I’m going to put a blanket content warning for this blog post – TW/CW: sexual assault, sexual harassment, violence against women.
Social media and the news have not been the most welcoming places recently with the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard and the backlash this has caused. If these issues trouble you, please feel free to stop reading, make a cup of tea, and look after yourself! This is a good article to read on how to support yourself after facing triggering information:
And if you do want to carry on reading, it’s a long one, so maybe make a cup tea regardless.
No one actually thinks “all men”. We know not all men are bad. We know that for many of us, our fathers, brothers, boyfriends and friends are good men. But we also know that 97% of women* between the ages of 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed, while 80% of women of all ages have been sexually harassed . But what qualifies as sexual harassment? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment for the UN as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature”. It also gives a list of behaviours which are sexual harassment. I would really encourage you to read this (referenced below), because there are a lot of behaviours on there that you might do every day without realising that it is classified a harassment. A few are;
- Pressuring someone to go on a date with you
- Sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions
- Referring to an adult female as a ‘girl’, ‘doll’, ‘babe’ or ‘honey’
- Staring at someone
- Blowing kisses or winking
You might read this and think these things are totally harmless, which in some cases, is absolutely true. The key to whether or not these behaviours are harassment, is consent. If your girlfriend likes the pet-name ‘babe’, you are well within your right to call her babe. If your girlfriend genuinely likes to be called a ‘slag’, you can call her a slag. If your girlfriend likes to be called any nice/neutral/offensive term under the sun, you can call her these things, with her consent. Just because you perceive calling a woman ‘doll’ or ‘honey’ as warm terms of endearment, does not make it automatically a compliment for the woman if she has not consented to those names. And the same goes for all genders and sexual identities. If in doubt, call a person by their chosen name. There’s a time and a place for pet names, so use your common sense.
I think common sense is key in all of these situations. Of course, when you’re at a bar for example, flirting your heart out with a woman you fancy and she is liking your vibes and flirting back, a wink is harmless, even attractive. Maybe she makes a sexual innuendo to let you know she is comfortable with some sort of sexual advancement, and you laugh at her joke, because you also consent to that kind of conversation. The night goes well and you end up sleeping together - you both consented and had a lovely old time. Congratulations! You’ve just had an acceptable human interaction! Every step of the way you knew the other was comfortable in the environment you created, and there was never any obligation for the other to do something they may be uncomfortable with. However, later on that day, you are driving along and see a woman waiting at a bus stop. You pull up beside her, roll down your window and wink at her. Why not? The woman at the bar yesterday liked it! The difference is, this woman just wants to get on her bus and go home. She is not interested in you or your winking. You see she is carrying a few shopping bags, and offer to be generous and give her a lift home. That’s a nice guy move! But she ignores you, maybe puts in some headphones or makes a phone call to a friend. You drive on, feeling a bit deflated that your flirting tactics didn’t work this time. What is the difference in these situations? Both times, you believe you behaved in a similar way - some flirting, winking, even a generous offer of a ride home. The first situation is a good night out, while the second situation is sexual harassment, defined only by the context of the situation and the consent of the woman.
You might think, can men even be nice anymore without fear of being called harassers?!? Of course you can! But maybe think of your behaviours like this: if you are a heterosexual male, would you offer to give a lift home to a male stranger at a bus stop? If the answer is no, but you would offer to give a strange woman a lift home, maybe consider your intentions behind this ‘good deed’, and why you perceive your good deed to be dependent on whether or not you could fancy the recipient.
