A man who cannot respect a woman is not a man

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed reviews the second presidential debate in the United States

Donald Trump, pictured in last week’s debate with Hillary Clinton, has form for sexism and misogyny. Win McNamee / Getty Images / AFP
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To suggest that ‘boys will be boys’ is to allow the cycle of dehumanising women to continue

The excuses are laughable. “Boys will be boys” and “it’s just locker room banter”. They reek of helplessly pathetic human beings who can do nothing but submit to their genetic fate, forever doomed by their Y-chromosomes to enact subhuman behaviour.

They are get-out-of-jail-free passes – often literally – for men who do things we all agree normal human beings with standards of decency should not do. We make far too many excuses for terrible sexist behaviour on the part of men, concluding with a shrug of our shoulders and the comment: “That’s just how men are.”

I wasn’t surprised by the 2005 videotape of Donald Trump’s sexist comments to television host Billy Bush. He has form: he has made lurid and mind-boggling comments about his daughter, told a female TV anchor that she must be menstruating, called a woman “Miss Piggy” and said that women are past their prime after 35. It’s revolting and disrespectful behaviour.

What has really disgusted me is that others have been excusing him. They perpetuate a climate in which men can speak and act against women in these despicable ways, and in whichwomen are reduced to pieces of meat. And before anyone thinks this is just about Republican candidates and voters, think again – these excuses are used all the time, all around us.

“This is alpha male boasting. It’s the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do,” said the United Kingdom Independence Party’s Nigel Farage, as though manly men, real men, brag about and even engage in sexual assault – and that anything else is namby-pamby.

That’s not what real men do. Real men walk away when others talk about violence, assault or degradation. Real men step up to their responsibilities. Real men behave like, well, real human beings. They don’t behave like animals and then pretend to be men.

All it takes is for men to challenge other men who talk and act in this way. To say out loud that it is disgusting.

It makes my skin crawl when men pretend they should be exempt from acceptable behaviour because, hey, men are men. They can’t control their hormones. Of course when we say the exact same thing about women it is to denigrate them and make them look like crazy harridans. Enough with the excuses. If you really respect women, how can you even talk about grabbing them?

If you really respect women, then how can you say it’s OK for your sons to treat women casually but talk about your daughters being besmirched by relationships?

If you really respect women, you don’t mess about and then feel entitled to a relationship with a woman who has held her moral high ground.

What makes me really sad is when women engage in this form of excuse for men, not realising that they are continuing the cycle of dehumanising women.

To suggest that boys will be boys, or that’s just how men are, is to believe in a male archetype that exonerates men both from maintaining standards of decent behaviour, simply because they are male, and then further releases them from taking the consequences of their actions.

We see the watered-down version of this attitude in portrayals of men who are too pathetic to wash their own clothes, do the housework or even look after their own children. They are just men, we say, how can we expect anything else? We must get rid of this mindset.

Men are people too. Yes, I said it. And we should hold them to the same levels of expectation and accountability.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World