It may not be all men, but it is all women 

Photo: The Times

Any woman could have been Sarah Everard. We have all read the articles and shared the infographics: Sarah was wearing trainers, bright colours, called her boyfriend, took the busy route home, and yet she did not make it home. The chilling reality that her story exposes is that no woman or girl is safe. The motions that women go through when walking home alone have become second nature; done unconsciously. Walk quickly, call someone or pretend that you're on the phone; hold your keys between your fingers; don't look over your shoulder if there's someone behind you because a) if they're a possible attacker you don't want to draw attention to yourself but then b) it is hashtag: #NotAllMen and you don't want to assume and then have him yell "what are you looking at". 

It is not all men, but all women are scared. Yes, the majority of the time we do get home safely and send that "home xx" text to whoever we just left. If you forget to text them that you have gotten home safely you will definitely receive five panicked texts and a missed call. But this is besides the point. Women fear walking after sunset, and the vulnerability of nonwhite women and trans women, and non binary people, compared to white women, is much greater. Our patriarchal society, which looooves to blame victims, has created an environment in which women and girls constantly feel like they have to have one eye looking over each shoulder - you would think our eyes would have adapted so we could simultaneously look in different directions. Instead of putting the onus on men and boys to not harass, intimidate, assault, rape or murder women, it has been decided to tell women to be more careful. 

Don't wear revealing clothes. Don't walk home alone. Don't go on a jog when it's dark (good luck finding time to go on a run during the winter!). Always get a taxi home (which costs a lot of fucking money and is not aways safer - you are in a locked vehicle with a stranger!). Wear something bright. Make sure your phone is charged. Don't make eye contact. Do make eye contact. Take the route that is twice as long if it means you are on a main road. Don't give someone the eye if you might not want to have sex with them later on - flirting is consenting. Don't share a taxi. Don't listen to music. Don't leave your drink unattended. Don't call out sexist or demeaning jokes - it makes you a sensitive, feminist killjoy. Don't wear unsuitable shoes because you should preempt having to run for your life. Don't talk back when you are cat called - you will only provoke them. Don't walk too confidently but don't walk too timidly.

Women and girls collect so many 'it was just really weird'; 'something didn't feel right' and 'I'm definitely overthinking it, and I know it's nothing honestly, but I'm a bit scared so can you stay on the phone' stories to add to the scrapbook of womanhood that they become normalised. A few months ago I realised that after a friend leaves my house I always check the exact time, because that means if they go missing I can tell the police the precise moment they left. But that's if we even trust the police? Can we trust them? 

With lockdown restrictions in place women are arguably more fearful when walking in the evening; the streets feel more eerie. There are less witnesses. Less people to run to. Less people to pretend to know you when they spot someone following you. However, even though there is safety in numbers, you never know who is actually your teammate until it is too late. 

This culture riddled with victim blaming is perpetuated through the acceptance of 'boys will be boys': groping in nightclubs, sexist jokes, rape jokes, cat calling, not believing that girl in your secondary school science lesson, making someone feel uncomfortable, silencing women with "but it's not all men". If your first reaction to the fact that women and girls are consumed by fear, always thinking it is completely feasible that they will find themselves a victim of a horrific attack, is "but it's not all men", then you are very much a part of the problem. If you were to replace your defensiveness with sympathy and a willingness to actively call out sexist behaviour, we will begin to take steps in the right direction - a direction in which women can walk home from their friend's house at 9pm and the only thought that consumes them is what time they should set their alarm for the next morning. 

Article written by Annabel Martin


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