Women speak out

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The vast majority of women report having experienced harassment or assault

I would like to continue the debate that Seana Lanigan started with her article last week. Like so many women I have had many experiences – on the trains going to work in London and in the streets – of harassment and feeling danger around me.

One example looking back was in a small restaurant in Putney. I was working as a manager talking to people, many locals, and dealing with the wine. There was a table with three couples and one of the men thought it was OK to stroke my leg. A certain look told him what I thought, but of course often we women don’t want to make a fuss, especially at work or on crowded trains. It is embarrassing.

Another experience, a man was beating up a woman in broad daylight. People walked past afraid to get involved. I intervened as I could not stand by.

While women possibly feel safer here in Rye and other small towns like ours, as someone said, in response to Seana’s article, she would not walk at night down Harbour Road and nor would I, though having lived in Rye Harbour with no street lights, I did feel safe within the actual village.

Matthew’s male view

The Times (March 20) had an article by Matthew Parris explaining one man’s point of view which made me think. He suggests:” The single act of this brutal killing (on Clapham Common) is not a dark parable about male attitudes.” He does acknowledge the threat women feel and thinks that harassment, rape, assault and domestic abuse is unacceptable, as  it is when a boy or man grabs a women’s thigh under the table. He also realizes that others seeing it, should confront the mate/friend.

However, he does not believe that this killing has anything to teach us about commonplace male attitudes and impulses, nor that it is a reflection on men as a gender, or that the streets are generally unsafe. I disagree. It tells us that at any time a woman could be in danger whatever she wears. There are many other cases of male abuse on the street, or domestic abuse, which are not reported, but are happening none the less.

This particular killing woke women up from putting up with the underlying suggestion that for some men they are fair game as they see women as objects. No doubt many men have been nauseated by this story and do not want to be tarnished with the attitudes of the few. But the many stories of women over the decades bear witness that something needs to change. I marched many years ago to protest against violence against women yet here we are in 2021 and we still have to fight it.

We need systemic and political change. Did not parliament a few years ago investigate some MPs’ behaviour towards female staff and then the report was was buried soon after? More importantly, social change is needed in attitudes. It should start at home with how the father treats the mother and within the early education environment in school.

Education can help shape attitudes

Teach young boys to see girls as equals and teach girls that they can speak up if they feel put upon by boys, so that both grow up respecting each other as human beings. But the many crime dramas on television, mostly showing a woman killed in horrible circumstances, do not help.

There is response from quite a few men who say something like “there are more deaths of young men than young women and  boys/males are also abused.” This is absolutely true but, again, most of the time those deaths and that abuse is perpetrated by men. And, yes, domestic abuse towards men is also true, but the higher percentage is towards women.

It is, and will be, an ongoing debate I hope, so change can happen and the next young generation of women will lose the fear of owning the streets as men do. And by the way, the calling out of abusive behaviour, physical or verbally, is a duty for all of us whether it is sexist or racist because, if we don’t, as an individual/society we become part of the problem.

Image Credits: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay .

1 COMMENT

  1. This is such a big issue, Heidi, and I guess the solution is definitely to be found in recognising society’s enduring problem, discussing it and trying to implement solutions – and that might be a generational problem rather than one that can be found, say, during the life of a parliament. I say it’ll take time, not bcs I’d be happy to see the can kicked down the road, but bcs the attitudes that underpin violence against women are so deeply ingrained. The shorthand phrase is ‘the patriarchy’. It’s a phrase I used to roll my eyes at, but the more you think about it, the more abundantly obvious it is that our society is built upon male primacy. It hides in plain sight and influences the way men and women think about themselves and present themselves every second of the day. The more you reflect upon it, the more glaringly obvious it is. (I’m always surprised we have a clothing brand marketed at young girls called, “Pretty Little Thing”. How many more objectifying, diminutive and almost de-humanising words can be fitted into one name?!) As somebody implied in the other great thread, however, part of the problem is to get all men to recognise there’s a problem. That’s probably going to sound a bit ‘woke’ to some, but perhaps marriage and fatherhood assists with this evolution – especially for those of us who have daughters.
    Lastly, part of this process of change is to protect women, but part of it is to empower them too. Making women afraid to live, almost afraid to leave the house, isn’t part of the solution, I think. The fear of crime is hugely magnified. What happened to Sara Everard, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and others, is not common. It’s too many tragedies, but it’s extremely rare. Young women shouldn’t shrink from life. Indeed, both women and men need to grow.

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