The death of Sarah Everard, a Durham alumnus, has shaken us. It would be wrong to say it has shocked us – every girl knows the risks that our streets pose for her, at night and in the day – but the horror that took place in London on 3rd March has inspired us to take to social media to vent our anger at and raise awareness about the mistreatment of girls and women on a day-to-day basis.
I say ‘our’, but that’s not strictly true: there has been a dearth of male attention directed towards this issue. As a guy who has had his female friends tell him their horror stories time and time again, I felt I should call on lads to do that bit better, because our taking responsibility is the best – and easiest – way to a solution.
Now, of course, posting on social media isn’t everyone’s way of responding to crises. It can be seen as virtue signalling and lacking depth. What is most important to take away from this is that we (guys, lads, fellas, men) listen to girls and women about the violence and harassment they have gone through, without becoming all defensive and reactionary. We must do better to make the world a safer place for all girls and women to live in, free from sexual violence and harassment.
I have had too many of my female friends tell me over the past few years about what they’ve gone through – what I hear will surely be the tip of the iceberg. Experiencing sexist jibes, catcalling on the streets, groping and non-consensual kissing in clubs, rape – it all stems from the same attitude that a woman purpose is to fulfil men’s sexual desires, to a greater or lesser degree.
However, the line at which lads’ behaviour becomes unacceptable lands way before that sliding scale of ‘seriousness’ outlined above, as all of these experiences can have a lasting impact on girls’ and women’s sense of self-worth and confidence. Lads, we really need to get this in our heads.
Every time I hear a new story – and every girl has their own – it breaks my heart that people are being treated this way, having their boundaries crossed, boundaries that no one, regardless of gender, would want crossing. But these boundaries are crossed relentlessly by so many men day in day out. And it makes me feel ashamed if I’m honest, that we live in a world where women are treated as objects of our desire.
The behaviour of men has a horrendous impact on the lives and futures of women, that you don’t realise. You don’t realise until you have had the directly experiences retold to you, or seen the impact on a woman’s life for yourself, which I have, which is heart-breaking.
I’m not trying to sit on a high horse now, of course, I’ve crossed the line. I’ve said misogynistic things, and probably will at some point say similar again – it’s in some ways inevitable, it just slips out when you’re with your mates – but that doesn’t make it acceptable. What matters is our being more conscious of what we say and do and pledge to be better next time. We need to embrace a humble masculinity that makes space for female suffering.
You might say that sexist jibes are just jokes, just words, but at the end of the day they often make girls feel insecure, the same insecurity that catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment and violence cause. If we allow ourselves to make girls feel insecure verbally, how long is it before it becomes acceptable to do so physically? It’s a slippery, sliding slope.
So, my basic point is, lads: we need to be more vigilant of what we say and do. Avoid using sexist language, don’t catcall, don’t make girls uncomfortable on the streets, or do things they don’t want doing to them in clubs. These are things so easy not to do.
Also, be active. Make the streets feel a safer place for women, especially at night: keep some distance when nearby, and walk alongside your female friends if they ask you to.
Believe women if and when they say they have been sexually assaulted or harassed. Believing on the spot has been proven to be the best course of action – it’s how professionals operate, and so should we all. It does more damage to not believe, and the claim be true, than to believe and the claims be false, since the latter is the case only for a minority of allegations.
Let’s make sure the next generation of girls and women don’t experience the suffering that is experienced and has been experienced for a time too long to remember. Come on lads, it’s a men’s problem, let’s treat it so.
Photograph: Claude Ando