In the wake of the tragic kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard, there has been a lot of talk on social media. She was walking home from a friends house when she was taken. I think for a lot of young women this hit particularly hard because walking home from a friend’s house at night is something we have all done. And I can guarantee that the thought of being kidnapped, sexually assaulted or murdered will have crossed our minds on this walk home. The difference with Sarah, is that it actually happened to her, even though she was doing all the ‘right’ things to prevent this situation from arising. Sarah only chose to walk down busy, well-lit roads, and she called a friend to say she was on her way home. It can be really difficult to convey to men the feeling that women get when walking anywhere alone, particularly at night but during the day as well. I saw a TikTok which gave an analogy which I thought most accurately conveys the feeling of vulnerability, and I apologise because I do not know the name of the original poster, but all credit goes to them. Imagine you go to the bank and you withdraw your entire life’s savings in cash, and hold it in your hands (if you struggle with the concept of money, think of your prized possession that you would really struggle to live without). Now, you walk down a busy street, holding your wads of cash out in front of you. People are looking at you weirdly, because why are you holding all that money? People eye you up as you pass them, you notice everyone glancing greedily at the money in your hands. You know that at any moment, someone could try and take that money from you. Everyone you pass is a threat, because anyone could make a lunge for your money. This feeling of being exposed, vulnerable and helpless is something that women** feel every time we leave the house. There are things we do to try and prevent someone from taking our metaphorical money, like changing our routes to stick to well-lit busier roads, carrying something that could be used as a defence weapon (I remember in my school days I used to carry my hockey stick when walking to and from the tube station to my house every morning and evening, even though I hated hockey and never played it. Generally it’s things like keys or a small pocket knife though), having headphones in but not listening to music so we can be aware of our surroundings, constantly looking over our shoulders, showing as little skin as possible on the journey and changing clothes at our destination (like for a party, for example), wearing shoes that are easy to run in, avoiding lifts and stairwells, sending our locations to friends so they know where we are, and so many more examples. These are things that are so instinctual that we don’t even think about them any more. Which is crazy in itself! Something that I feel I have to highlight with this analogy though, is that even if someone does try to take your money from you, you might put up a fight until one of you backs down, but generally you’ll leave pretty unscathed. There is so much more that is taken from women on a daily basis than just money - belongings, sex, sexual favours, freedom, sense of self, mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, futures, and lives. And that is not as easily quantifiable as just imagining losing your life savings in a hypothetical situation.
Speaking of hypothetical situations, the loss of Sarah Everard and the conversations surrounding it lead to Baroness Jenny Jones “not entirely seriously” suggesting a 6pm curfew for men. Let me preface that this was NEVER a genuine suggestion, and if you were one of the men who was so deeply offended by the notion of a curfew for you, then I’m sorry to say that you missed the point of this argument. Baroness Jones was merely saying that “nobody makes a fuss when, for example, the police suggest women stay home. But when I suggest it, men are up in arms. I was just trying to highlight that when the police victim blame by asking women to stay home, we don’t react. We just think it’s normal.”. It was very interesting to me to see such uproar that this kind of comment sparked. Complaints of a curfew for men being an intensely sexist rule, that will deeply disrupt the lives of men everywhere - good men and bad men. So you agree with us? It is ridiculous to have such drastic restrictions placed on you simply because of your gender? That’s what women are saying too! Women are told to adjust their behaviour every single day in order to stay safe from all men. No one would ever dream of placing a 6pm curfew on all men because of the inconvenience this would cause for them, but when it comes to women, unfortunately inconvenience doesn’t matter.
The outrage on social media and in real life that #curfewformen caused in a way, was positive, because it started conversations around a topic that hasn’t really been talked about until this past week. However, in my opinion, the anger was misdirected. Where was this anger when Sarah Everard disappeared? Where was this anger when there were sexual assaults near to campus? When a woman was killed in Exeter? When news of rapes and assaults and harassment are on the news every day? When women are told to not go out alone at night? No. There was only anger when the day-to-day lives of men could have been disrupted. Otherwise, their silence has been very loud.
It’s ‘not all men’ until it’s your own daughter, and then it’s;
“No boys until you’re eighteen!”
“I’m gonna have a word with that young man and see what his intentions are!”
“I know boys better than you do, I know what boys are like, I know what they are capable of.”
Oh really? I thought it wasn’t all men? I thought all of your mates were sound and would never treat a woman badly? There is clearly a disparity between the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment, and the number of men who don’t know any harassers.
