Earlier this week, I watched a horrific video of a group of young men apparently harassing and physically intimidating young women trying to get on a train in Howth, Ireland. One of the women then dramatically falls beneath the stationary train. On that same day, I read the news that a 21 year old was charged with the murder of PCOS Julia James and a 21 year old was charged with the murder of grandmother Maria Jane Rawlings. We were told that Sarah Everard’s abduction and death was a shocking aberration. We were told that what happened to Julia was an isolated incident, but less than a week later, another woman’s body is found in the bushes. At least 56 women in the UK have been killed so far in 2021 where a male is the lead suspect, a year where we’ve spent most of the year in lockdown. (according to @countdeadwomen)
There is a pandemic of violence against women at the hands of men and we are no closer to finding a cure or a solution. We need to stop asking how our daughters can keep themselves safe and start asking why men won’t stop attacking them. When do we stop being seen as human to them? How do we pinpoint when they stop seeing us as equals and start seeing us as other and less than?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken the long way round, changed my route, switched trains or pretended to be on the phone when faced with a group of young men or a single aggressive male. It has always felt like the least confrontational way to remove myself from clear and present danger. But if I, as an adult woman am scared, then what are girls in their peer groups feeling? I remember being terrified in 2007 when a man threw chips at a woman on the 43 bus- her boyfriend intervened and ended up being stabbed to death. I must have thought of that every time I’ve boarded a night bus in the last 14 years. The pervasive threat. The constant low level anxiety and fear that my life can forever be changed if a man decides to attack me. No amount of self defense classes or screaming will be enough.
What happens between playing in the sandpits together to becoming the OTHER. For the last decade, there has been rampant online debates on the root cause of violence against women. Some blame violent porn; some blame rape culture; some blame video games, some blame evolution--- that men demonstrate their strength over women just because they can. From all of this evolves a number of camps--- a number of men on Twitter started the NotAllMen hashtag to defend themselves from being accused of being seen as potential rapists. In my experience, nothing quite sets off my red flags as a man loudly proclaiming “I’m one of the good guys.”
Paul Frampton and Simon Blake countered with #YesAllMen an initiative designed to educate men and encourage male behavioural change that delivers greater physical and psychological safety for women.
“It’s about time that men recognised that we all have a role to play given that it is all men through their daily behaviours that contribute to women being put in uncomfortable positions - whether that be banter that offends, cat calling, offensive approaches in a club....
Too many men seem far too able to separate what they find acceptable being said around their own daughters or sisters versus women they encounter on a train or an evening out - they are all women and deserve the same respect. I accept this is not as easy as it sounds as men can be ridiculed by their own sex and brandished weak, so YesAllMen aims to create content that helps men learn how to speak up. The more men become active bystanders and allies for women, the more chance we have of stamping out the everyday harassment women experience at the hands of men.”
Up until now, most of the ways of dealing with violence against women have been about physical defence classes for girls and women; calling for women to carry rape alarms or calls for pepper sprays to be legalised. We have been taught very young to avoid dimly lit alleys, to watch our drinks, to make sure to buddy up and not leave our friends vulnerable. Despite all of our efforts as women, 97% of us have still reported being harassed (most hundreds if not thousands of times). How then do we keep ourselves from harms way? How do we keep ourselves safe? Without finishing that sentence, because who are we keeping ourselves safe from and why aren’t they being taught not to attack us.
At Reclaim These Street’s our mission is that we aim to use legislation, education and community action to ensure no woman has to be asked to “Text Me When You Get Home” again. A huge part of that mission is education and teaching about respect and consent. Starting in September, in the UK, there will be mandatory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum. We believe that if the cornerstones of respect and consent are built up in every area of the curriculum; we will have a stronger foundation upon which to have the more complicated discussions around responsibility, British rule of law and sexual consent both on and offline.
We need to crack this. A society where women aren’t scared all of the time is a society where we have more mindful relationships, we raise happier daughters and sons. We have better and more enjoyable consensual sex. We all benefit from not living under a cloud of violence and danger. We’ve survived one global pandemic, now we need to solve another one and that can only be done together with men.
Let’s have those conversations. Let’s speak to our fathers, our brothers, our husbands our sons and friends. Let’s discuss times when we have been unsafe or when they may have acted questionably. Let’s talk about when we have been scared and why and let’s talk about real allyship. Let’s talk about needing them to challenge sexist rhetoric and behaviour. Let’s challenge them to have our backs when we aren’t in the room. And let’s make public spaces safe for women and girls.