Yes, All Men
This week, the UK has been dealing with the news that a woman in her 30s, Sarah Everard, was abducted from the street in London, by a serving police officer. She was murdered and her remains were found a week later.
Her death has sparked outrage, and re-ignited the discussion about women’s safety. There have been comments about the wisdom of walking home alone at night, and there have been lots of responses, quite rightly, that women should be able to walk home alone at night.
I don’t know where to begin with this topic, so I’m just going to jump in and write. It will likely not be well constructed. I don’t care. I have things to say. Things, for instance, about all the advice we’re given as girls and women on how to keep ourselves safe. Don’t dress provocatively. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t sit alone in a pub. And the “advice” goes on. And on. A huge list of dos and don’ts for us to follow to keep ourselves from men.
But I remember as a child, watching the news and hearing about Suzy Lamplugh, the 35 year old estate agent who disappeared from a client meeting in broad daylight in 1986. She was murdered. I remember the news reports about the disappearance of 11 year old Susan Maxwell in 1982. I remember this vividly. She was walking home from playing tennis after school and I remember her mum saying on TV that it was the first time she had been allowed to walk home. She was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered, her body dumped 250 miles away.
There have been many, many other abductions and murders of course. But these are two that have stuck with me all these years. Both in broad daylight. Not walking home alone at night. Not dressed provocatively. Not doing any of the things that women and girls had been told might lead to them becoming victims. Just going about their day. Existing. In broad daylight.
Sarah Everard was just going about her business, existing. Walking home from a friend’s house. Yes, it was a night. Along residential streets – there’s doorbell camera footage of her just doing her thing. Dressed in trainers and trousers and a rain coat and a beanie hat. Not dressed provocatively. Not “asking for it” (don’t even get me started on this).
THIS IS NOT OK.
Women should be free to go about their business, just existing, without fear that they will end up dead just for doing so. We can tell women to observe all the safety rules we want, but it makes no difference, because there are too many men out there who are predators, and they’re not listening to the safety rules. Police were visiting houses in London this week advising women not to go out after dark.
There have been so many discussions this week. How can women keep safe? Why does it always fall to women to keep safe? It is exhausting. Women have been sharing the lengths they go to to keep themselves safe, the things they have to consider, the plans they have to make, the back-up plans, contingencies, the check-ins. Is that the taxi we actually ordered, does someone know where we are, when we’re expected, what route we’re taking, who we’re meeting?
I don’t expect there is a single woman who hasn’t been through all this before going out, who hasn’t felt unsafe at some point when they’ve been going about their business. I suspect every woman can tell you about a time they were sexually harassed. Far, far too many women can tell you about the first time they were sexually assaulted. This is the world in which we exist, a world largely unknown to most men.
And because of these experiences, we have learned to be cautious of men. All men.
And that has featured in this week’s discussions too. Men entering these conversations to remind us that #NotAllMen are rapists, murderers, creeps. “Yes we can see this might be hard for you, but please remember we’re not all like that.” “Please don’t tar us all with the same brush” “It’s not fair to include all men”. Not All Men. Fuck off.
YES, ALL MEN.
We know, we know that not all men are rapists. We fucking know. The problem is, men, that you don’t go around with labels on your foreheads marking out which ones of you are safe and which aren’t, and there are too many that aren’t to take chances. Too many women who have fallen foul of the ones who are not safe. And until you start identifying yourselves as such, we have to assume ALL MEN.
But this isn’t all or nothing either. It’s not “Rapist or Safe”. Maybe you’re not a rapist, but have you ever catcalled a woman as she walked along the street? Do you think that made her feel safe?
Maybe you’re not a rapist, but have you commented that a woman was “asking for it” because of the way she dressed? Do you think that made the women around you feel safe?
Maybe you’re not a rapist, but have asked a woman out, and persisted when she said no, until she finally said she had a boyfriend. Do you that made her feel safe? Do you think she actually had a boyfriend, or she knew that you would back off if you thought she already “belonged” to another man?
Maybe you’re not a racist, but did you ever defend comments like “grab ’em by the pussy” and other such delights as simply being banter? If you did, know that what you actually told every woman around you is that she cannot trust you.
Maybe, men, you haven’t done any of these things, and you’re reading this, congratulating yourself on being a good man. So, let me ask you, have you ever witnessed another man doing any of these things? Don’t dare tell me no, because we all know you have. You’ve seen it. In the pub, the street, at work. You’ve seen men you don’t know do these things, and you’ve seen your mates do it too. Now, tell me what you did when that happened.
Did you join in? Laugh? Ignore it? Or did you speak up and say “that’s not OK”? Did you call out those men, put yourself in the line of fire to let them know that this behaviour is not OK? Or did you stay quiet?
Not all men are rapists. Some men are rape apologists. Some men tell rape jokes. Some men are victim blamers. Some men are silent in the face of these things. All of these men are a problem.
Because until men are calling out other men every time this happens, then they are not on the side of keeping women safe. They are not allies if they keep quiet. And if they’re not allies, then we have to keep saying YES ALL MEN.