To all the men who say they want to make women feel safer – here’s what to do

The heartbreaking death of Sarah Everard has suddenly changed the discourse around women’s safety. It’s men’s turn to do something about it

Bethany Dawson
Saturday 13 March 2021 14:10
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Government 'addressing' women's safety concerns following Sarah Everard disappearance

Finally, after what has genuinely been a lifetime of not knowing if we as women are safe to walk home, we are having a conversation about what men can do to help women feel safe. Is it too late? Yes. Should it have taken the horrific, heartbreaking death of Sarah Everard? No, of course it shouldn’t have.

Suddenly, the discourse has shifted. Before this point, we have existed within a system that allows men to go about their lives as normal, without concern and with the understanding that their being is neutral. Women, on the other hand, have had to constantly assess their outfits under the guise of a constructed notion of morality, have had to remember the well-lit routes home, and regularly trace the emergency call button of their phone.

Now, men have to do something.

What do you do? Well, firstly, stop assaulting women, and actively work to make sure women stop getting assaulted on such a widespread level.

Remember that touching a person without their consent is assault, being overtly sexual without consent is harassment, catcalling is harassment, and any penetrative sexual activity without consent isn’t sex: it’s rape.

Use these terms in your daily conversations, and use them to hold men to account. Don’t sugar-coat such discussions, because they’ve never been sweet to us.

Before I go on to address pieces of practical advice about supporting women, I’m wholeheartedly saying that men, this is not about you.

Conversations online centring along the lines of #NotAllMen are simply efforts to massage the egos of men who care more about their own representation than they do about the 97 per cent of women who have experienced harassment in this country. If your first point of discussion within these conversations is what we can do to make men feel better, then you are completely misguided as to how significantly the problem of assault affects 50 per cent of the population.

Rayner: Sarah Everard case will make women feel less safe

It’s not all men, but it’s enough to mean that we have no idea which ones it is anymore.

Men, you’re going to feel uncomfortable in these conversations. That makes sense, as I said before, it completely shifts the societal dynamic that you have benefitted from for literal lifetimes.

Frankly, deal with it. Women have been uncomfortable forever, you will have to simply bear with this. Your egos will not be massaged while we pour our hearts out in an effort to get you to finally listen to us.

For the genuine bits of advice for the safety of women, the main thing you need to do is talk to the women in your life. Respect that some may be too tired to teach you this, but if they’re not, talk to them about what you can do for them.

Women are not one homogenous group. Personal experiences and wants for support will differ. Some women will want your support by, for example, crossing the street if you’re behind them, and others will want you to overtake them.

Additionally, while available data often fails at painting an intersectional picture for us, we do know that the experiences of ethnic minority women, trans women, queer women and white women all differ. This is why it is important to have these conversations with all the women in your life, because we are all treated differently.

What you can genuinely do, though, aside from having these conversations and listening to women, includes ensuring that you make yourself as visible as possible when you’re walking down a street. This may sound odd, but ensuring that you’re identifiable – and couldn’t be thought to surreptitiously be following a woman – will genuinely help us feel safe.

Secondly, where you can, offer to walk with your friends instead of letting them go alone. One of the things I would love nothing more to do is walk through a moonlit city with music blasting through my headphones, but that’s not safe. What is safe, is accompanying women to let them know they have support.

Also, don’t stare at us. This feels absurd to verbalise, but this is a ridiculously common occurrence – a man staring at you, refusing to break his gaze, maybe because he thinks it’s alluring. It’s not. It’s creepy and intimidating.

Finally, as I’ve said before, call out the other men in your life who are seen to do these things. Being an ally means being an active bystander, not just reading an article and retweeting an infographic.

I’m purposely keeping this guidance relatively vague because, as previously mentioned, all women want and need different support mechanisms. However, the main thing is to stop focusing on your feelings. There is a time and a place to make sure we are going out of our way to support men, and making sure they feel good about themselves. That time is not now.

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