We’re Not Panicking, We’re Reacting. We’re Not Hysterical, We’re Angry.

To the people shouting about how 'rare' kidnap is, and how 'hysterical' women are for being scared of men, you've missed the point.


by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

It's not even been one day since women took to social media to share their experiences of harassment, assault and abuse throughout their lives, and we're already being gaslit.

In the wake of Sarah Everard's disappearance, and the arrest of a serving police officer on suspicion of murder in connection with her case, women we're trying to help everyone understand how scary it is for us just to leave the house by posting online - hoping to erode the culture that perpetuates violence against women. Less than 12 hours later, we're now being told we're 'hysterical'.

First, Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick issued a statement focusing on the statistics of kidnap and murder - presumably in an effort to reassure women. 'It is thankfully incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted from our streets,' she said. 'But I completely understand that despite this, women in London and the wider public – particularly those in the area where Sarah went missing – will be worried and may well be feeling scared.'

But that wasn't all. BBC's Radio 4 Today programme also gave airtime to a criminology professor who called us 'hysterical'.

'Women account for about a third of all murders,' Marion Fitzgerald of the University of Kent said. 'Men are far more likely to be murdered. Men are far more likely to be murdered by someone they don't know. Men are far more likely to be murdered in a public place, and that hasn't changed. I think I'm entitled to say as a woman, we shouldn't pander to stereotypes and get hysterical.'

Unfortunately, neither of these statements were reassuring. Yes, it might be rare for us to be kidnapped - but it certainly isn't rare for us to be subject to crimes like indecent exposure, sexual harassment and assault. These all exist on a spectrum of violence against women that breed a culture of fear. This is why we're sharing our stories of everything from being followed home to rape, because it's the entire system that allows men to get away with all kinds of crimes against women that needs to change. Maybe then, when these very extreme circumstances happen like in Sarah Everard's case, we can be reassured that they're 'incredibly rare'.

It's easy to point to statistics when women are screaming out for help - might we point to the very poignant one released yesterday that showed 97% of women have experienced sexual harassment - but generalising instances of violence by comparing men and women isn't helping anyone. Those statistics aren't accounting for the fact that women are more likely to be killed by a partner or ex, nor are they including all the near-misses, the thousands of reports women don't make because they don't think anything will come of it. If even rape has a 2% conviction rate, how are we meant to believe police will do anything about daily harassment?

All these iterations do is feed into the hands of men that use #NotAllMen as a means to ignore the problem and deflect blame. We can't get stuck debating whether or not women are at risk - our word alone should be enough proof, particularly since it's entirely clear that the justice system, and the statistics that come with it, does not work in favour of women.

Instead of diminishing our voices by implying we are irrational to be scared of men, how about listening to the countless stories being shared online right now and putting actions in place to eradicate the fear so many of us have become used to?

Often, we refuse to go out at night alone, we walk the shortest distance possible, we carry our keys in our hand, we buy self-defence spray or rape alarms, we wear trainers to run home from the tube, we constantly message or call friends and family anywhere we walk. As soon as we’re home, we send the ‘made it home’ text – which in and of itself is terrifying, as if we’re lucky to be alive, because actually… we are.

It shouldn't be second nature to arm yourself every time you leave the house.

We change how we dress, walk and talk, we take the most well-lit route homes, walk in zig-zags across the street when a man is behind us following the same route. We avoid walking near men at all costs, staying close to other women, we download personal safety apps, wear our earphones but don’t play anything through them so men don’t talk to us but we can still listen to our surroundings… we do so, so much.

That's the ironic thing about the statements implying 'hysteria'. In all of the stories shared online were women detail the things they do to feel safer, they're explaining how it's second-nature to do so. When you read the endless ways we try to protect ourselves, it seems like a lot - it seems like an effort. But actually, all of it has become so part and parcel of being a woman that it's as effortless to carry self-defence spray or ring your friends on arriving home safely as it is to tie our shoes. That's what this watershed moment is, realising that actually - everything we do is beyond what we should have to. It shouldn't be second nature to arm yourself every time you leave the house.

That's why we're angry. Because Sarah Everard did what we all do. She chose the route home that would be the most public and well-lit, she called her boyfriend as she walked, she wore trainers. And yet, the worst still happened. It’s that realisation that is causing countless women to share their pain over what’s happened online – knowing all too well, it could be any one of us.

Because we’re not the problem. We change our behaviour daily, we’re still in danger. The solution is clear: men need to change their behaviour. They need to listen to us when we talk about the dangers we face, talk about it with their friends, report their friends – they need to lead the structural shift in society so we’re no longer talking about women being victims, but men being dangerous.

If you're shouting ‘not all men’, you’re part of the problem. Because it’s enough men, and we don’t know who they are. Instead of being defensive, act to create a solution – you’re first instinct should be to protect those in harm’s way, not other men. That goes for the women crying 'hysteria' too, if your first instinct is to tell women to 'calm down', instead of what needs to be done - you're not helping anyone.

And if you need any more proof of how terrified women are, of how much we do to protect ourselves only for it to prove futile, just read the countless stories women are sharing online right now.

Read More:

‘Women Are Being Chased And Stalked’: The Terrifying Rise Of Street Harassment In Lockdown

'There’s A Mighty Struggle To Make The Laws In This Country Work For Women, Because They Largely Don't’

A Police Officer Has Been Arrested On Suspicion Of Murder In Connection With Sarah Everard's Disappearance

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