You know when you see or hear something happen to someone, and it’s almost an instinctive reaction to say straight away if the same happened to you? It’s human nature if you relate to something, or if you feel connected to something to share it. It’s not to take attention away, it’s to show comradeship, understanding and empathy in a situation. I feel like this has happened on a huge scale over the past week with the online discussions around the disappearance of Sarah Everard. And then so horrifically and devastatingly now, her murder.
Women are upset. Women are angry. Women are frustrated. Women are sharing their experiences. And to be clear it is obviously mainly women, but I have seen men join in the conversation in a positive way too which is great. Don’t start with the not all men…
I’m only going to quote one of the very real, official national statistics here, the rest are out there for anyone to find if you have any doubts over this whole topic.
97% of UK women have been sexually harassed.
Whoever you are, if you don’t believe that then ask the women in your life. Ask your sisters, mothers, cousins, girlfriends, wives and friends. Without wanting to speak on behalf of any women I know, of the ones I have had this conversation with over the course of my life there aren’t many that haven’t had an experience of some sort that falls under that category to varying degrees.
I can think of COUNTLESS examples from both myself and women I know where we have experienced something – talked inappropriately to or about, targeted, attacked, abused, groped, followed, threatened or been scared in that capacity in some way.
With the disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard, women have been speaking out a lot this week, because every one of us can relate to what has happened. She was just walking home. Sarah’s case has triggered a conversation that has spiralled, so before we get into what she ‘should’ have done, or ‘it’s not all men’ I just want to talk about why.
Why are women SO affected by Sarah’s case this week?
My opinion is that it’s because every single woman can see a bit of themselves in Sarah in some way, and it goes way beyond being a white, blonde, female walking home in London.
It could be anything, what got me is that she’s my age and does a similar job to me. She could also have been any one of at least ten friends or family members I know that live in London visiting a friend. For others it could be that she’s blonde, or has the same jacket, or she walked the same route you do.
When I was thinking about this it made me think of an episode of Greys Anatomy, Season 1 episode 2 – where Meredith is really strongly affected by a rape victim patient she is treating in the hospital, because she was wearing the same shoes as her.
But the one thing that connects every single one of us to Sarah is that she’s a woman. You don’t have to be white, blonde, and in your 30s to relate to her. You don’t have to have the same shoes as her. She’s a woman and that is enough. It could have been any one of us and the threat of that for us in this world is real.
Sarah is us. What happened to her is every single one of our worst fears come to life.
Women started to share how Sarah did everything right – she did what we all do or have done all the time. She stuck to well lit roads, wore bright clothing, trainers, called her boyfriend. And still this horrendous thing happened to her.
It’s not until you see some of these things in black and white that it hits home just how much we as women have these behaviours engrained into our daily life. Women aren’t just experiencing this this week, it is every week, all of the time. It’s just being talked about more this week. A constant state of hyper vigilance is nothing new for us.
There is a long list of things women do when walking alone – night OR day might I add – without even thinking twice about it.
Keep your keys in your hand, wear shoes you can run in, stick to well lit streets, don’t go down creepy alleys or take short cuts, stick to the crowds, look for the nearest house you could go to for help, text someone where you are, ring or fake ring someone, don’t listen to music, cross the road if you see anything that might be an issue, have emergency calls set up in your phone, check over your shoulder, take a longer route if its safer, get in the busiest carriage of the metro or tube, carry rape alarms, carry pepper spray, get a taxi late at night instead of walking alone – and even that might be a problem so do a bunch of stuff in that situation too.
These are just some of them. And so I’m being very clear on this point, yes we do these things to keep ourselves safe but we shouldn’t HAVE to. As much as we hate having to do it, as much as we understand why we should do it, as much as we resent that something might happen to us, we still do it. And it still isn’t always enough.
For almost two decades since the very first time I started going anywhere alone, as a teenager I have lived in this way as we all have. I remember the first time I ever went on a night out, I had to have a full scale COBRA meeting with my dad about it.
‘Look for the nearest fire exit, watch your drink so you don’t get spiked, don’t leave alone, always ring for a lift at any time if you cant get a taxi with friends, text when you’re on your way home, make a noise when you get in so I know you’re home.’
So I always did. And then one time I was watching my drink so closely I saw the guy drop something in it in a bar in the Gate and knew not to drink it and flag the guy to staff.
I’ve met a friend upset and shaken outside of a bar after being followed round a club all night by a guy she couldn’t get rid of.
I’ve pretended to be mates with a girl so she wasn’t on her own until a lift arrived.
I’ve been the girl texting ‘let me know when you’re home safe’ and been the girl texting when I’ve got home safe.
