I Feel So Angry: Woman Goes For a Walk and Can’t
My personal reflections on the tragic and terrible Sarah Everard case
I feel increasingly angry about the terrible Sarah Everard case. Woman walks home and can’t. I’m annoyed, that like so many others, my first thoughts were ‘why was she walking at 9pm?’ ‘Why was she alone?’ ‘What was she wearing?’ ‘Why did she walk through Clapham Common?’ ‘What was she doing out at night during a Lockdown?’ ‘Why was she wearing headphones?’ ‘What route did she take?’ ‘Why didn’t she get a taxi or an Uber home?’ and so on and so on….
Yet these thoughts should really be met with ‘so what?’ Why shouldn’t a man or woman be walking home at 9pm (which isn’t really that late and on a work night) dressed for walking and even wearing headphones, during a Lockdown, when there should be less people around anyway; and even if not, be able to go unmolested about their business whatever the time or day. If it was a different case and she was drunk and wearing the tightest, shortest skirt for an evening out — so what? Go about your business unmolested. These why, what, when thoughts are so blaming and unhelpful because these are the thoughts women have all the time. Even if you jump in a car and drive everywhere; even if you cycle…And if the legal system proves to be true an abuse of someone’s trust and position and authority….
But she didn’t. She dressed for walking, in a mask, in flat running shoes. She let someone know where she was. She chose a lit paved route around the Common area, busy with traffic. Sarah’s terrible experience has been triggering. I experienced a mild case of intimidation by a guy on a bike blocking my path a few weeks ago. It is upsetting as I regularly use the area as it’s got high footfall and an onsite security patrol around — it felt safe. I felt like I was going to be attacked, even if the guy was only messing. Thankfully his friend called him off and away, but it left me worrying about being stalked and my home location known as I live locally to the location of the incident. It’s the first time I’ve experienced something on that level and it’s shaken my confidence — even if in a sense nothing happened. I have reported it, but the CCTV is bad in that area and only got things at a distance. As the CCTV is bad, and it may be a game to target the lone Boris sponsored walking woman they think is odd or good to bait, I’ve changed where I walk, the time I walk and avoid going to this area unless it’s really busy and a different time of day. Unfortunately it pushes me instead onto a cut through path which is bush and tree surrounded, a known area for assault and though busier during the day, people don’t distance well — it’s more problematic than a paved, security lit campus. But safer?
My incident, and though Sarah’s incident may be an extreme example, has left me thinking about all those for whom something has or did happen; even the reporting of it where you have to fill out details. It’s also made me review life really, the locality I live in and the kind of community I want to be a part of and live in — really accelerated the thoughts I’ve been having since Lockdown 1.0 anyway.
In my city (of Southampton) I think we have a problem — I and other women have regularly experienced men shouting at us…in the street, from cars and vans; a man felt he could tell me his thoughts on the size of my chest as he walked towards me (getting right up in my face to do so); whistling and shouting from building sites and scaffolding; honking from cars and vans (which normally makes me jump spectacularly); experienced men walking too fast behind us — speeding up as we speed up or unexpectedly cycle past too close; walked home alone at night or during the day; had to fuss to get a lift back at night from a friend; worried about who was around us or walking towards us; worried if we were going to get a lift home; worried about the Taxis we were getting into and if the person driving them would actually get us home; being alarmed as GPS maps take us into darkened alleys and underpasses as the quickest route, down isolated roads or cut out in an unfamiliar area when we need them most, and fidgeted waiting for late night buses at empty stops, especially at weekends with a lot of drunk people around. It is noticeable when I go to central London or Edinburgh I do not experience the level of hooting, shouting, chest commenting that I experience in Southampton — it just doesn’t happen on the same scale. It is a relief! I may be in the wrong area, but seriously?!!!
