We talk about mental health and wellbeing so often now that it’s hard to imagine a world where conversations were scarce. Similarly, in the last week, we’ve been talking about women’s safety much more – due to the extremely sad incident of Sarah Everard’s murder – and I, for one, think this conversation needs to continue until it’s normalised. At the same time, we need to remember to take into account the mental health of those men who would never be violent or disrespectful to a woman. Let’s not tarnish all men with the same brush and be conscious of sounding like we are.
As a woman who has lived in London her whole life, it’s hard to think about the precautions my traditional Asian parents constantly told me to take to make sure I was safe and protect myself wherever I am, no matter who I’m with. It’s definitely important to be “street-wise” but whether I’d define myself as that is another matter altogether. Do I know how to protect myself under every eventuality? Probably not. Am I more vigilant when I’m alone or with a group of female friends? Yes. Am I worried when making my way home if I’ve been out a bit late as to whether I’ll be safe until I get home? Yes. I don’t usually walk home but is being in a taxi safer? Not really. I think I’m a little more trusting that “nothing bad will happen” than my parents are but they have more life experience than me. At the same time, I was adamant that I didn’t want to be that person who was scared to do anything “in case something happens”. That’s not how I want to ever live my life.
This Sarah Everard case has, however, literally made my heart sink. Not only was she simply only walking home, she was kidnapped by a serving police officer who has since been charged with her murder. This is heartwrenchingly incomprehensible. A police officer, even if off duty, is someone that has gone through all sorts of clearance to get to that position. For him to then do something to an innocent young woman is beyond my understanding and definitely beyond any ethics I believe in. And that’s where I start struggling, pretty much like many women I’ve spoken to. There’s a level of (blind) trust you have for a police officer. They are supposed to make sure you’re protected and safe. What chance do us women have if suddenly the ones who are supposed to be in a position of protection and trust begin to commit such heinous things? I can’t even begin to think. It’s knocked me for six, like many others I know.
To put another spin on this, I’ve been really blessed with some of the most honest, genuine and good-hearted men in my life – as my friends and family – that I often don’t need to think twice about my own welfare because I know they’ve got me. I know they will have my back. I know they will come running whenever I need them. In stark contrast, how do we move forward and honour those type of men who would never lay a finger on a woman, but still have our wits about us around the general male species in different parts of our lives? Also, how do we make sure that we don’t fight for our safety so much that it starts affecting the mental health of those men who wouldn’t ever dream of harming another person, let alone a woman. It’s such difficult territory but territory we will need to cover over and over again in order for the fight to have any meaning at all.
As we try to take the steps to learn from the Everard case and make our voices heard about what would make us feel safe, we need to make sure it’s in the right way that makes the right changes. There’s so much other behaviour of “men” being called out on social media – behaviour in nightclubs, on the Underground, at work social events, etc. There are endless examples I’ve read of women being uncomfortable with male behaviour and sometimes addressing it on the spot or after or just not talking about it at all and keeping the “experience” to themselves. Social media is literally filled with these stories this week. It’s great to talk, really it is. But we need to make sure these conversations mean something. The hashtag #ReclaimTheStreets is proving to be a popular one on Twitter, and the resistance movement are organising vigils in Sarah’s memory.
As the national restrictions start easing, we are all looking forward to regaining some of our social lives. But with this incident happening at this time, it really remains to be seen what changes when we go a little back to normal. Will men automatically be more conscious of ensuring women around them feel safe? Will women be more forthcoming in making men understand the ways in which can make us feel safer? Will this go on to trigger a wider behaviourial change that affects both genders?
I really didn’t plan the way this blog has turned out. I just wrote to let out how I’m feeling about this. I feel sad like my heart has sunk but it affects all of us in some way or another. I’d be grateful for other people’s thoughts and opinions, as I know this is an important subject and turn of events.