Toxic Masculinity: We Need to Talk

Judy Chicago, The Three Faces of Man from Power Play, 1985



On December 1, 2018, I most reluctantly moved off a stable yard where I had kept my beloved mare Boo, aka Queen Boodicca, for ten years. I loved the place. It was horsey heaven. Unlike many other local stable yards, the horses were allowed to go out in the pastures 365 days a year. Previously I’d kept my mare on a yard where they could only go out three days a week in winter, which was not at all good for horses’ physical or mental well-being. But here, on my dream yard, Boo was turned out in a 24 acre mares’ field with 360 degree panoramic views of the rugged East Lancashire landscape, including stunning views of Pendle Hill. Even the most traumatized, wound up horses chilled out in those big pastures. Our only worry was not letting them get too fat on the rich summer grass.

Queen Boodicca in action

I had nothing but respect for the older woman who owned the yard and ruled it like a matriarch, keeping prices low because she was more interested in accommodating suitable horse owners, regardless of their income, than in making a profit. The other women horse owners were wonderful and supportive. They was hardly any of the snobbery or competitiveness that can spoil other stable yards.

I also felt a deep spiritual connection to the numinous spirit of the land, steeped in the history of the Pendle Witches, which inspired my 2010 novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill. The woodland surrounding the stable yard was carpeted in bluebells every spring. I regularly sighted deer, hare, foxes, and owls.

So why on earth did I move off such a wonderful stable yard where my horse and I had been so blissful for so many years? Because the whole environment was poisoned by toxic masculinity.

As the owner was getting older and no longer capable of doing the physical work required in running a yard, she allowed her handyman more and more power until he was living on site and running the place instead of her. Not content to stop at that, he began to bully the women on the yard—particularly the old guard of women who had been on the yard 40 years or more, who had known the owner since they were children. These women were his first targets.

The mark of an abuser is that he wants to separate his victim—in this case the elderly farm owner—from her long-time friends and support network. Many of us suspect that the elderly owner lives in fear of him and is too intimidated to fire him or make him leave her property.

This slow burning tragedy was unfolding before my eyes for years, but I didn’t want to see it. I was guilty of trying to pretend it would all work out, that there were difficult people and drama on every yard. My horse was so settled and happy and I didn’t want to move her to a yard where she wouldn’t have such a wonderful pasture.

I put up with this man for as long as I could bear. I tried ignoring him. I tried sympathizing with him and making excuses for him. He had a bad childhood. He was insecure. We’re supposed to feel compassion for all beings, right? Except I had to watch him bully women to the point of tears and it only got worse over time. When anyone stood up to him or complained to the owner, he threw her off the yard. The only way to survive was to keep your head down and pretend it wasn’t happening—exactly the dynamic you see in abusive families where family members allow the abuse to continue in hope that they won’t be the target.

Except even that didn’t work, because one day I was the target.

My “sin” had nothing to do with my behavior on the stable yard. I took part in the People’s Vote March in London in October 2018, along with about three-quarters-of a million other people. I made the “mistake” of posting about it on social media. The Toxic Male Yard Manager started stalking me online. He cornered me in the feed room when no one else was there to tell me how angry he was that I had demonstrated against Brexit. Feeling quite shaken by this, I blocked him and his family members on social media. When he discovered that I had blocked them, he and his wife both cornered me in the most intimidating way, again when I was alone on the yard. On my birthday, of all days. When that happened, I knew I had to move yards. I didn’t feel physically safe there anymore. And if he was capable of treating humans this way, what would he do to horses when no one was watching?

I left the yard December 1. Eight other women left the yard in the following months, because they also felt bullied and harassed. They came from all sides of the political spectrum, so it wasn’t necessarily their politics that attracted his wrath. Just the fact that they were females and he thought he could control them. He installed CCTV at various points on the yard, with the audio on, so he could eavesdrop on our every conversation. It seemed the thing he feared most was that we would criticize him and share our experience of his bullying with each other. Female support networks had to be crushed. It was like living in a totalitarian state.

Most of the vacated stalls remain empty, because word has gone around about this man. Everyone in the local horsey world knows each other. Most of those people are female. And our “gossip” is an essential support network. It’s female solidarity in action. The word “gossip” actually comes from the Old English “godsibb” or godmother–close female kinship and support networks.