Not only does Southampton have an issue with shouty, hooty men (which masks have to a great extent blocked); but it also has an issue with who can be on its streets or who is welcome here. People of Asian culture and appearance are egged by passing cars as they wait at bus stops; asked for money; told to go ‘home’ (Portwood? Highfield? Bitterne?) and beaten up as alleged COVID spreaders. It is ugly. Yet these same people are contributing to our local society, economy, culture and education systems, not to mention our knowledge and skills economy. But we don’t appreciate them, and perhaps the same with women.
We do need to be aware that statistically men are more likely to be attacked than women; that there is men on men sexual violence, and that women can abuse too, and be sexually violent. I am not man bashing here, nor am I advocating that girls run the world. But out of my experience, suddenly I feel the experiences of so many others, and things have to change. Our culture is ugly — on the bus teenagers (male and female) casually throw around the language of rape and porn like it’s nothing…. Out of my experiences (tho very mild) I’ve became very body conscious; but the more I tried to cover up, the more I got the comments and hooting — what to do? I use my government sanctioned walks to break up screen time — most of my friends don’t live locally or are locked down with families and work — I can’t force someone to walk with me as an escort/security every time I want to go for a walk or leave the house. And I must admit that I don’t go for a walk as much as I used to now purely because of not feeling safe — the incident happened on a light evening at twilight in the early evening. I had gone for a longer walk deliberately to enjoy the lighter evening and was….walking home. I’ve found a place which is seemingly safer to walk around and less busy than nearby parkland, but it is a longer walk. If I want some sun and to read my book or get some fresh air, my garden doesn’t work because I don’t really get sun where I want it until the summer; my neighbours one side are involved in ongoing DIY — they pretty much have a sawmill in their shed, and the three families around me can be quite screamy a lot of the time, as well as my neighbours’ dog barking at me everytime I move in the garden or the house. Noise reducing headphones help and atleast it’s not a party house, and if I had a family myself, I doubt I’d notice; but after a now resolved anti-social noise incident, I’ve become really sensitive to noise and just want to get away from the DIY, road and tree fixing, building works, traffic and lost Fast and Furious booming — (those who are confused thinking Southampton is LA?!!!) So sit inside with all the doors and windows shut? and wait for Lockdown to end, so I can go to civilised Winchester instead or force friends to walk with me? The thought of having to have an app or carrying an alarm everywhere I go is in itself alarming….
What can we do? Educate our sons, but also educate our men who are setting the example for our boys and young men. I used to think that #MeToo was exaggerated and that the reports and statistics were too high — but after my incident, I’m no longer so sure….Does it mean men can’t talk to women at all — well, why do you need to ‘talk’ to a woman if this is what happens? I’d love to see men with influence and power speaking out more — great that Boris Johnson has said something and Marcus Rashford too, but at a local level… I’d love to see this discussed in churches, not just amongst students and 20 somethings, but everyone and without caveats. Normally when we discuss something hard in church; we look around the room where all the nice, good people are and say ‘well, I’m sure it wouldn’t happen here’. And perhaps that caveat, (tho well meant), is entirely why it does; we look away from what is happening in society and culture, because it doesn’t happen to ‘us’, or we’re not sure of the politics surrounding the issue. Sometimes too the way women are discussed and described, encouraged to dress or not dress, and behave in church settings is not helpful either. I’d like to see a change through discussion — whole church, not just sections. I’d like to see leaders saying from the front, and as a united front, that this is not acceptable and taking a stand to actively and practically come alongside — both on the who is ‘welcome’ in our city issue and who we respect, and how we respect them. Church can also be very freeing in terms of gender and race if done well.