Myself and Kieran have taken a girl home in our taxi after her phone was dead and she had lost her purse so couldn’t get home.
We all have done or been involved in situations like this, and knowing this stuff can save us, so how can anyone criticise people for sharing it? Women are sharing the lengths they go to to feel safe and I’ve picked up a good few tips I hadn’t thought of – this is an issue why? Women feel unsafe and you’re really questioning why after a woman has been murdered? And allegedly by a man who’s very job is to keep us safe?
And what has changed in those 20 years? Absolutely nothing. I’m doing as much if not more now than I was then.
Which now brings me on to ‘not all men’.
Yes, thank you, we are aware it isn’t all men.
The men in my life are amazing. And not one of them that I know of is offended at women talking about this stuff because not one of them thinks they are being accused of being that type of man. They know they aren’t one of those men. And yes, we know there are some bad women out there too and men face domestic violence and sexual assault too. By talking about this specific situation here, it doesn’t mean we don’t know that.
The problem is when we are walking home, we don’t have a clue what the man walking behind us is like. We have no way of distinguishing the good from the potentially bad so every single time we feel scared. There is a risk in our minds, whether you like it or not.
To those ‘not all men’ people – if 97% of women have been affected in some way then perhaps you should be worrying more about that and the women in your life and how you can help than defending men you don’t know that DO exist.
Women discussing the reality in which we live isn’t an attack on every man walking.
There are also undoubtedly issues for men around being labelled, worrying how they come across, unsure what to do to help, how to act in some situations, and the fear of being labelled. The very same views around how men are perceived by other men play a huge part in this.
How many men would speak up in a lads group chat if someone says something inappropriate? Because they’re worried what OTHER MEN will think. Men and their mental health absolutely are important, should be considered and matters, but that doesn’t have to ALWAYS be when women are talking about theirs or a response to it.
It shouldn’t be a direct response. It’s typical of the type of man who responds to international women’s day with ‘well when is international men’s day’. Just because women are talking about one thing doesn’t mean other things don’t matter.
And one of my absolute pet hates is linking having a sister or a daughter to good behaviour. Do you really need to have a sister in order to treat women right? Really? Do you have to have a sister, wife or daughter to be a decent human? Do you have to have a daughter to learn how to respect women? The flaw IS yours as both a man and a human being if you do.
‘She shouldn’t have been walking alone at night’ – no, she shouldn’t be at risk of a man attacking her when walking down the street. And this shit happens in broad daylight too.
‘Women should do x y z to avoid being sexually assaulted’ – no, men shouldn’t be going round sexually assaulting people.
‘Sarah shouldn’t have walked home. Sarah should have got a taxi’ – no, Sarah shouldn’t have been attacked.
Why is this on the women? Why are women the subject of those sentences having to take action to avoid this happening to them?
It is frankly ridiculous, that women have to worry about walking down a street. It is frankly ridiculous and obscenely wrong that women have to worry about any of this at all. And women talking about it after a women has been murdered is not an attack on all men.
That said, I get that if you’re one of the good guys of which there are thankfully many, then it can be hard to know what to do. You might find yourself in a situation where you happen to walking or running behind a woman, but the key to this is being aware of the perception that could give to her, and the calculations she will undoubtedly be making in her head if she knows you are there simply because you’re male.
Men can help this situation – cross the road, make sure your face is visible so you appear less of a threat, run past quickly. If you see situations that are wrong stick up for women, call out other men, offer to help. Walk your female friends home, don’t stare, intervene if you see someone look uncomfortable.
I’d honestly just ask men to be aware of how they appear, even having that just enter their head is a step forward because trust me it is in women’s heads all of the time.
The luxury of not even having to consider that is what needs to change, in my opinion. And if this week has highlighted to men things they didn’t even realise before then great it can only help. I just hope they give it the time to think over properly and try to understand it rather than dismiss it as an attack.
It is abhorrent that this has happened to that poor girl, and like I said at the start we all relate to Sarah in some way, which is why it hits home so strongly. Amongst all the discussions, tips, ways to help, sharing of stories, outrage and further action, at the very centre of it all is Sarah Everard and a grieving family who have lost a loved one.
Rest in peace Sarah.
This isn’t the type of blog I usually share, and it’s the first one ever I haven’t included any photos except for the header, as I just don’t think they’re appropriate. My blog has always been my place to share thoughts and experiences usually around Newcastle, the North East and travel, but every now and again something comes up that I just can’t ignore. There are plenty sat in my drafts on a whole range of topics, but this one I wanted to share. If you don’t agree with anything I’ve said that’s absolutely fine, please remember this is just my opinion.