Yes all men, even the good ones. Not all men abuse women. In fact I’m blessed to know many great men who are allies that champion and protect the women in their lives.
But let me invite you to take a step into the shoes of a woman for a second.
When we’re walking down the street and a man walks past – we have no idea if they’re a good one or a bad one. We can’t always tell right away if they’re the sort of man who would protect us, be kind to us, pretend to be ‘good’ and take advantage of us, or simply just harass us (or worse).
Even if you’re a good man – the woman you’re talking to might have had a traumatic experience you don’t know about. Remember that there are way too many bad men out there who think it’s ok to harass, abuse and rape women. Don’t take it personally if your behaviour triggers an anxious response in a woman. Just apologise, adjust your behaviour accordingly and respect women and their boundaries.
Yes this is a firmly-worded and angry blog. But guys, we have reason to be angry. This is an overflow of personal, tangible experiences and emotions. I’m not just going to yell at all men and tell them to sort this out. But we’re tired of fighting a losing battle and we need your help.
Sarah Everard’s story is not an isolated story.
It’s all of our stories.
In fact, 97% of young women have experienced sexual assault in the UK.
But Sarah’s ended a lot more tragically than most of ours have so far.
There are more stories like Sarah’s. And there will continue to be more.
Every woman who sees Sarah’s story will think “that could easily have been me”.
So, enough is enough. It’s time to change the culture. It’s well-overdue.
Women of colour, disabled women, women who wear a hijab, trans women, queer women all face much more risk than me as a white cisgender heterosexual woman.
We’ve got to have each other’s backs because this is a human issue rooted in a history of misogyny and patriarchal society.
Women – use your voice.
Men – we need your voices. As allies. As fighters. As feminists.
Here’s what men can do to help women feel more safe:
- Keep your distance
When you’re walking outside (anywhere, anytime) please start being as aware of your surroundings and the people in your vicinity as women constantly have to be. Male privilege looks like walking, headphones in, head down, generally not concerned about much. We don’t get that luxury. We’re on our guard.
So please be aware that if there is a woman near you, just slow down your pace and keep more of a distance than you think you need to. The closer you are to her, the more of a threat you feel to her.
- Don’t tell us what to do better
The kind of men who take advantage of women are at fault. We are not. Don’t tell us to get self defence training or always pay for a taxi or “smile more”. We should be able to just walk home and mind our own business. It’s an injustice to suggest otherwise.
Also, if you haven’t heard of “mansplaining” this is where a man explains something to a woman that a) she already knows b) is about her experience c) is shutting down her voice, telling her she’s wrong and then just re-explaining what she was trying to say. Don’t be that guy.
- Educate your sons, challenge your friends
Even if you think everyone around you is a good man who would never abuse a woman, just be over cautious and educate boys anyway. Society still teaches that women are vulnerable, fragile, sexual objects who are “asking for it”. This isn’t true, so counter it everywhere you can.
If your friends are talking disrespectfully about a woman, even in jest – call them out on it. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem. If you’re not sure what’s disrespectful think to yourself ‘would I be happy if they were saying this about my sister, mother or daughter?’
- Stop. Touching. Women.
You may see it as a totally innocent arm around their shoulder, or hand on the back. But remember that we are in control of our bodies and you don’t have permission to touch us unless you ask. Consent, even for the smallest of physical contact, is so important to women because there have been too many times when that consent has been violated.
Even if you’re not the kind of guy who would go up to a woman in a bar and slap her bum (don’t be shocked, it’s happened to me more times than I care to count) please bear in mind that when you touch us without consent in any way it reaffirms the patriarchal belief in us that we don’t have control over our bodies. And that’s a lie.
- Offer to walk female friends home
Look, I’m a fierce feminist but I’m telling you now – when it comes to safety, chivalry is fab. Just extend the offer, ask if they want a lift. If you do drive a female home on her own, intentionally tell someone else in front of her “I’m taking XX home in the car” so that she knows someone else is aware. Accountability can make everyone feel safer. If your female friend insists she’s fine, respect that. But perhaps you could offer to contribute towards a taxi so she can get home safely?
- Don’t stare, don’t cat-call and don’t give creepy compliments
I don’t care if you’re just ‘appreciating her beauty’. Stop it, back off and leave her alone. Don’t ever tell a woman to just accept a compliment if she gets uncomfortable. You made her feel uncomfortable, so you need to recognise that even if it wasn’t your intention. Try apologising for making her feel uncomfortable and move on and learn from it.
One of the main reasons that the #MeToo movement spread like wildfire and why we’re seeing a mass outpouring of anger and empathy with Sarah Everard’s tragic story is because they are so relatable. Sarah’s story strikes a chord with almost every woman in the UK, and probably wider too.
It strikes a chord because it feels close to home.
– We’ve all been in Sarah’s situation.
– We’ve all sent the message “text me when you’re home safe” with a pang of genuine fear that there’s a chance our friend won’t make it home safe.
– We’ve all made phone calls, fake or otherwise, to make it less likely for someone to approach us.
– We’ve all packed flat shoes, leggings or a long coat to wear on our way home to look as ‘modest’ and un-provocative as possible. Also so we can run faster.
– We’ve all held our keys in between our fingers like Wolverine so tight til our knuckles are white, just in case we need a weapon.
– We’ve all crossed to the other side of the street.
– We’ve all paid for expensive taxis rather than walking or getting the bus.
– We’ve all taken the long well-lit route home rather than the quickest way.
– We’ve all sent GPS tracking links to our housemate when we go for a run so if something happened, the police would have some evidence.
The list goes on.
But the fact is, we have been living in such a high state of fight-or-flight anxiety for too long. And it’s time things changed.
I don’t want my daughters and my daughter’s daughters to grow up like this.
If you made it this far, thanks for listening.
You’re already doing better than most, and I’m thankful you’re making this effort.
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