This is a very personal post, so feel free to skip if this isn’t your cup of tea. But, as you may have seen if you’re on social media, there is a lot of discussion going on, in reaction to the murder of Sarah Everard at the hand’s of a police officer, about many different topics in women’s lives; namely, women’s rights, women’s feelings about their safety and the reaction from men that “not all men” deserve to be feared by women as potential harassers, assailants, rapists or murders. The irony that all of this is happening during International Women’s Month is not lost on me. I haven’t spoken much about this online, aside from the occasional retweet. I needed to process all of this and I do that best through writing, so this is my reactions, thoughts and feelings in regards to the latest discussion.
CW for: feared rape, sexual harassment, death, assault
So, the biggest thing I want to address is the men who are upset that this “generalization” of women fearing men is uncalled for or immediately ignoring what is being said to quickly point out, “NOT ALL MEN,” as if clearing themselves from this discussion, making it clear that they would never do this. And of bloody course I recognize that not every man is going to hurt me.
Yet, it is because of men that I:
- Was terrified to walk the 10 minutes to my car every night (for FOUR YEARS) after my shift ended at 12am, always fearing I would be followed, attacked or raped
- Always park underneath a light post at night so I can clearly see underneath my car walking towards it, to ensure no one is hiding underneath it or in it
- Often walk with my key pinned between my fingers
- Buy new pepper spray each year
- Often wear tennis shoes at night, in case I need to run
- Outwardly wear earbuds as a sign to not bother me, but sometimes don’t listen to music, in case things seem sketchy and so I can hear if someone is chasing me
- Always carry a book with me and wear headphones while on public transport, hoping that the combination of the two will allow me to escape the ride unharassed
- Text friends or family where I’m at or when I arrive home
- Walk in groups
- Immediately lock my car doors after getting inside
- Fear (and avoid) answering the doorbell or a knock when I’m home alone, often going silent so hopefully no one knows I’m home
- Don’t take my dog for a walk outside at night
- Feared dressing “suggestively” growing up, because I didn’t want to “ask for it” (newsflash: we’re never asking for it, no matter what we wear)
- Had my outfits policed due to fear of boy’s reactions
I have never been raped, thank the gods. But, I have experienced:
- Being groped and kissed without consent (and an obvious plan to force more, before being interrupted)
- Being told to smile more, it’s a “joke” or you should take it as a “compliment”
- Continually flirted with after expressing disinterest
- Having to lie about being in a committed relationship to get a man to leave me alone
- Leered at while working
- Verbally assaulted for turning a man down
- Flirted with on social media (including even places like Goodreads)
So, it should be obvious that your “not all men” comment is completely unhelpful and avoids recognizing the fact that it doesn’t matter that not all men do this. Enough men do that it is a problem and it is something that I can say with full confidence that every woman fears, thinks about or has to change her own routines, patterns or life to avoid.
And this is me as a white woman. I can’t speak on the added layers of discrimination, racism, hate and violence that the BIPOC, queer and trans women experience.
Not only this, but then you have responses like: “Well, if we had to respond to every complaint of harassment by men towards women, we’d be overwhelmed,” as if that isn’t a giant fucking red flag in showing how commonplace this is and how massive a problem it is. Or, “she’s someone’s INSERT-RELATIONSHIP-HERE” in attempt to get people to care about an individual woman’s safety, instead of just recognizing that she is a PERSON and that ALONE is enough that she deserves to be safe and feel safe.
Yes, I recognize that I don’t need to fear every man on this planet; that not every single man wants to harass, assault, abuse or rape me. However, I can’t know a man’s intent without knowing him a person and these kinds of attacks and harassments against women (including those leading to murder) are commonplace enough that I have trained myself, after being told I need to train myself, to fear all men, until proven otherwise by individuals on a case-by-case basis.
If nothing else, that should be enough for men to realize that ALL MEN have a responsibility to end the attacks and danger against women by men. This can take many forms, including, but not limited to:
- Believing women
- Stepping in to call out male colleagues, friends and family when harassing women
- Teaching your sons, friends, family how to treat women with respect, dignity and to LISTEN to them
- Holding yourself accountable and listening when you’ve crossed a line and learning to do better
- STOP centering discussions on women’s safety on you. It isn’t ABOUT you. But you can be part of the solution to solving this crisis.
