Content Warning: sexual harassment, gender-based violence
In light of the police breaking up vigils for a woman murdered at the hands of one of their own this weekend, Holly Ellis has a message for #AllMen.
If we just forget about occupation for a moment, how could you ever justify, as a human being, pinning down an innocent person? How could you ever justify, as a human being, holding down a woman who was attending a candlelight vigil in honour of another woman’s lost life? How could you ever justify, as a human being, helping other men subdue a woman who doesn’t appear to be fighting back?
Now let us reintroduce occupation: how did you, a man wearing a uniform which signals your power, justify using physical force against a group of women who were mourning the loss of another woman, who was murdered at the hands of a man who wore the very same uniform you now wear?
In the space of a week in the UK, we’ve watched a group of police officers escort and gently disperse a group of football fans (of all genders), who were actively disregarding lockdown rules, for celebrating a sporting win. These fans trashed memorial benches, left litter, and incited violence across public spaces. We also watched a group of police officers use physical force to take down a peaceful group of people offering their respect and condolences for a woman’s life that was taken forcibly from her. Now they tell me not to draw comparisons, but can you see why it’s so hard to avoid drawing them? When it seems like the reason that one group was taken down forcefully and the other was not, was because one group could be and the other could not. If they use intimidation in one instance and not the other, it starts to look like they thought about the fact that it could work, and not why it would work, or if it even needed to work. If this doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, it should. This wasn’t a protest, though had it been a protest it still would have been a worthy cause for a peaceful gathering. This was a candlelight vigil for a murdered woman.
Forgive me for speaking on behalf of women as a whole, because I can’t assume everyone has the same views as me, but the 97% figure cited over and over this week doesn’t seem to surprise any of us. I’m not surprised that it doesn’t shock in the way it should. You say #notallmen and forget that we’re not speaking about you: we’re speaking about #allwomen. We know that not every man is evil and not every woman is good, but the number of women who’ve been hurt by men is so high, surely you can understand why this number might make every man a potential threat?
The Sarah Everard case is not unusual. This has happened time and time again and yet the first questions asked were still: what was she wearing? And why was she out so late? As if those would make it any more justified. Her life was taken from her, and it wasn’t her fault. The question that everyone should have asked is not “why did it happen?” but “how have we allowed this to happen again?”
I wasn’t aware that women weren’t allowed out at nighttime. Do they think we’re werewolves? The 6pm curfew discourse for men is ironic, a joke for you; but it’s an unspoken rule for us. We’ve tried to get you to listen to us and that hasn’t yet worked, so we ask you to speak to each other because anything that can be done to promote positive change or facilitate a conversation should be done. I don’t understand why that doesn’t go without saying. It doesn’t matter if you’ve sat down and decided that you or your friends would never hurt a woman. It isn’t your right to sit down and discuss the merits of posting on social media, the reliability of the 97% figure, or whether it’s “your place” to ally with women and speak out against harassment. It doesn’t matter if this has personally impacted you or someone close to you, it doesn’t have to be your mother or sister or female friend, you should just care about other people. This isn’t a hypothetical concept up for debate: this is the lived experience of 97% of women and right now your only job is to listen. As Margaret Atwood said: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.” If we ask you to help, consider that it might be because you have more power to do so, consider that your male friends might listen to you before they listen to us, consider that the world has let this be the case for far too long, and consider that this is an act of survival for us, and not us “complaining about” or “attacking” men.
We don’t want to be scared to leave our houses in the dark. We don’t want to have to rip out our hair in taxis to make sure there’s DNA evidence there in case the worst should happen. We don’t want to be approached in the gym during a work-out. We don’t want you to explain something to us if we haven’t asked you to explain it. We don’t want to be catcalled – no, it’s not a compliment. We don’t want to have to always ask our friends to let us know when they get home safe. We don’t want to be shouted at in the streets in our school uniforms. We don’t want you to place your hand on our back when you’re moving along at the bar. We don’t want you to send us unsolicited pictures of your dicks. We don’t want to be told to smile more. We don’t want to be afraid of the world, and we don’t want to be harassed and assaulted. We’ve told you this a countless number of times. Why are you not listening to us?
We put up ribbons peacefully, we light candles for our dead, and we beg for you to listen to us, and every time you choose to hold us down instead.