Like everyone in the UK, I’ve been following the awful events surrounding the tragic loss of Sarah Everard as they unfold. This story is startlingly close to home, Sarah went to school with people, women, I am friends with and the whole thing has brought me back to earth with a tremendous thump.
After a lot of thought, I decided I wanted to put my thoughts down ‘on paper’, not to follow what everyone else is doing, but to add to the growing number of women who are coming forward with their experiences. I am ashamed to admit that until recently, there were things I’m about to talk about that I’d never really registered as ‘a problem’ and that itself is evidence of the problem at hand. From a very young age I have been vigilant. I have lived everywhere from rural French countryside to Nottingham city center and I have always been vigilant. This is because from a young age, women are taught that we must protect ourselves. We are told there are people who want to hurt us, and it is therefore our job to ensure that doesn’t happen to us. We accept this. As teenagers, we are told not to wear clothes that may draw too much attention to certain areas of our body. We are told by our older female relatives we look to for advice, ‘don’t have your boobs and legs on display at the same time otherwise you might draw too much male attention’. We accept this. As we grow and mature, we are subjected to cat calling, wolf whistling, remarks from large groups of men as we walk down the street, beeping car horns as they drive past us. We accept this. When we start university, we have ‘female safety talks’, are issued rape alarms, anti date rape drug devices for our drinks, advised to always stay in groups, never go out after dark alone, and we accept this. We tell our friends to text us when they get home, that’s our way of protecting them and making sure they are safe. We accept this as normal. I accepted this. Until very recently, these were all things I took for granted and I will admit that now. I will always walk down the street with my head down, avoiding making eye contact with too many people, especially large groups. I feel a rise of anxiety when I walk past building sites just incase they say something. A beeping car horn sends my mind into absolute overdrive pondering what it meant and why they did it. Until recently, I accepted this. Until I realised these are things that every women feels and experiences whether they admit it or not.
A recent article published showed that 97% of women surveyed have experienced some level of harassments and these are all women, like me, who have spent a lifetime accepting that this is just how things are. The derogatory comments in the office, the bloke on the desk opposite making a comment about how low your top is and his pals cheering him on while the rest of the women look at the floor – accepting it. I have recently taken up running. Admittedly I’m not a natural and as someone who has suffered a lot with body image (caused by my first boyfriend when I was 15 saying I was a ‘bit too big’ when he broke up with me), I already feel self conscious running and try to only run in places where I know there won’t be many onlookers. But I recently realised that part of my concern when running on my own is who else is going to be there? I find myself looking over my shoulder every couple of seconds for cars and people who may be walking nearby. If there is a van parked up, empty or not, I will turn around rather than running past. I will only have my earphones in one ear so I can still hear what is going on around me and remain vigilant. I know that if anything were to happen to me, the narrative would be, ‘woman running on her own in the countryside’. Comments would focus on the fact I was on my own, why wasn’t she in a group? Why should I have to be? Why have I accepted this as the norm up until now? Why has it taken a horrid event in the national news and a movement for me to realise that what I have always accepted is not okay. I have experienced it. Whether I realised it or not before now. I have been made to feel so uncomfortable in a pub by the comments of a man that were way beyond ‘flirty’, that I’ve left the pub and gone home. I’ve been followed through a multi-story car park at night. I’ve been intimidated whilst driving my car with my kids in the back by a man who felt challenged. I used to accept this but I do not accept this anymore.
I’ll be honest and what really triggered me to write this blog post was an article I just stumbled across in the Telegraph. The headline states a female professor has urged women to ‘not be hysterical’ over this. She states that men are still more likely to be murdered than women, so we are okay, no need to worry, no need to panic, just sit back and accept this as we have done for centuries. Well, no, we will not accept this any longer. I will not accept this any longer. It absolutely horrifies me that a fellow woman would say such a thing, it shows me that this ‘norm’ is so acceptable that some women don’t feel it necessary to speak out and protect each other. Women have historically been accused of hysterics. Usually when they do something (like read a book, try and vote, have hormones) that challenges the patriarchy. The professor in the article suggests that because these instances of murder are so rare, and also happen to men, that women ought to just calm down, quit the theatrics and accept it. But it’s not just about the murder is it? It’s about so much more than that. It’s about the 97% of women who have experienced some kind of harassment in their lives. It’s about the domestic violence (men and women) that goes unreported because of the feelings of shame associated with it. It’s about the feeling of anxiety and dread when going out for a run alone. It’s about the anti date rape drug devices we are issued at university so we can protect ourselves. It’s not just about murder cases. So if I am hysterical over this then so be it. If being ‘hysterical’ means standing up for my right to be comfortable when I walk down the street. If being ‘hysterical’ means challenging a behaviour which makes me feel uncomfortable. If being ‘hysterical’ is women standing together against an age old system which objectifies us. If being ‘hysterical’ is what it takes to get these everyday experiences of women noticed then I will be proudly ‘hysterical’.
Now to the men reading this. This is not an attack on you. I am lucky to be surrounded by wonderful men in my life. My friends, my family, my academic mentors. Men who realise the issues we are facing and who stand up in support of us. I thank all those men who have stood up and admitted they never realised how privileged they were to be able to go for a run at night with their music on loud in both ears. I thank all those men who are taking steps to ensure they know how to make a women feel at ease in their presence, whatever the situation – out for a run, in the pub, at work. The problem is the victim blaming attitude that certain men are adopting. The #NotAllMen trending on Twitter is only shifting the blame. WE KNOW not all men treat women like this. WE KNOW it’s not all of you. We are not targeting you all. We are not targeting anyone. We are targeting a system. A socially accepted concept that has been present in all of our lives, forever. By saying #NotAllMen, you are knowingly or unknowingly, supporting victim blaming narratives we are all used to which say a women shouldn’t dress a certain way if she doesn’t want attention. A women shouldn’t walk home alone at night if she doesn’t want to be attacked. She should know better. Whether you realise it or not, this is what you are supporting.
I’m not going to sit here and tell men what they should do or think. But I am going to say that we should all start to think. Think about our actions. I’m talking about those every day actions that are accepted and classed as normal behaviour. Think about how those behaviours can make a person feel and what impact those behaviours could have on a persons life. Every action has consequence, so we all need to start thinking about the consequence, not just in this context but in every context. Whatever happened to #BeKind we all rave about until something that challenges us directly happens?
So, women, stand up, be ‘hysterical’, shout and scream, speak up about your experiences, call out the behaviours. Men if you see these behaviours, please challenge them. Don’t let it be ‘the norm’ any longer. I don’t want men to be too scared to talk to a woman, I love chatting to people in a pub, a shop, everywhere, I’m a ‘people person’ and always will be. But I do want you to think about what you could do to help end this ‘norm’. Sarah should have been able to walk home at 9pm without fear of being attacked. My love and support goes out to those grieving for Sarah now.
This is for every woman who has ever been made to feel uncomfortable in the presence of a man who believes his behaviour is acceptable. And to every man who has looked down at the ground while his mates objectified a women – stand up.
This is for ALL WOMEN. Make it count. Be hysterical.
The article which sparked me to write this: