‘I’m exactly what a rapist looks like’ - Tom Meagher

The Women’s Podcast explores street harrassment and interviews Julie Walters

"There's a lot of privilege that comes from the idea that public spaces are men's spaces and they can do anything they want to you," Tom Meagher told presenter Kathy Sheridan on this week's episode of The Women's Podcast.

Meagher was referring to a letter written by teacher Jenny Stanley and published in The Irish Times last week. In the letter, Stanley chronicled her journey home from Dublin city centre one evening and the verbal abuse she experienced from groups of men.

Meagher’s wife Jill was raped and murdered in Melbourne three years ago. Now he is an advocate for the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest male-led movement to end violence against women.

Meagher pointed to a recent incident in the UK where a man said he was offended when asked to join a college’s ’consent course’ and responded by posting a picture of himself on social media holding a sign that said ’This is not what a rapist looks like’.

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“That’s exactly what a rapist looks like ... I’m exactly what a rapist looks like ...,” said Meagher in response, urging men to take more responsibility and stop “othering” the experience by saying most men don’t engage in such behaviour.

“Of course most men wouldn’t do this, but so what? We’re not going to give you a cookie for doing the minimum you can to be a decent human being”.

Educating young men

The White Ribbon campaign runs courses in schools and colleges to educate young men around the issues: “In Jenny’s situation the most vulnerable man would have been the man who had spoken up, but vulnerability is something men shy away from. There needs to be interruptions to this kind of behaviour, especially amongst peer groups,” he said.

Stanley also joined the discussion about street harassment and said she was afraid to take action in the moment.

“I was overwhelmed with anger that they felt they could say those things to me. But I stopped myself from responding because I felt I would be putting myself in danger. I felt stifled, and that was frustrating,” she said.

Holly Kearl, an expert in gender-based violence and founder of the American organisation Stop Street Harassment, said there is no right or wrong way to respond to street harassment.

“The most empowering way we can deal with it is learning the range of responses we can have – doing things like simply calling out the behaviour, saying it’s harassment, loudly asking the person to repeat what they said.”

Kearl also said it is important to talk to men at a young age and make it socially acceptable for them to stand up to men who make women uncomfortable in public spaces.

‘It’s not your fault’

“I want to say to Jenny and any woman out there who has been harassed: it’s not your fault. Sometimes my immediate reaction is what did I do? But it’s not your fault, and it’s a societal, global problem. We can all be part of the cultural change by speaking out.”

Also on the podcast this week, actress Julie Walters joined Irish Times journalist Anthea McTeirnan to talk about her new film Brooklyn, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín.

Later in the episode, Irish Times journalist Bernice Harrison met the women at the centre of the new book, Dear Cathy, Love Mary. The book is full of letters the women wrote each other over 30 years ago.

This week's question of the week was inspired by the Feminist Film Festival, which is on this week. Find more information at feministfilmfestivaldublin.com.

Our question of the week is: What film do you think every woman should see and why?

Listeners are invited to tweet their answers @ITWomensPodcast, post to our Facebook page or email thewomenspodcast@irishtimes.com.

Individual episodes of the podcast are available on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher.

The White Ribbon Campaign’s action day takes place on November 25th in The Pillar Room of the Rotunda hospital.