Voices: Introducing the ‘manscuse’ – a new blight for women

The phrases “mansplaining”, “manspreading” and “manterruption” all highlight men’s problematic behaviour towards women. These new terms describe institutionalised sexism in action: men patronisingly explaining my own work to me, or taking up personal space on the Underground, or interrupting my talk. By naming the behaviour, we can readily identify with it and call it out.

Language historically has a gender and it’s male: our language centres a male perspective which affects how we think and how we interpret the world we live in. For far too long, women’s experiences have been marginalised from the language we speak. By coining these phrases, we are reclaiming language to reflect women’s everyday experiences of gender inequality. And I’ve found a new one: “manscuses”.

Last month I spoke at Rape Crisis’s annual conference about misogyny in the family justice system. Throughout the day, survivors described how society and the justice system excuse men’s violence towards women and children. It made me think about the common manscuses that I hear in and out of court. We live in a world where one in three women suffer intimate partner violence – yet the focus is not on her experiences of abuse but on his excuses for the abuse. It’s so normalised that we don’t even notice when it happens. But since coming up with the term manscuses, I see it everywhere.

In most cases, manscuses are peddled out to minimise the abuse he inflicted and render her trauma invisible. She’s told: he didn’t mean it, it was in the heat of the moment, it was just a slap, he saw red mist, he was jealous, he’s a good person really, he has mental health problems, he was abused as a child, he’s been really stressed at work. But do you know what? A man or woman can be all of these things and surprisingly very many don’t feel compelled to rape, sexually assault, abuse or control another person. Reducing male violence to an “excuse” means that the perpetrator’s behaviour is normalised and they are rarely held accountable for their choice to abuse.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Remember when we were running around the school playground without a care in the world and a boy would grope us or make fun of us? The common excuse we’d hear was “he just fancies you” – as if that makes it OK. As teenagers, we would hear “it’s just boys being boys” when casual rape threats were made in the locker room. Excusing toxic masculinity from a young age means boys grow up believing that their actions will be excused, while girls and women are socialised to make excuses for them.

Mental health is often used as a means to explain sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, David Warburton MP faced an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and drug use. He was then admitted to hospital and treated for shock and stress. Former Conservative minister Andrew Griffiths was found to have sent over 2,000 sexual and violent messages to two female constituents. He was later admitted to a psychiatric hospital. In 2021, a family court judge found he had also raped his wife, who he coercively controlled through suicide threats. Mental health or childhood trauma should never be used to excuse men’s violence against women. These factors might explain aspects of their behaviour but they should never excuse it.

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Another common manscuse is: “It was a different era back then.” Remember when The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman had a relationship with Mandy Smith who was just 13 when they met? According to Mandy, she was 14 when they started having sex. They married when she was 18 and he was 52. Elvis Presley first met and pursued Priscilla Presley when she was 14 and he was 24. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler became the guardian of 16-year-old Julia Holcomb: he dated her for three years and got her pregnant. It is never acceptable for men to take advantage of a child or vulnerable young woman regardless of the generational context.

Accountability is important and that starts with language. Year after year, we uncover tactics used by abusive men to minimise the harm they inflict on women from “himpathy” to victim-blaming. Language is key to exposing the normalisation of men’s violence and how they get away with it.

If we excuse men’s violence then as a society, we minimise it, normalise it and allow it to continue unchecked. We need to put women’s realities at the heart of our language and that means exposing structural sexism and misogyny. Let’s start by calling it what it is: a manscuse.