But there are changes that can be made to eradicate these conversation derailers and work to prevent this continuing to happen to women.
Books like this are just one we can start tackling the root cause of problems that build a society where women fear to walk home alone.
As human remains are found in the search for Sarah Everard, who went missing on the 3rd of March and a male Met Police Officer has been arrested, the same topics of ‘not all men’, male on male crime and victim blaming come careering to the forefront to try and derail conversations. But there are things we can start to do to change the narritive and improve society.
No, it is not all men. We are not naïve enough to believe that it is every single man, but when 97% of women have been victims of sexual assault (pretty much every woman I have ever spoken to on the topic has received at very the least unwanted male attention such as being sent dick pics and catcalling. Most have been inappropriately touched, followed home or made to feel extremely uncomfortable by a man in their prescence. Quite a number have been physically assaulted. Multiple I know, into double figures at least, have been raped. One I know has been murdered.) then it’s a fair chunk of men. I think a small number are pretty damn busy committing all of those and running up and down the country if the number of men committing these crimes is as small as some people would like to think.
Also, it’s not always men, either, but over 90% of violent crime is committed by men, therefore, odds are it was a man. Unfortunately, as uncomfortable as it is to accept, with the numbers of victims so high (and many more who don’t report their experiences), we all know a perpetrator of sexual or violent crime. You might not think you do as surprisingly enough they don’t tend to tell people, but there’s a damn high chance you do.
I very rarely see men who are actively raising awareness of male on male crime, doing so under their own steam and starting that conversation. I, without fail, can guarantee I’ll see it mentioned multiple times in conversations about male on female crime. If this is as important a topic as you make out, be proactive and not reactive-when-the-conversation-is-similar-but-not-the-same. Please don’t try and deflect the conversation, start a new one.
Victim blaming is always present too. We are very quick as a society to blame the victim. What was she wearing, why was she walking in the dark, was she on her own? In Sarah Everard’s case, walking clothes and trainers, people local to the area say she was walking the safest and best lit route they know of and she called her boyfriend as she walked some of the way home from work. She did a lot of what she could to keep herself safe. But still she was missing and still people are asking those questions and now saying women there shouldn’t go out after dark. Multiple people are also questioning whether she was breaking lockdown rules, because the status of her support bubble is clearly what needs establishing first and foremost, not whether she was murdered…
And it’s all well and good making out that women staying in after dark is a great solution, but how are women who work shifts meant to get home safely? How are those who have to fit in unpaid care work for relatives or neighbours around their paid work meant to do this if we can’t go out after dark, as women do the lions share pf that. Not everyone has a bus stop right outside their door, not many can go from house to tube stop in a matter of meters and outside London those chances are far less. This also ignores the fact that the victims were blamed in the case of the Black Cab Rapist and Uber Assaults for getting in a car with strangers and the reports of sexual harrassment and/or violence on public transport is ever increasing. So if women need to get anywhere safely and by the ‘suggested rules’ between the hours of [in today’s case] 06:28 and 17:56 we’re left with I dunno, hover packs, witchcraft and teleportation, I guess?
Telling women to stay home when it’s dark shouldn’t be the answer. Some suggested (just to make a point of ridiculous sounding things) all men should have to stay in after dark instead, since over 90% of the time* they are the perpetrators of homicide. A good swathe of men collectively missed the point and lost their shit on twitter. Others accepted it was a ridiculous notion but metaphorically shrugged and sighed ‘oh but there’s nothing we can do’ and will proceed to largely forget all about this in a few days time.
Some men, started asking sensible questions and asking for genuine advice on ways they can help their female friends and what changes they could make to feel women who they may be with feel comfortable. And the women did start to feel like maybe, somewhere change is starting. Because although the general idea is ‘not be a rapist’, that is the extreme answer to the extreme end of the scale. There is a whole foundation of behaviours that are below the extreme end result of rape and murder. Some real world changes don’t take much effort to do, but can make big differences. Listening to our experiences, not picking holes in our stories about what we were wearing, how much we had drunk, why we were alone after dark, where our boyfriends or husbands were etc. is a good place to start. Listening without jusgement and with genuine concern and empathy is a really, really good place to start. Asking questions to understand a situation is fine, but think about how you frame those questions, are you trying to pick us apart or help understand our experiences? If your first instinct is to dismiss what we say and not believe what we’re telling you, even when you have absolutely no evidence or reason not to, you really need to stop and take a step back.
There are other real-world things you can do too. Crossing to the other side of a road when you’re approaching a woman on her own, especially from behind, is a minor inconvenience to you, but for that woman you have eased her worry about in which way the man behind her may well be a threat. It may seem silly to you, an inconvenience, trivial and surely not really helpful, hell I got called an ‘entitled narcissist’ in a conversation about this on twitter earlier by one polite young man, but if you don’t have to plan your route home based on where is best lit and where you will feel safest; if you can just walk out of work, the pub, the shop etc. and go straight home without a second thought or hesitation, you maybe don’t realise how much of a sigh of relief we breathe out when the person walking behind us crosses over and gives us space. Other simple things like calling a friend to make sure they got home safe, offering to be on the phone with your female friend if you have to go separate ways on a way home so she has someone to talk to helps. Essentially, ask your female friends what would be helpful to them and listen, even if the answer seems strange or silly to you.
The other thing you can really, really easily do is do the above things without then making yourself out as a hero. A polite thank you from said friend and the knowledge you were doing something to help keep a woman safe should be all that is necessary afterwards. These actions should be part and parcel of being a decent human, not a way to make yourself out as the superstar. I have seen it happen with my very own eyes.
Something that is less easy to do and requires some balls (and we all know how big yours all are…), is standing up and calling out shitty, sexist behaviour when you see it. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s not nice to do and won’t always make you popular, but slowly and surely the tide will change and the foundation of sexist comments, wandering hands, cat calling and all sorts of small but all-add-up things will dissolve. And it’s that foundation that enables and provides a platform to those ‘small number of men’ who go on to commit the more serious crimes. The everyday sexism is the soil that grows the rape and murder plant. So if you hear your friend make derogatory comments about women, be the big man and call them out. They may think they are highly amusing, but ultimately they’re shooting themselves in the foot as quite often the people I see saying ‘it’s not all men, why are you tarring ME with that brush’ are the very same men who I have to roll my eyes at yet another one of their sexist jokes that haven’t been funny since before they were born. You get tarred with the same brush because your smaller behaviours build the foundation of the serious crimes.
And if you want to get a better understanding of the overlooked and often unknown areas where women are at a disadvantage, often unintentionally, read this book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men by Caroline Criado Perez. It is based on data not some ramapnt feminist agenda (or at least it tries to be as that data is often not collected) but it covers everything from phones being made to fit larger males hands and therefore being awkward to use, to thousands of houses being built without kitchens in South East Asia after the Boxing Day Tsunami because not a single woman was consulted with the plans (the irony of it being the kitchen is very much not lost on us). From medical trials into how cures for men that are then used unilaterally actually make women’s health worse to over three quarters of unpaid care work being done by women, often in addition to paid work. The book is an eye-opening read that shows how our society is set up for ‘default male’. Being aware of and prepared to speak out about these things will be beneficial to the women around you, by extension, the men around you will benefit (we want to remove these biases and roadblocks completely, not just make men the unintended victim instead) and we will slowly start to make the changes necessary to help reduce the number of women like Sarah Everard who were just trying to walk home.
*Various reports by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime over the years have this statistic as over 90%, exact stat varies by year.