On Monday we celebrated International Women’s Day. On Tuesday a survey by YouGov was released that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. And on Wednesday it was a week since a young woman went missing from South London and the remains of a human body have been found. Women being harassed isn’t a women’s problem, this is a societal problem.
The statistic announced by YouGov that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed in some way is horrific, but did it shock me? No. Did it shock any woman? Probably not. But did it shock men? Most probably. It’s a scary thought that if I went and asked any of my close girl friends (which we’ve definitely done before) – every single one of us has some past story of sexual harassment, whether that be being cat called, groped in a club or feeling like we ‘couldn’t say no’ to a mans persistent grafting. Over the past couple of day there have been a number of tweets around the fact it’s #NotAllMen, which I totally appreciate, and you’re right it’s not all men and we’re not saying that it is all men. BUT the harrowing truth of the matter is that it’s happening to all women, and saying #NotAllMen starts to excuse the behaviour and disregard the experiences woman have faced. Rather than firing back the argument of ‘but it’s not all men’ and closing down the conversation, men need to stand as our allies, ask how they can help, accept the problem and add to our conversation rather than remove them selves from it. This article on medium articulates the point better than I ever could.
As girls we are constantly told all of the things we can do to protect ourselves. Call a friend, tell people where you are, don’t have your headphones in at night, walk in pairs, wear appropriate clothing, the list goes on. But why are we focusing on women protecting themselves rather than the issue at hand, that is men seeing women’s bodies as objects that they have a right to. I want to talk about couple of examples of times in my life where the focus has been put on the woman, rather than the males. First up, when ever I go on a run I always think twice about wearing my shorts for fear of attracting unwanted attention. Once when I was running through Croydon wearing shorts in the summer, a car slowed down next to me, beeped their horn, cat called me and lingered a little too long. My heart was racing and I was so scared they would follow me, but eventually they drove off. I got home and thought to myself ‘oh God, I shouldn’t have worn those shorts’. But why am I shifting the blame to being about me? I was literally doing exercise and in no way ‘asking for it’, yet as a woman you’re still subject to this kind of harassment. Secondly, as a woman you can be in the safest spaces in the world and still not be safe. At my secondary school we were constantly told our skirts had to be at our knees, we’d get told off for rolling them up and the rules on clothes you could wear on own clothes days were a joke. But really, is the length of your skirt or wearing a high neck top going to stop you getting harassed? The answer is no. After I left my secondary school it came out that a male teacher from my school was up-skirting. The girls harassed by him were in one of the safest spaces they could possibly be, being COMPLETELY innocent, yet they were still subject to sexual harassment. Nothing a woman does can stop them being harassed, the one and only thing that can stop you being harassed is the harasser.
What has happened to Sarah Everard so close to home is absolutely horrific, as a woman you can take all the precautions but that doesn’t guarantee your safety. If you’re from South London what’s happened feels even more real and there’s a resounding thought in the back of everyone’s minds that ‘it could have been me’ which makes it all the more scary. It makes all the anxieties you’ve ever had that have made you cross to the other side of the road, fake call your friend or pick up the pace when you’re walking home feel completely justified and not ridiculous at all, because it could have been anyone of us. And what does taking those precautions even do?
It’s been so reassuring to see men step up and ask how they can help women feel more safe when they are out on their own so I’m going to end this post with some thoughts:
- If you’re walking behind us, walk at a distance or cross to the other side of the road and overtake
- If we seem like we don’t want to talk, we probably don’t
- Don’t cat call/beep your horn at us – it is not a compliment
- Speak up/call out your friends
- If you ask me to smile, I’m not going to smile
- If you see a woman being harassed, and man talking to her and she looks uncomfortable, say something
There’s obviously a lot of opinions on this situation floating around at the moment but this is just my two cents. To every woman and to the men who are our allies, keep talking, keep the conversation going and most importantly keep each other safe.
Thanks for reading, Chloe x