Men, I am tired. I am tired of fearing you, tired of having to limit my life (from my habits to the way I express myself to where I can go when) to make sure I’m safe. I am EXHAUSTED, overwhelmed and broken thanks to reading headlines and horror stories like Sarah Everard’s. It’s up to YOU to change this.
So, why aren’t you?
Oh my gosh, Nicole, I love this SO MUCH and completely 100% agree! Compared to most women, extremely little has ever happened to me, but that doesn’t stop the fear. Men need to be more respectful and take more responsibility for their behaviors. Making it the woman’s job to protect herself when all she wants to do is express herself as freely as men is a serious inequality. And men wonder why we’re still screaming for equal rights…
Ahhh, YES, Kat, 100% exactly! It’s baffling that they can brush this off as only a woman’s issue, but like, HELLO. Wake the f up.
Ahhh, YES, Kat, 100% exactly! It’s baffling that they can brush this off as only a woman’s issue, but like, HELLO. Wake the eff up.
OMFG, thank you so much for this post Nicole. I have had all the things you’ve listed happen, in addition to being sexually assaulted by a man I was in a relationship with. I have an anecdote to share, if I may. I am in a committed relationship with a man (a different man, thankfully) and I had to explain to him recently just how terrifying men are to women and afab non-binary people. He read a reddit post about how a lady was afraid of her friend after play-wrestling with him and realizing just how much physically stronger he was, despite her greater commitment to physical training. He didn’t understand how someone could be afraid of someone they loved, and I had the unenviable position of explaining to him how scary it is to be female when men are so much bigger and stronger, and how I was, in some ways, afraid of him. I explained that even though I know martial arts and he doesn’t, he would be easily able to hurt me if he really wanted to. He was feminist before but I think that really clued him in as to how men are perceived and why women and afab people are so utterly scared of men. I think he gets it now. He knew that I did all those things you mentioned, but he didn’t really understand the full “why”.
Not all men is so f*cking dumb. I think of it like bear attacks. There are lots of bears. Only some bears attack people. But if we ignore bear attacks, refuse to teach people bear safety or try to deter bears from attacking people by virtue of “not all bears” then we’re going to have a lot more people being attacked by bears.
Elka, thank you so, so much for sharing!! And I completely agree. Sometimes, my partner doesn’t understand that fear that has become so ingrained and so innate, and, despite what was possibly a very terrifying and challenging conversation, I’m glad your partner understood the why and I am SO glad you are in a much safer place and I’m so sorry for the assault you’ve experienced in the past.
Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies says
Beautifully written and so well said! I agree with this 100%. It doesn’t matter that it’s “not all men” — the point is, women can’t know who is safe and who isn’t. It’s so sad that I immediately recognize myself (as would any woman reading this, I’m sure) in all the daily tactics you list that we automatically go through — parking under lights, having keys positioned in hands, locking the doors. I always check my back seat before getting into my car in a parking lot. How awful is that, to have to live that way? But we all do it.
YES, exactly!! And yes, even as you list even *more* examples, like checking the backseat, that I didn’t even originally list, it just shows how much we have to constantly think about this and live this way, because men refuse to recognize this is their problem to fix.
M.A. Crosbie says
Yes, 100% to all of this. Thank you for saying it <3
<3 <3 <3
Davida Chazan says
When Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel, there was a suggestion to make a curfew for women in order to avoid them being assaulted or raped. She retorted, that the curfew should be for MEN because they’re the ones doing the assaults and rapes!
Louise Brady, Author says
I’m resigned to having to take steps to protect myself, but I shouldn’t have to be. I used to wear a wedding band when I travelled alone on the train to university, because I hoped it’d make me invisible. I fear walking alone at night and even during the day, so I only ever cycle and have a ‘boys’ bike and wear a dark hooded jacket so I appear male and am less likely to be approached. It’s exhausting, and some men don’t understand the issue at all because they’ve never been afraid to walk alone at night 🙁
Ugh, yes. Even *more* examples I didn’t even list, but I have totally considered wearing a ring to fake as a wedding ring to be left alone. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced these things!!