Why Sarah Everard's murder has struck a chord with every womxn and put the spotlight on every man
By Paulina U / 15th March 2021
TW: sexual assault / harassment / abuse
I was eleven when a corner store cashier told me to give him a smile, a currency which I wasn’t aware I owed him in return for the sweets I was trying to buy. I smiled because a grown man told me to. It annoyed me.
I was twelve the first time a man exposed himself to me in a parking lot, arrogantly striding towards me as I run away in fear and shock. It sickened me.
I was thirteen the first time that a car sped past me, a man gazing out of the window with a Joker-like smile on his face as he beeped his horn at a young girl in her school uniform. It confused me.
I was fourteen when a boy from my year slapped my arse in the science corridor as I was waiting to talk to a teacher. My exclamation of shock was met with a smile and wink. It made me uncomfortable.
I was fifteen when a boy groped me at the swimming pool, fondling me in the water as I swam next to my dad. He splashed away laughing when I confronted him. It made me feel dirty and belittled.
Whether I am alone, with my family or with friends, it gets worse as I got older – unsolicited dick pics, requests for intimate photographs, belittlement for my refusal, calls of abuse and many more instances where I was left feeling guilty, disgusted and dirty.
I’ve lost count of the times that my path has been blocked by a man demanding if I “knew what the time was,” his phone very evidently in his pocket and a visible watch on his wrist. I have been followed home more than once – whatever the weather and time of day.
I asked myself, “Did I do something wrong?” As if I broke some core rule, stepping outside of the borders of my permitted existence as a woman. So, Sarah Everard’s story resonated with me: she wore sensible clothing, she wasn’t under the influence, she avoided public transport, she communicated with her family about her whereabouts, she walked a well-lit route home. She did everything right. Now her body has been recovered and I feel annoyed, sick, confused, uncomfortable, dirty and belittled. I feel this way because I hurt for her and her family, but also because I feel lucky.
How many could have been just like Sarah Everard?
This is the price of the female existence – constant fear of assault, belittlement and sexual mockery by men who deemed that we owed it to them to not only listen but also reciprocate their advances. A systematic chain of oppression, universally inescapable by women of every social background. In a world of racial and political divisions it is the saddest form of unanimity in existence. And while nearly 1 in 3 women can relate, the reality is that members of the LGBT+ community and people of colour are more likely to experience harassment compared to cisgender people.
This problem extends beyond the confines of biological gender – in essence while this article commonly refers to the ‘woman’ as a victim in instances of harassment and abuse, it is an unavoidable issue for most members of society who fall outside the spectrum of the Caucasian, cis, heterosexual man.
“Be polite and let it go,” or, “Take is as a compliment” are common phrases heard from older male members of my household.
Yet in what world would we tell a cisgender, white man to take a derogatory statement as a compliment?
Is it because we allow men to react in violence and play ‘alpha’ to protect their pride? Or because the existence of a man means more in this society than a right for a woman to say, “No.” It’s the oldest trick in the book, the harsh lesson that claiming to have a boyfriend will be a better deterrent than politely declining a man’s advances. A man who is likely to react violently to protect their pride.
Then men are fast to claim, ‘Not all men.’ While, yes, that’s true, we don’t know which men, so we fear them all because imagine what will happen if we don’t... We fear them all because in the case of Sarah Everard, even a police officer couldn’t be trusted. Now the ones who believe it their responsibility to protect us are a depiction of menace.
So, this is a dangerous reality of life as a woman. Within the same week as International Woman’s Day the legibility of one overtly racially abused and publicly demeaned woman stating her fight with suicidal thoughts was deemed a topic appropriate for debate. Only a day later a brutal abduction and murder of a blameless woman who felt it safe to walk home.
Sarah’s story has gained media-wide coverage and has been graced with a definitive end. That’s more than many abducted, assaulted or murdered women are granted. Naomi Hersi’s story flows almost parallel Sarah’s. She was a trans woman of colour found stabbed to death in London after being reported missing but the media coverage was miniscule in comparison to Sarah’s. As to the reason why some cases gain nationwide attention and others don’t - I cannot say, but we can all fathom a pretty good guess (spoiler alter, it's because we live in a largely racist and transphobic society).
image from @thecut
Both Sarah and Naomi should have been safe. The key word is safe because the modern formula for safety for women commonly looks like individuals yelling humiliating and overly erotic things and cars slowing down as we walk past. We’re taught to expect that. A bad day might look like a man exposing himself to us or being groped during the commute – but we’re trained to expect that too and to even repackage it as flattery.
Yet it most definitely is not flattery and I am angry about the treatment of women in the world and a society which conditions us to believe that mistreatment like this is fine as ‘it could always be worse.’ Well, it can be worse but that does not mean that those who mistreat us shouldn’t be held accountable for the fear-driven and hostile environment which they create.
I am angry about the murder of Sarah Everard – this inescapable epidemic of molestation and sexual assault has to end. For that to happen, you have to get angry too – regardless of your gender – we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the correct way to treat our fellow human beings and stand up for mistreatment when we see it. Enough is enough.
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