I have hemmed and hawed over whether it’s my place to wade into the recently unfolding events in Britain in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard. In the two weeks since the 33-year-old woman vanished as she walked home alone, the media attention has been extraordinary, not only in reporting the facts of the case, but the resulting societal fallout. Legions of women have been sharing their experiences of attacks great and small, gathering to memorialize Everard (including the Duchess of Cambridge) and express outrage at having to move through a constantly predatory world.
It is crystal clear that women are unable to function in our society without fear. This has always been true, but Everard’s murder has compounded the injustice of an ongoing asymmetry between the sexes specifically when it comes to aggression, positioning women as prospective victims who must safeguard themselves. News of Everard’s disappearance was a piercing and depressing reiteration that women’s safety mechanisms are insufficient. That someone like Everard, who did the right thing (wearing bright clothing, sticking to main roads, taking out her ear pods), was still susceptible to male violence, that her personal safety strategy was ultimately meaningless. And that’s part of the anger here, I think. That rape alarms aren’t deterring enough. That texting when you get home doesn’t provide any kind of security. That some of the cab drivers who ferry you to sanctuary can be predators themselves. With a Metropolitan policeman charged with the murder, our pillars of protection are further disintegrating. Who do you turn to in trouble if it’s the police who cause the offense? Whatever you do, men will find a way. What does it ultimately take for women to be safe?
The focus immediately shifted from keeping women safe to stopping men from attacking. A repositioning of language is an essential step—reframing male violence as male violence, rather than violence against women—but it doesn’t staunch the bleeding, in the same way that not referring to people as “colored” didn’t pacify racism. A rather woke feminist man talked sense on BBC News, and was retweeted into my feed as evidence of a “good man”—only to be immediately accused of sexual misdemeanors by previous lovers.
We all live in a patriarchy, a society built around male pleasure and desire, where even the smallest flexes of male entitlement go unchallenged. I don’t want to give you a beginner’s course in feminism—it’s not my place—but male violence doesn’t start with attacking at night, it begins in a climate that caters predominantly to men’s needs and allows them to exercise their toxic tendencies. The British government has offered more lighting on darkened backstreets, as if it’s the dark women are afraid of, not the men lurking within it. It’s also worth mentioning here that 80% of male violence in the U.K. is perpetrated by someone known to the victim, usually a domestic partner, not a stranger in the shadows. It’s true, of course, that not all men rape or physically assault, but all men participate in the continual function of great male privilege, myself included.