Like many women in the UK right now, I’ve been unable to stop myself from thinking about the disappearance of Sarah Everard in London, Clapham last week. To know that a woman guilty of nothing but travelling home and doing everything she could at the time to protect herself from any sort of violence has gone missing, is terrifying.
The reason this tragedy has made us so collectively sick to our stomach is that there is not a single woman who hasn’t lived that walk home. Over the past few days, I’ve read of women sharing fearful experiences, recalling forms of harassment and suggesting ways in which men can help them feel safer on the streets. All of which reminds us of the dark, horrific truth; as women, we are not safe. What’s worse, is that we have all downplayed our experiences in the past to make others feel more comfortable because ‘it wasn’t that bad’.
The fake phone calls, fast-walking, checking over your shoulder, clenching your fists and avoiding anything that might draw attention to your existence is a gut-wrenching reality. To hear that anyone would dare use the phrase ‘#NotAllMen’ in jumping to their own defence when 97 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed makes my skin crawl. No, not all men are like this—but every single fucking woman has come face to face with men that are.
The 97 per cent figure released by The Guardian, unfortunately, didn’t come as a shock. I alone cannot think of any female I know who hasn’t experienced some form of harassment; the ‘he’s just a bit weird when he’s drunk’ guy, the arse-grabber in dark nightclubs, the guy staring on the tube, the wolf-whistler, the leering in ‘give us a smile’ bloke, the groups of men that shamelessly gawp at your body from head to toe when you walk past. So no, not all men—but all men can see what these men are doing.
What makes the phrase ‘not all men’ particularly difficult to deal with, is the respondents’ inability to consider for one moment that this isn’t about them. Do people realise how insensitive it is to draw attention away from a conversation about women being sexually harassed, raped and killed and make this about themselves?
If a black person talks to me about racism, I owe it to them, myself and the world to listen to what they are saying—rather than immediately shutting down a conversation through my own embarrassment or insecurity. The same rule should apply to any person who has experienced something that you haven’t, you don’t speak, you listen. Do we really have to remind ourselves to respect the voices of other people and not our own?
Where is the willingness to learn? Where is the acknowledgement of ‘this must be a really shit position for women, I wonder how I can educate myself and contribute to making this better?’. If you are the man you claim to be, then why haven’t you done this already?
The real problem lies deep within the roots of our society, with a majority of men having grown accustomed to believe that misogynistic behaviour, snide remarks and derogatory undertones are the normal standards of behaviour. If Piers Morgan gets away with such comments on Good Morning Britain, then why shouldn’t viewers think this is acceptable? I can think of more times than not when I’ve experienced the unfolding of an uncomfortable situation, and guess what, no men stood up for me!
As I delve further into this topic, a more painful reality of why so little men are speaking up has started to sink in. As always, it is far easier to ignore an inconvenient truth than it is to question your own behaviour and consider how your actions (or lack of actions) contribute to a wider problem for women. For any man reading this who doesn’t know what they should be doing to help women feel safer on a daily basis then ask me. Ask your friends, your sisters, your mothers. Your silence on this will be deafening.