“Boys will be boys” is how Gina Martin describes adults enabling sexist behaviour, as she spoke to The Trouble Club at the AllBright in London. Martin, who is a gender equality campaigner, told the audience that young men have been conditioned and are products of their environment. From ‘Not all men’, to ‘You can’t say anything these days…’, her latest book, “No Offence, But…”: How to Have Difficult Conversations for Meaningful Change” is a roadmap for anyone who has felt frustrated or tongue-tied during difficult conversations about social justice issues, helping them to tackle those problematic, harmful conversation-stoppers.
Trigger warning: this article includes themes related to sexual assault, rape, and gender-based violence
In 2017, Martin found herself at the forefront of the gender equality movement after experiencing upskirting at a festival. Determined to fight for justice, she embarked on a multi-faceted campaign to change the law and make upskirting a specific sexual offense. Through her work, she encountered common phrases that shut down conversations about social justice and inequality.
Who is Gina Martin?
The British political activist is known for her case to make upskirting illegal in England and Wales, which resulted in the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019. Martin also authored a book, Be the Change: A Toolkit for the Activist in You, and rejected a nomination for an award of an Order of the British Empire in 2020. In 2017, she was the victim of upskirting at a music festival. She decided to take action and campaign to make upskirting illegal. Then in 2018, she launched a petition to make upskirting illegal. The petition gained over 100,000 signatures. In 2019, the Voyeurism (Offences) Act was passed, making upskirting a specific offence in England and Wales. In the same year, she was named as one of BBC's 100 Women and was awarded the Stylist Remarkable Women Gamechanger Award. And a year later she was awarded the Cosmopolitan Magazine Disruptor of the Year. Her activism work includes being a proud ambassador for UNWomen UK and Beyond Equality. She has been praised by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Emma Gannon and The Secret Barrister, who calls her ‘a force of nature; a living, breathing, campaigning example of how a single individual can bring about vital change in our justice system’.
What is No Offence, But… by Gina Martin about?
No Offence, But… by Gina Martin is about learning to have difficult conversations about social justice issues. Divided into 20 chapters, each tackles a different conversation-stopper, such as “Not all men,” “I’m just playing devil’s advocate,” and “You can’t say anything these days.”
Martin provides an overview of the conversation-stopper, explains why it is harmful, and offers practical advice on how to respond. She also includes contributions from other writers, activists, and educators, who share their own experiences with these phrases.
‘Boys will be boys’
One such phrase, “boys will be boys,” served as a focal point for Martin. This pervasive statement often excuses entitled or inappropriate behaviour by boys, attributing it to their gender. She recognised that society often turns a blind eye to boys’ actions, rather than addressing the underlying issues that perpetuate this behaviour. To effect real change, Martin engaged in conversations with young men, offering them the space to challenge and grow from the toxic masculinity that surrounds them.
‘Playing devil’s advocate’
Martin also tackled the phrase, “playing the devil’s advocate,” which is frequently used to undermine discussions about sexual violence and harassment. This dismissive approach seeks to elevate the speaker’s position, leading to unproductive debates that deflect from the core issue. She urged for greater compassion and understanding in these conversations, highlighting the importance of acknowledging systemic issues and recognising the impact of cultural narratives.
Victim blaming emerged as another crucial topic in her journey. Women are often subjected to the notion that they must regulate men’s behaviour by covering up or changing their actions to avoid harassment or assault. She bravely confronted this mindset and the harmful narratives that perpetuate it. The author emphasised the need to shift the focus from victim-blaming to holding perpetrators accountable and examining the systems that allow such behaviour to persist. Martin said that people sought out “flaws in someone who was going to be canonised as a saint”, feeding into a “perfect victim narrative”.
Throughout her activism, Martin also faced frustrating encounters with individuals who refused to engage in meaningful conversations about gender equality. From victim-blaming police officers to dismissive media interviews, she discovered that many were unwilling to confront uncomfortable truths. Despite the challenges, the author remained committed to effecting change and empowering individuals to challenge harmful narratives.
Charlie Craggs on the ‘trans debate’
Tackling twenty of the most enduring conversation-stoppers, “No Offence, But…” equips readers with the knowledge, tools and context to respond with confidence. The book also contains chapters from other trailblazing writers, educators and advocates: Aja Barber, Ben Hurst, Cathy Reay, Charlie Craggs, Daze Aghaji, Ione Gamble, Koa Beck, Mariam Kemple Hardy and Azadeh Hosseini, Nova Reid and Salma El-Wardany.
Craggs joined Martin, who is an incredible transgender activist and writer who through her Nail Transphobia project is changing people’s attitudes towards transgender people…. one manicure at a time. She told the audience that throughout the pandemic there was a massive increase in hate messages against trans people, which is why her chapter looked at comments surrounding young people and their choices to transition.
Speaking alongside Martin, Craggs said that it has only been in the last five years that there has been more dialogue around trans people, adding that she related to the conversation trope ‘playing devil’s advocate’, because it is often used when talking about the subject. She said: “It’s like the devil’s advocate thing, they say they have a penis, they might rape us. It’s like, well, should gay men not be allowed in men’s bathrooms?”
By breaking the silence and engaging in constructive conversations, we can collectively work towards building a more inclusive and just society. As a result, “No Offence, But…” serves as a powerful call-to-action, equipping readers with the knowledge and tools to respond confidently to harmful conversation-stoppers and effect real change. Let us embrace difficult conversations with empathy, understanding, and a commitment to dismantling harmful narratives, one conversation at a time.