Trigger Warning. This post talks about subjects related to the disappearance of Sarah Everard. These include rape, cat calling and stalking.
I want to start this post by taking you back to a time in my life when going out and getting drunk was pretty much a nightly event. It was 2008, and I was in my first “proper” job, working in Cardiff.
I worked in the city centre, with a good friend from my uni days, along with many other amazing people – and the social life was flooded with “pub?” requests at 4pm. Of course, being in a new city, I wanted to make friends, so I’d often tag along, and often find myself at 11pm running from the pub to the train station to get the last train home. We had a flexi work policy, so we’d arrive at staggered times – often one of us would go and get a table at the pub on our own and wait for the others.
“Home”, back then, was a place called Thornhill, a few miles to the North of Cardiff. A quiet little village at the foot of the mountains leading over to Caerphilly – with woodlands and parks all around.
My journey back would involve a walk / run from wherever I was in town, to the station. From there, it’d be a wait at the station for the inevitably delayed train. 20 minutes or so on the train, then a 10 minutes walk from the station to my front door.
The dash from the pub would be a quick check for headphones, coat, bag, wallet, phone, RUN. The journey on the train would be a time for mindlessly scrolling twitter (I enjoyed it more back then, less fluff, and no adverts) and listening to music. The walk home would be either a slow plod because I had no energy, or a mild sprint because I needed a wee! Those of you who know me, know that I *always* have music on, so my headphones were well and truly planted in my ears throughout the trip.
So why am I telling you this?
This is really difficult to write (and not in a “ohh, poor man, let’s feel sorry for him” kind of way, but more in a “I can’t believe I even have to write this” kind of way).
Yesterday, the police found human remains in the woods, thought to be those of Sarah Everard. Sarah left her friends house at 9pm on the 3rd March for the short walk home (the distance here is irrelevant, by the way, for anyone who says “she should have got a taxi” – Women can walk as far as they like, you know).
She never made it home.
For all too long now, Women live in a state of fear over so many things, that they simply shouldn’t have to think about.
In my story above, I can confidently say that at no point during my nights out did I ever feel threatened, scared, vulnerable, worried.
Sitting in the pub on my own?
Leaving the pub in a hurry without worrying who might be following me out the door, or ensuring I had my keys in my hand as a defence mechanism?
Lingering at the train station, drunk, waiting for my train?
Not a concern
20 Minutes on a train (sometimes nearly empty) immersed in my own world of twitter and music, without worrying who was watching me?
Go for it
Walking from the station to my front door, at 11:30pm, past the woods on the other side of the road?
Never crossed my mind to be a concern
Ask your wife, your female friends, your colleagues, and I guarantee they will not have the same confident tones that I had when doing these things.
And that has to change.
I refused to let Ashleigh walk home from her friends a few weeks back (I couldn’t collect her as G was in bed). I tracked the taxi back here via the app the whole journey. It’s a 10 minute walk, a 2 minute drive. This isn’t a case of me not having to do that, but more a case of Ashleigh should have been comfortable walking on her own.
Ashleigh also won’t wear over-the-head headphones, because it shows that you are unable to hear someone behind you and could highlight to people with malicious thoughts. Again, as a male, I have never, ever had that thought (it never crossed my mind until she mentioned it). This shouldn’t be on her mind, on any ladies mind!
Park that ego, chaps
When I say “that has to change” – I don’t mean we need Women to change to become more confident (if you thought that, please leave) – to put it simply, Men have to change. Men have to be better people.
If I see one more #notAllMen hashtag fly around, I’m going to flip. For once, those men using that hashtag especially, get over yourself.
Just because you’ve managed to make it this far in life without raping or murdering someone, it doesn’t mean you’re exempt from understanding.
Learn to appreciate a situation, and help to make it better for those that it does affect. Get off your high horse, show some morale standards and HELP MAKE A CHANGE. Ask, “What can I do?”
What can we do?
Firstly, think about your behaviour. Not just in terms of socially out and about (stop staring, don’t catcall, be mindful of your attitude, don’t park yourself right next to that single lady at the bar when there’s space to go), but online, too. Ask yourself, “am I doing things that could make this person feel uncomfortable?” This comes down to things like going back through their Social media posts, liking that post from 6 months ago – you may think it’s harmless, but I promise that the person on the other end is probably thinking “that’s a bit weird”.
Ashleigh has experience of this (as I’m sure most females do) – but just because a lady is wearing maybe a short skirt, or a top that you think is “revealing” – it is NOT an invite for a comment, a stare, or even worse, an invite for you to touch.
IT MAY COME AS A SHOCK TO YOU – but people wear things that they feel comfortable in, that make them feel good. They do NOT wear things to invite a grope or a sly comment. And that’s the bottom line there.
Unless we shift these attitudes – we’re a million miles away from any kind of easing of this situation.
As a parent, Ashleigh and I are making sure we educate Grayson in equality, in being a good person. I spoke last week about Male Privilege on a live chat – I do think there are many men out there who have had a hard time, and they forget the privilege that they have simply because of their gender. Just because you’ve struggled, it doesn’t go away, chaps. I bet you walk / jog / go out at night with your headphones on without even second guessing it? That, right there, is male privilege ( a very small part of a very big problem).
Karmen put together some points for men to take note on, I’ll go through them here because they’re all really valid, and really important:
- Don’t walk closely behind – It’s unnerving. Keep a distance (but not in a “I’m lingering back here so you can’t see me” kind of way.)
- Cross over. If you see a female on her own coming towards you, and you’re on the same side of the road, just cross over if you can.
- Don’t take offence. If a female sees you, and crosses over / changes direction / seems anxious. Remember, they are faced with a fear that you are probably not aware of
- Saying hello can ease things. If paths do cross, and if appropriate (don’t slow down to talk or block the path), a kind “hello” or a smile can help ease anxiety
- Don’t expect anything! If you do cross paths, and you say hello but get no response, THAT IS OK! Hold back your “oh, a bit rude” or “smile!” comments. They aren’t needed.
- Don’t Beep, Don’t Catcall. There’s just absolutely no need for it. So don’t do it. Ashleigh wrote about Catcalling on a previous post – read it, educate yourself.
What can I do?
This is the most important thing. Just saying “I wouldn’t do that” is not enough. How do you know how you’re making someone feel? Please, if you have something you think that we, men, need to be aware of to make you feel less anxious / uncomfortable / fearful, then please reply in the comments. This isn’t going anywhere – we need to keep talking, keep educating ourselves, our friends, our kids.
This cannot keep happening.