The only thing that can counteract toxic masculinity and misogyny is the power of the female collective. It is imperative that we talk about our experiences. We need a whole new #MeToo movement to share our stories about these men. To name and call out their behavior for what it is. Abuse. Evil thrives in secrecy and flourishes when good people stand by and do nothing. The time for silence is over.



When not attending to her beautiful horse, Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write overlooked women back into history. Her novel, Ecstasy, about composer and life artist Alma Mahler is new from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit her website.


Author: Mary Sharratt

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history and is the author of eight acclaimed novels, including ILLUMINATIONS, drawn from the life of Hildegard von Bingen, and REVELATIONS, which delves into the intersecting lives of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, two mystics and female literary pioneers who changed history. Visit her website:

24 thoughts on “Toxic Masculinity: We Need to Talk”

  1. Quite a birthday present! So glad to hear you could use it reclaim your own power and make a good move for your horse. Also delighted to hear from Carol’s comment and your answer that there are people working to support the owner. Sisterhood GodSib oh yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary, I am glad to know that you and your horse are all right and that people are trying to help the woman who is being preyed upon. I have lived a variation of this story. (I don’t have a horse, though horses were involved.) Too long a story to tell here, it involves a a man who tried to take over my late mother-in-law’s land, bullying us and all our neighbors. We ended up having to sell everything and leave our home. I was/am someone who believes in creative resolution of conflict, finding common ground, reaching out to the best in someone. It was shattering to discover that nothing worked.

    I hope there is some way to remove this man from his position and to free the owner from his domination.

    May you and Boodicca continue to thrive!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m so sorry you experienced this sort of thing, too. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it, when trying to reach out or solve the problem amicably doesn’t work. How sad that you had to sell your land and leave your home. Many thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brava! What a sad story, even though it has a happy ending. There’s so much abuse…..of women, children, animals, people of color, the list can go on. Judy Chicago’s illustration sure has it right! I’ve had friends who were abused wives. Husbands almost killed a couple of them. Others moved out, moved away, found shelter with other women. We here in the U.S. need to vote against and defeat the Abuser-in-Chief.

    How many of us remember that old slogan, Sisterhood is Powerful? It still is.

    I loved our lunch and long conversation in Anaheim. Are you still thinking of moving to Belgium?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our moving plans are on hold, now that Boo is in such a nice place. I really enjoyed meeting you, Barbara, and hope we can repeat the experience! And, yes, we must unite to defeat the Abuser-in-Chief!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. excellent post…oh so often we think that we can work with these bullies and what I have learned from personal experience is that this attitude leaves us more vulnerable than ever… NOTHING works and it is shattering to reach that conclusion but also freeing. In this climate I think we need to become more aware. There words of yours hit the target: Abuse. Evil thrives in secrecy and flourishes when good people stand by and do nothing. The time for silence is over.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Sara. You’ve said it so well, “NOTHING works and it is shattering to reach that conclusion but also freeing.” May we all break the silence about these people.


  5. Thanks Carol, I’ll try and remember what I said, I didn’t keep a copy.

    It was a critique really and I hope to not offend anyone but felt strongly enough to put my thoughts out there, or on here:

    Surely feminism is about solidarity. I thought it strange that one guy can scare away a large group of women who have had ties with the owner, the land and their horses for decades in some cases – including intimidating the owner to the degree she feels powerless (it seems). A committee of women, standing together and approaching the owner, the law and whatever other avenues there are available to women for this long while seemed, to me, to be the right thing to have done rather than giving up and leaving, which is what he wanted. One guy, many women who could even have laid a charge! The owner must, surely, feel somewhat abandoned in her enfeebled state?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I notice in Mary’s comment that “concerned people” are with the owner so presume the situation is being corrected, Petru. I wouldn’t want to leave my horse, or any animal, in a situation like that, vulnerable to the danger of retaliation from a couple who are clearly vicious.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s complicated and sad, Petru. Sometimes in these situations, you have to get out to keep your animals safe. Elizabeth Cunningham and Sara Wright described their heartbreak in realizing that in some situations the only hope is to get out.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I kind of wish all of you who had been there together could have formed your own horse farm cooperative, and maybe that’s what is starting to happen. what a study of male power and privilege. it really shows that sometimes we don’t need more sympathy, we need serious boundaries.


    1. Amen to serious boundaries, Tallessyn! I wish we could have started a cooperative, too. Fortunately the new yard I’m on is more seriously organized in that sort of direction. :)


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