Look out for the lone women and men walkers around you — give space, especially if you are a couple chatting or holding hands, a scooting, cycling family or walking a dog! But make sure they’re ok, and be prepared to intervene, shouting out a name as though you’ve recognised someone, even if it doesn’t work or your intervention isn’t wanted. Don’t match steps or pace, slow down — drop back, and really remove yourself by obviously crossing the street, or give warning if you’re going to cycle past. Really, really don’t latch onto a lone female walker or runner — let them go past and out of sight! Don’t give funny looks if a woman crosses the street if you’re a group of guys or a lone man — especially in the dark or badly lit streets. Stop honking, hooting, shouting, commenting — these are not compliments, but creepy, and keep your hands to yourself. Look briefly, don’t stare, smile briefly, move on — be human acknowledging humanity, but don’t be creepy! Don’t make a fuss if a woman doesn’t want the chair or door you offer, although personally I love a door being held opened for me. It’s personal choice though and not an affront. Building sites have done it and no longer shout, holler and whistle, so why not commercially and privately owned van drivers, builders et al? Be aware of space and navigation access — don’t block pathways — either outside or inside, in groups, with your backs or with your bikes — allow women coming into buildings and rooms and anywhere clear view pathways, and clear access paths. It can be really akward coming into a room (even a church setting when it is allowed) to noisy groups of tall guys with their backs to you, blocking immediate space around doorways — in and out of the building, and having to sort of push past. Or men standing together around doorways who don’t smile but just look as you walk towards them — less welcoming and more gatekeeper. You don’t have to cheesey grin like an American President, but atleast smile with your eyes or relax the super serious expression! It does feel like a ‘you shalt not pass’ moment. When parking a car, especially on a street at night, slow down and obviously indicate — suddenly pulling up alongside can make me feel like I’m about to be pulled into a car. Be a friend to non-drivers — make sure they have a safe way of getting home without feeling akward (particularly if you are a lone man with a car offering a lift); either offer a few people a lift or if they are the only one, give them the choice of sitting up front of in the back without being strange about it. Offer to wait and watch them walk in — don’t just drive off immediately and assume that they are inside ok. If a lift is akward, see them into a Taxi or Uber, or watch them walk/cycle off and offer to a be a text buddy (if they don’t already have one) that they can let you know that they got home ok. Don’t make a drama about it — if you are the host of something, be kind and see it as an extension of your party/dinner/coffee host duties. Be aware of who might need a lift there and back in advance and try and work out safe, trustworthy lift buddies. In churches promote emotional intelligence — it can be that what is meant to be community and family ends up being terribly segregated by age, gender and status. Some Christian brothers need a Christian guy to come alongside and lovingly reign them in — cos every time a Christian woman speaks to them, she’s the one, and a simple gesture of friendliness and greeting can be misinterpreted big time and stalking unintentionally promoted. This can work both ways though so we need to be careful, kind and clear. Unmarried women can be treated as a walking temptress by both married men and women which can lead to terrible isolation — again, be careful, but be kind. If brother/sisterhood between Christians were emphasised more as well as being in the family of God and image bearers, some of this weirdness might not happen so much as we might be more people/God orientated and less focused on age/status/life stage, and relate more normally with each other.
Above all, see a sister — someone’s daughter, mother, granny, aunty, friend, loved one, a created being, a human being, a colleague — not breasts on legs or a walking bomb. It’s much more than just consent, but how we think about each other and enjoy the gender differences and shared humanity and created image bearing. Be much nicer to those who are coming to contribute to our economy and skills base at this time, especially when we’ve had one of the highest COVID levels. Be excellent to each other!
I am really thankful for the men I know — most are not rapists, creepy or perverts but most definitely Team Bingley! But having grown up in a situation of domestic violence within my family I am perhaps more sensitive than some to men coming too close, room layouts and scenarios, and tone, too vigilant of who is around me and what they are doing or might be about to do, over analysing mood changes and what that might lead to. In thinking about this, I think men (especially the literal good guys and decent men) need to take a lead because, for too long, women have been trying to adapt themselves to deal with unacceptable behaviours.
And if it was safe and legal (?) to do so, I would march or join a local vigil, I feel so strongly about this issue. Every woman (and indeed man) has the right to walk home at night safely!