Another senseless murder of a woman with her whole life ahead of her. Another family devastated by the grief of inexplicable loss. The abduction and killing of Sarah Everard has rightly sparked an outcry from women and women’s organisations. Decades of male violence towards women and legal systems that don’t take femicide seriously enough are bringing us to a tipping point. How many MORE females are to have their lives ripped from them by a male? How many more generations of women must be taught to grip their keys between their fingers as a weapon, stay away from bushes or lock the car doors quickly?
Once again, women have taken to social media, this time with #TextMeWhenYouGetHome, #SheWasWalkingHome #ReclaimTheStreets and #YesAllWomen to express their anger as well as share their own terrifying experiences, following the death of Sarah Everard. Yet there are those – and by ‘those’ I mean men – who simply refuse to acknowledge or understand the very real threat that women face every time they step out of their house (let’s not forget we’re often not safe inside our homes either).
I get it, being attacked or killed, IS also a terrible reality for many men. But why does male rhetoric become so defensive when the issue of femicide and harassment of women is raised?
“Well I’m not like that, nor are my friends.
“I’d never hurt a woman, why do I have to walk around apologising for the ones who do?
“I’m tired of being made to feel like a criminal just for being a man.
(Interestingly, women don’t usually rush to point out how much worse off we’ve got it when male death rates are discussed.)
It’s a shoddy response. It’s not enough for men to know that they’d never hurt a woman. It’s not enough for men to inwardly pat themselves on the back for being a standup guy who’s never had one aggressive or violent thought towards a member of the opposite sex.
Of course, there are countless men who totally get it and who are equally appalled by the epidemic of violence perpetrated by men on women. We know this.
But for some unfathomable reason, not all men (who are surely themselves sons of mothers, husbands of wives, fathers of daughters or brothers of sisters?) feel outraged by cases like that of Sarah Everard and are more preoccupied with denying the notion of attacks motivated purely by misogyny.
You have to understand, from the perspective of a woman walking down a dark road, being looked at while she’s on her laptop at a cafe, sitting on a train, entering a cinema alone, you could be about to harm her. Watch any of those ‘true story’ crime series, read any biography on killers… Most of them were perfectly charming and friendly. Even more hair-raising: they were often inconspicuous.
Sarah Everard shouldn’t have had to think about wearing bright visible clothing or keeping her boyfriend on the phone, in an effort to limit the risk of something happening to her as she made her journey. It’s deplorable that this should be a thing. And devastating that this should be unsuccessful in saving her life.
Women shouldn’t have to take precautions just going out for the night or making it home from work. We shouldn’t be changing into flat ‘if I need to run’ shoes or taking the longer route just to stay on busier better lit streets. We shouldn’t be nervously scanning the hedges and bins as we near our home, saying our prayers as we race to get the key in the front door.
Right now, the conversation is about being demoralised by the tragic inevitability of yet another murder of yet another female who would still be alive if she hadn’t been a female.
It’s about the depressing injustice of women having all the aforementioned ’emergency procedures’ drummed into us…whilst men generally just need to remember their keys and wallet.
It’s about the the heart-pounding fear of hearing only our solitary footsteps on a quiet pavement. Or worse, just one other set of footsteps right behind us.
It’s about feeling helpless that as a woman we just silently accept from a very young age ‘that’s just the way it is’.
It’s about the frightening ‘normality’ with which we as women adapt our behaviour (tucking our hair into our collar to prevent it being grabbed, walking with our head down to avoid eye contact) in order to reduce our chances of being attacked once we’ve left a restaurant, gym, FFS anywhere. When this should never be normal!
It’s about the insane fact that many women feel they have a ‘curfew’ imposed on them, that they’re taking an almost ‘irresponsible’ chance being out after dark unless they have no choice.
It’s about how wrong it is that the conversations about femicide generally take place when ‘a Sarah Everard’ happens; and that these conversation shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.
It’s about feeling enraged that most sexual crimes go unreported because we women know the justice system is rarely on our side.
It’s about feeling utterly worn down by all of it.
The conversation should damned well also be about the role men need to play in educating their sons, male relatives and friends about what women experience.
If you’re a man reading this and your first reaction is to mention male homicide rates as soon as news of another murdered or missing female hits, if you think the #NotAllMen hashtag is justified, if you do nothing when you witness intimidating behaviour from another man towards a woman, let me ask you:
Have you ever had to take a friend with you to the toilet when you’re in a crowded pub, a concert, a busy public place as ‘there’s safety in numbers?
Do you make sure you don’t let your drink out of your sight for a second in case someone laces it at a bar?
Do you race across a car park as fast as you can, discretely checking for reflections in car windows and glancing at the dark corners?
Have you ever thought twice about entering a lift alone and feel even more nervous using the stairs?
Do you weigh up getting in a taxi with a male driver vs walking home alone, wondering which one is safer?
And above all, do you say “Text me when you get home” to your mate after a boys’ night?
Didn’t think so.