So, men everywhere, please talk to your friends about this. Think about the steps you can take to become better allies to women. I’ve had conversations with some of the men in my life which have been wonderful - they’ve asked me what can they do to appear less threatening to a woman walking alone at night, what they can do to educate their friends and colleagues. There’s many good Instagram threads about this which I will reference below if you’d like to learn more . This is such a difficult issue. It has been totally mentally exhausting on social media recently, seeing all these events unfold and dealing with these conversations around it. I think women feel a duty and an obligation to educate those around them about these issues, which is frankly admirable. However, it is so important to remember that statistic from the beginning of this post. 97% of women ages 18-24 have been victims of sexual harassment. While some may find arguing about these issues manageable, the vast majority of people may not. You never know someone else’s history with an issue, you never know their personal story. This is stuff that can be so, so difficult to talk about, especially if you are a survivor yourself.
Therefore, all I ask for the time being is that everyone just listens. Listen to the women who voice their concerns, believe the women who share their stories. A huge fear of so many survivors is not being taken seriously, being told they’re only doing this for ‘attention’, or that they just want to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ of this movement. So often, women are not believed for sharing their feelings - take the very recent example of Meghan Markle saying she was driven close to suicide by the Royal Family, and Piers Morgan publicly stating his disbelief. If a woman decides to share her story with you, listen to her, provide a supportive ear, believe what she is telling you, and definitely do not respond with “not all men”. This has the same energy as saying ‘all lives matter’ in response to a Black Lives Matter issue.
Men commit 90% of all murders, 87% of all violent crime and 97% of all sexual assaults . So while it is definitely ‘not all men’, it is enough men. Of course not all men are bad, but not all men stand up for women when they see sexual violence occurring, or stand up to their mate who told a sexual joke. Not all men go out of their way to make sure a woman gets home safe, not all men can say they definitely asked for consent, not all men don’t touch a women’s waist or back when moving past them. Not all men haven’t beeped their car horn at a passing woman, not all men haven’t cat-called women. Not all men can recognise their privilege and understand our fear. Not all men can say that they are going learn and do better. So yes, not all men. That is the problem.
Here are a list of resources pertaining to the issues brought up in this blog, do not hesitate to contact them if necessary.
1) University of Exeter Student Nightline - open 8pm-1am every night of term to listen. We are non-judgmental and non-advisory. Wherever you are with this situation/journey, we are here to support YOU, without fear of judgment.
Instant messenger service: https://www.exeter.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk
2) Galop - specialist helpline for LGBT+ people who have experienced hate crime, domestic abuse or sexual violence.
Email: [email protected]
3) Male Survivors Alliance - help and information to male victims/survivors or sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation.
4) ManKind Initiative - support to male victims of domestic abuse.
5) NAPAC - support to adult survivors of all types of childhood abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.
Email: [email protected]
6) National Domestic Abuse Helpline - free and confidential support to victims of domestic abuse and those who are worried about friends or loved ones.
7) NSPCC/Childline - free and confidential advice and support.
8) Rape Crisis England and Wales - specialist support services to women and girls who have experiences sexual violence.
9) Respect - domestic abuse organisation which runs a confidential helpline for men and women who are harming those around them, as well as a helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them.
Email: [email protected]
10) Revenge Porn Helpline - supporting adults who are experiencing intimate image abuse.
Email: [email protected]
11) Safeline - service for men and boys affected by rape or sexual abuse.
12) Southall Black Sisters - provide specialist information, advice, counselling and self-help support in several languages for victims of domestic and gender related violence.
13) Stay Safe East - specialist and holistic advocacy and support to disabled people who are victims of domestic or sexual violence.
Email: [email protected]
14) Suzy Lamplugh Trust - practical information, support and advice to victims of stalking.
15) The Survivors Trust - confidential information, advice and support for people who have experienced rape and sexual violence.
Email: [email protected]
16) Women’s Aid - support for women who are experiencing or have experienced physical, mental, sexual or domestic violence or abuse.
Email: [email protected]
* - when I use the term ‘women’, I mean it inclusive to everyone who self-identifies as female.
** - I am using the term ‘women’ here due to the context of this post being about the sexual harassment of women, however I by no means diminish the feeling of vulnerability that other groups of society may feel when out and about.
 - Almost all young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, survey finds | Sexual harassment | The Guardian [Internet]. [cited 2021 Mar 13]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/10/almost-all-young-women-in-the-uk-have-been-sexually-harassed-survey-finds
By Serena Shakshir