In the wake of Sarah Everard’s death, a woman who walked home at 9:30 pm of a night and was attacked, and murdered, likely by a police officer, there has been increased discourse around women’s rights and safety.
I’m taking this opportunity to discuss some thoughts and opinions of my own, so that any women reading this may feel comfort and support in shared experiences and thoughts they might have. But, also so any men reading this can understand, and hear a woman’s more in-depth perspective on this issue.
Firstly, I will address “not ALL men”. I am a firm believer if a situation has not happened to you, and a group speaks out about their experiences. It is your role to listen, understand, and be empathetic. Not to dispute, reject or invalidate those experiences. This is not to say men do not experience sexual harassment because they do. However, do men walk home with keys in their knuckles? Do they have to zip their coat up all the way and put their hoods up to look more masculine when walking home at night in hopes they are overlooked as a man? Do men start to get worried when a night out draws to a close because they have no way to get home, except to walk home…alone?
According to UN women UK, 71% of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public. Rising to 86% among 18-24-year-olds. So for it to not be all men, then why is it almost all women? A good scenario I read to explain why men have been generalised in this way is how as humans we say to be careful of ticks, as they carry Lyme disease. No one would then respond and say, well not all ticks carry the disease because we know that not all ticks carry it. Similarly to women’s assault cases, we know it’s not all men, but it is enough men that the number of cases is so high. So like we, as humans, have to presume all ticks carry Lyme disease, women must assume they are not safe around all men. Of course, men are not ticks, but the example demonstrates well that women are not able to know who they are safe around. If a man is a stranger or even a friend, not all men have good intentions. So naturally, women have to be on guard at all times in case a man is one of the ones who could harm us.
In the wider aspect of the topic, this made me think about how women are presented to the world. I often felt like women were treated as the product and men the consumers. We are taught to change ourselves, make ourselves more palatable so a man might like us. This dynamic feels like a way to tell men that we do things for their attention only, dress for them, show up for them….exist for them. And so being too nice has risks, being too trusting has risks because if men with bad intentions think women exist for their sole use then women are not safe. It saddens me that as a woman I feel I can never be my true authentic self and be accepted by society. Being too loud, being too “bossy”, being too "domineering", not "ladylike" enough, all those traits that men are free to be and express themselves as. But as a woman, you are more than likely to be labeled with the B-word slur. Opposingly, you are quieter, more submissive, more "ladylike", how women are encouraged to be. Then you’re undermined, spoken to like you’re unintelligent and overlooked. So either way you put it, it seems like an unfair game that’s rigged against us. And so turning back to the topic at hand, women who speak up about their experiences are being dismissed and not taken seriously. Something must change.
I want to see real change. If hope is something we can almost always turn to, then I shall be as optimistic as I choose here. Bare minimum, all men to treat women with respect, whether you are friends, dating, or strangers. We are your equals and so deserved to be treated as such. For women to keep speaking out, be unapologetic. Most of all to be authentically yourself, for yourself. These things sound reasonable and not far-reaching at first, but clearly asking for respect by all men for women, and for women to have the freedom to fully express themselves is something we are far off from.
So on that thought I have written a couple points on things men who are reading this can do themselves to help women feel safer:
1. Listen and be empathetic, so we feel more comfortable sharing our thoughts and opinions.
2. If you are walking at night behind a woman, cross the road, talk loudly on a phone to a friend so she knows where you are.
3. If a female friend asks you to walk her home, if you can, do it.
4. Don’t touch women on the lower back if you need to get by, or hold their waist to move them aside. It is never appropriate to touch someone you do not know, in particular in a place such as that.
5. If you see a woman who looks uncomfortable with a man’s behaviour, say something, or even just stand between them and stay until the man has left.
6. If your male friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances speak ill of women. Call it out, hold them accountable.
7. Don’t shout at women across the road, catcalling never feels like a compliment.
8. Don’t stare at women, being glared at in public is very unsettling and can sometimes be a prerequisite for a dangerous situation.
I undoubtedly will have missed off many things on that list. They are what first came to mind that I thought of myself, or have seen shared around on social media. Some may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget. We forget that after a night out because maybe we are tired and want to go home, that the journey for our female friends is unsafe. We might see a man speak to a woman in a way that makes her uncomfortable, but we brush it off as none of our business.
To make a change in society, as women, we need men’s support. So we can make it a better, safer world not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces - UN Women UK: https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women_Sexual-Harassment-Report_2021.pdf
All men tick analogy: https://www.instagram.com/p/CMSgVx8BPDV/?igshid=19iby47lf4blm