I’ve lost count of the article headers I’ve seen saying, “How can men make women feel safer?” in the wake of the Sarah Everard (alleged) abduction. I wholeheartedly champion each and every well-meaning man who is asking what he can personally do to help.
Whilst some of these articles are new, a lot are a few years old. Some even older. This isn’t a new thing. Women haven’t just started feeling unsafe, particularly at night, we’ve grown up with this.
Men and wider society have noticed now but we’ve been saying this, as women, for literally years
So here’s my first suggestion.
If we tell you we don’t feel safe, that should be enough. Trust us. Just because you’ve never noticed any problems doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Similarly, I’m glad you’ve walked that route alone safely at night every day for a decade or whatever, but if I tell you I’d rather have company, listen to me.
We’re adults. We aren’t hysterical children afraid of the dark. Stop judging our fear against your fear.
It’s not even because women are smaller and more physically vulnerable than men. That’s not always true in so many ways.
It’s because our gender singles us out for abuse. Large, small, stereotypically feminine or in overalls, business wear or trackies, cis or trans. Our gender is the one reason many (or should I say most) of us have been made to feel unsafe by a man in public.
You don’t feel unsafe, that’s great. It’s probably because you haven’t had anyone deliberately intimidate you because of your gender.
But listen to us when we tell you we have.
Also, listen when we tell you that guy seemed a little creepy.
The response we want to hear is “That must have been awful”, and “what can I do to help?”
We don’t want to hear how nice he’s always seemed to you.
That his wife is amazing and strong willed so he must be ok.
Or that it’s fine, he’s a teacher, or nurse, or policeman. Unsafe men can have safe jobs.
We definitely don’t want to hear you tell us it’s because we’re pretty or maybe it was a clumsy come on and you should be so lucky, you’d love for someone to randomly hit on you.
We aren’t making it up.
We’ve never been making it up.
Whilst it’s lovely you want to drop back when you walk behind us, that’s never been the issue.
(Besides, my hypervigilance looks out for people acting outside of the ordinary, and I’m noticing your hesitance way more than I’m noticing your speed walking)
You aren’t the problem.
While you carefully address your footsteps, there are still men who walk/ run/ cycle through women, sending us flying.
Listen to us when we tell you this happens and call it out when you see it.
Because actually, this is the one thing I really want from you. I want to hear your voices whilst misogyny is happening.
It’s wonderful you told me about it after, and honestly, I love your blog post about how hard it is to be a woman.
But I want to hear you at the scene, whilst this stuff is going down. Whether I’m there or not.
Men who are misogynistic, threatening, or mansplainy do not listen to women.
It doesn’t matter how logical, assertive, courageous, or clever I am.
The twenty sisters who back me up are also ‘just women’ to these perpetrators.
We need you, with your male voices, to step in and call this stuff out.
Whether it’s on the internet, on the train, in a bar, or on the street. It’s no good other women helping out, as much as we all forever will and are grateful to each other.
If you truly want to make women feel safe you need to strap on your big boy boots and tackle other men on their behaviour.
Wherever you are. If women are present or not.
We need to remove the culture of misogyny and threatening behaviour, and that involves calling it out. It’s your boss using gender specific insults, it’s your mate who treats the women he dates like trash, it’s even the countless Diane Abbott memes.
Stop accepting misogyny and hate speech. Call it out. Every… single… time…
Honestly, it’s not that hard. I promise.
As a white person I do this all the time.
It’s exhausting, sure, but I bet it’s not as exhausting as living with racism, so I have the easy job really. People I haven’t met before and don’t know say all kinds of trashy things. Every time I painstakingly explain why they’re wrong. They get butthurt and say something along the lines of ‘we all have our opinions’.
I point out their opinions are trash and as hate speech are also technically illegal. They look at me as though I was the one ruining their day.
Do I want an argument?
Is it up to me as a white person to tackle racism when I literally just wanted to buy a bottle of water and get on the train?
It’s the same for you men. I know you don’t want the hassle, and I know you also feel unsafe when you need to talk to aggressive men.
But we all do.
And right now it’s women who are rolling their eyes and stepping in for each other.
I can’t recall a time a man I didn’t know has stepped in for me, but the times women I didn’t know have are in abundance.
Actually, I tell a lie.
Gay men and transmen regularly step in to make me feel safe when I’m threatened by men in public.
Cishet men, I’m looking at you here.
But not just cishet men. Sometimes women are also spectacularly propping up the culture which allows women to feel unsafe.
Women, we also need to stop referring to other women as dramatic, hysterical, weak, or ‘victims’. We need to listen when our friends tell us what’s happening. Just because it’s never happened to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to other women.
And it isn’t a compliment.
It’s also not a rite of passage. Yes, we all had way worse misogyny in the past and we dealt with it. But I’d like it to stop now.
How many times have you, as a person of any gender or sexuality, heard someone use misogynistic language or treat a person badly because they’re female?
What did you do about it?
The next time you see a situation, ask what you can do to help.
The next time a woman tells you they feel or felt unsafe, believe them.
Your voices are the ones we need to hear because they’re the ones these losers respect.