One of the things that struck me the most about the response surrounding the case of Sarah Everard was that on Twitter the phrase “not all men” has been trending alongside her name. It has become a common pattern that as soon as women talk about their experiences that they are met with some form of reply such as “but not all men are like this” and “men can be victims as well”.
While both statements are true, it ignores the fundamental point that abuse happens when someone in a position of power takes advantage of their own power at the expense of the victim. So, although there are male victims (which for the record whose cases should be taken very seriously) and while not every single man is a predator, there is an overwhelming pattern of men being perpetrators and women being victims. This is because in society, men still hold most of the power; whether that be in upper body strength (which on average overpowers a woman’s) or much more crucially in the societal privilege that men have held over women for centuries.
This leads to the fact that 97% of women between the ages of 18-24 (according to a study reported by the Guardian) have reported experiencing sexual harassment. Herein, my problem with the “not all men” sentiment lies. If not all men are predatory, then why have (virtually) all women experienced predatory behaviour? This is a conundrum.
Speaking from personal experience, I was fifteen and in school uniform when I was first felt up by a man sitting next to me on public transport and younger than that when I was first catcalled. Those were not the last times such incidents have happened and as a twenty-year old I have now lost count. These experiences are far from unique, they are (a relatively mild) reality of a woman’s experience. It is these accumulated experiences that make every woman consider their personal safety most times they leave their home. Sarah Everard would have made these same considerations.
When I first heard about Sarah, it felt like I had swallowed a very bitter pill. Immediately it was because of how heartbroken I was for Sarah and her loved ones, but the aftertaste was the reality that that could have been me (or any woman). I myself grew up in South London not far from where Sarah was, and have friends that live in that area. It is considered pretty safe. So, then she was walking in a pretty safe area on main roads, before 10pm, wearing bright colours, on the phone to her boyfriend. Yet Sarah Everard was still was not safe.
If women get taxis, they have creepy – and sometimes worse – encounters with taxi drivers. If women take a walk in broad daylight, they are assaulted. If women have the audacity to go to work, they are still assaulted. Despite everything we do, as women by default, our safety is always in question. That is without throwing in other factors such as class (which means that women have to face this behaviour in less safe areas and are more likely to work later hours) or race (which exposes them to the chance of hate crimes therefore increasing risk of attack). (more…)