experiences, she includes research and interviews with those who have suffered physical as well as psychological abuse. The criminal justice system has proved itself inadequate when dealing with serious issues such as rape. How much, then, can it offer those who seek legal protection from abuse that is harder to define. Recognition is required for prevention. High profile cases are cited that shine a light on the significant costs to those who seek retribution for damage caused. Outing abusers on social media is not the answer, bringing as it does serious fallout for all involved.
The essay is both detailed and balanced. The author writes of how difficult it was to know how to best deal with a man she had willingly slept with before realising how manipulative and destabilising his behaviour towards her could be. There was a degree of shame and also loneliness in not knowing if he treated other women – some of them friends – in the same way. A conspiracy of silence added to the man’s power. His public persona remained that of the popular nice guy.
No easy answers are offered but, in highlighting these issues, Mills proves that women are not alone in having to deal with such men. One of the more depressing aspects discussed was how often other women downplay the suffering caused – blaming those who complain for making a fuss over nothing. Also mentioned is the argument that some women use the threat of false accusation as a weapon. They too can cause lasting damage.
The essay takes salient aspects of this important topic and presents them clearly, backing up points made with references to other publications – sources are listed. While these serve to provide further detail for those wishing to engage, I was personally familiar with what was presented. It is as stated ‘not all men’, but enough exist, to a greater or lesser degree, that all women will recognise conduct described.
What is perhaps most dispiriting is the lack of seriousness with which such behaviour is often regarded – some even claim it is natural and therefore unavoidable. Many men appear to consider the risk of being castigated for ‘minor indiscretions’ too high a price to pay for women’s safety and wellbeing. The author includes the recent phenomenon of employers eschewing attractive young women to avoid the risk of accusation, as if men are incapable of treating female colleagues as people rather than a sex object.
This book is writing with the potential to provoke discussion, lifting the lid on questions around interactions between men and women – on blame and impact. It provides a clear and prescient argument for all to behave better when complaints are aired – to listen and respond with care and consideration. A compelling and worthwhile read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, The Indigo Press.