Head of Voice at Grey London, Bee Pahnke explains why there is an epidemic of male violence against women, why they launched Unite for Her to combat it, and what brands can do to help.
There’s something uncomfortable you need to know: Male violence against women is an epidemic, and it is your problem.
I know what you’re thinking – not me, not my brand, not my clients. We sell coffee, or stream TV, or provide internet, or look after money, or sell any other product or service. Women being harassed, assaulted, murdered – that’s for Women’s Aid or the UN or the Police to take care of.
But this epidemic doesn’t exist in a bubble. It’s woven into the fabric of our society, and every part of our society impacts it, making it possible. As a business existing in this society, with men and women in your audience demographic, this problem is your problem. This fight is your fight.
One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence. Those women are your colleagues, your clients, and your audiences. We have a duty to serve those audiences better. The perpetrators of those violent acts, predominantly men, are your audiences too. We have a duty to take our influence over them seriously.
Because violence against women and girls doesn’t start with a first. It starts with a message: that women are worth less, that women matter less, that women’s needs are less important, that women are less capable and less trustworthy. These messages come through in our media, in our governmental policies, in our education, in our socialisation. They all combine to create a society that makes the act of violence more permissible, and even acceptable.
Because these messages come from everywhere, it takes everyone to challenge them. And as those responsible for so much of the media and messages we consume, we as brands and agencies have a huge part to play. That’s why we created Unite For Her.
Unite For Her offers all of us in the creative industries an invitation to do something about male violence against women. With a series of pin-point briefs that span the many factors leading to violence, there’s an angle for every brand, every client, every agency.
Let’s say you’re a mobile network. Male violence against women has nothing to do with you, right? You’re here to create connections. But those connections no longer exist in just messages and minutes. As the internet has expanded, so have our social spheres. But with this new world has come some depressingly old behaviours: Sexual assault has crossed over into the Metaverse, the Metaverse made accessible by a mobile network. What policies, or comms, or support could you create to help tackle this?
You might create a resource supporting parents to have conversations with their children about behaviour on and offline. Or run an ad campaign bringing the issue to light, showing how the mindset behind this online behaviour can have real impacts offline too.
Let’s say you’re a supermarket. Male violence against women has nothing to do with you, right? You’re here to bring people the things they need to the places they need them. But those places don’t always feel safe for women. 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space. As a presence in those public spaces, what are you doing to make the women who shop with you feel safe?
You might turn your chain of supermarkets into designated safe spaces for women, giving them somewhere to go for refuge if they feel unsafe while out and about. Or you might run a campaign featuring your delivery van drivers, challenging the culture of the 'white van man' driver who we’re used to seeing catcalling women on the street.
Let’s say you’re a shower gel brand. Male violence against women has nothing to do with you, right? You’re here to give people confidence to put their best foot forward into the day, and get what they want. For your male customers, society has often reinforced that when it comes to women, it’s not just desire at play – it’s entitlement. By being a 'nice guy', they’re entitled to sex. As a brand giving men confidence, how do you make sure you also protect your female customers from that confidence turning into ignoring 'no'?
You might start a partnership with a dating app, busting dating myths – like the concept of the 'friendzone' (it’s just being friends). Or take a role at Freshers’ Weeks across the country, using your stand to spark a conversation about dating assumptions, making your brand relevant in the place most relevant to your audience.
You get the gist. You don’t have to be a women’s safety brand to have a role in keeping women safe.
I could tell you my personal stories as to why this fight matters so much to me, but I shouldn’t have to. Chances are, you’ve already heard similar stories before. If you haven’t, have a chat with any of the women in your life; ask them if they’ve ever felt unsafe walking down the street, or in the back of a cab, or on a date. Ask them if they’ve ever avoided reporting something, because they didn’t think they’d be believed, or thought they’d be told it was their fault. Ask them how they change their lives – their routes home, their body language, their clothes – just to try to keep themselves safe.
And then ask yourself: how can I help end this? Because her fight is your fight. Her fight is my fight. Her fight is our fight.
If all of us do something – be it big or small, agency or brand, internal or external – together, we will change the world for women and girls everywhere. It’s time to Unite For Her.
Are you with us?
Bee Pahnke is Head of Voice at Grey London.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.