Fear is something that governs our daily lives, subconsciously dictating everything around it. While some of us share common fears, others differ completely from person to person. Margaret Atwood once asked a male friend, “Why do men feel threatened by women?” He responded with, “They are afraid women will laugh at them, undercut their view.” She then asked a group of female students, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They are afraid of being killed,” they said. Sexual assault, being attacked, raped or killed are all things that go through a woman’s mind when she’s walking down a street alone at night. This is our society. This is not okay.
Women are raised to be careful, to never walk alone after dark, not to wear a short skirt, to carry our keys as a weapon. We’re taught to look out for ourselves, to always be careful. We are sick of being careful. But sometimes it doesn’t matter what we do. We can seem to do everything right and still end up a victim. Yet somehow the blame can always be brought back to that victim. She drank too much. Her top was too low cut. She was leading him on. She was asking for it. Five words used on too many occasions. No woman is ever asking to be attacked.
When girls are told to change their behaviour to prevent rape, they’re being told, “Make sure he rapes the other girl.” There will always be a girl who is less sober, less secure with less friends walking in a darker part of town. There will always be someone in danger. So why aren’t men taught not to rape, attack and endanger women? Because it’s been drilled into us as a society that it’s easier for women to make small changes to their behaviour and the way they act than it is to teach men to restrain themselves. It’s instinctive to defend men, to say they can’t help it, that it isn’t their fault. So whose fault is it? The victims? Ironic isn’t it?
As a seventeen year old girl I know what it’s like to be stared at and objectified. I know what it’s like to be catcalled, to be made to feel self-conscious, insecure, and demoralised. 84% of women have experienced catcalling by the age of 17 and 13% by the age of 10. But I’ve been told the same thing that every other teenage girl is told by her parents. Make sure you don’t walk home by yourself. Keep your phone close at all times. Boys are only after one thing. That we are used and abused too often. But we’ve been told there are things we can do to stop this. To make sure he rapes the other girl.
I know that no one’s perfect but I believe that as a species we are better than this. We need to start openly addressing these issues instead of talking about them in hushed tones, sweeping them under the rug or even laughing at them. Sexual harassment is something the majority of women will go through which just makes it all the more important. Around 1 in 10 (120 million) girls worldwide have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives. The fact that it can become a daily occurrence in some women’s lives makes it all the more important that we do something about it. Today.
I wrote this piece four years ago. I’m not sure how I was picturing the future would be for women and our safety but what we are seeing now is far from it. With the continuation of tragedies, from Sarah Everard to Sabina Nessa, and countless others, the world feels bleaker for women every day. As I write this, a news story comes out of the fourteenth women to be murdered in London since Sarah Everard.
I want to be able to write this with a feeling of hope, that things will improve, but I don’t know if I can. When a Home Office minister claims that the police ‘feel more let down than anybody’ about Sarah Everard’s murder I can’t help but believe they don’t understand. If they feel let down, how do they think every single woman is feeling? Where does safety lie for us now?
When the best advice we’re being given is to wave down a bus if we feel suspicious about reasons for arrest how can we help but feel hopeless?
As drained and disheartened as I feel now, I do believe that there are enough good people in this world that we can make change to ensure that women will not spend their lives living in fear. I will not stop writing and fighting and hoping. I hope you won’t either.