I see the smiling face of a young woman, whose name will lodge uneasily in my memory, perhaps long after I remember that it is there because she was murdered. I wish I could do something, save her, hold her hand. There is no way to react that seems appropriate, there is no correct response.
But there are many unwieldy, uncomfortable feelings. Sadness, anger, hopelessness. And these all return, in a different guise as a response to the reactions of media and the punters that suck and spout it. I feel again, sadness, anger, hopelessness, and mostly a weary rage.
There is one particular media response that I want to address here.
Radio four spent an almost masturbatory few minutes telling women that it is literally hysterical to be afraid of abduction and murder. Throughout the day, the statistical proof was wielded by many, a soft veneer of reassurance over a subtle misogynist cudgel.
Clearly many people do not understand why I and so many other women might read it this way.
Women aren’t stupid. Even when we are scared. We know that every night we walk home it is unlikely that we will be the face on tomorrow’s newspapers. But tell me this; on a scale of one to dead, how are we supposed to assess the many threats we do encounter?
Somebody gets off on dead women, on sexually brutalised women, on frightened women.
Just look at the box sets and the book shelves.
Somebody gets off on having sex with powerless, enslaved women.
Just look at the people trafficking statistics.
Somebody gets off on the thrill of fear and danger and death that women face.
Just look at the front pages.
Somebody gets off on the reduction of women’s bodies to mere objects to use.
Just look at advertising and porn sites.
This is a context that is all around us all the time. And it’s not the end of it. When a man who kills a woman gets five years in prison because his lack of self control is deemed in some way understandable, we learn a lesson about values; we KNOW that his self control would remain marvellously intact should it be tested by someone stronger and more dangerous than himself. Believe me, this tells women a great deal about values.
When a pay gap persists, when sexism is still pervasive, we learn about values. And I’m not going to bother propping up these assertions. They are all easily discoverable truths – do the work if you don’t believe me. And look up intersectionality whilst you’re there.
When we are attacked and OUR dress, OUR trust, OUR choices, OUR behaviour is criticised and discussed before the behaviour and the choices of our attacker, we learn about values. The inviolability of boys at the expense of girls, the ruined lives of one worth so much more than the other teaches us a lot, more than we sometimes care to know, about values.
I know that all boys don’t get a life of cherry pie and a clear road to greatness. I know that men struggle and have many challenges. I know that men are more likely to get murdered in public than women. But, whilst acknowledging we need to talk about the issues faced by men a good deal more than we do, and stating that the discussion is one I would gladly support and respect, it is a different problem, for a different conversation.
When I tell my daughters to take the same precautions as I, as we all have always done, am I being hysterical? Most people on social media, will by now have read the expressions of women’s lived experience, of degrees of assault and how they mitigate for that; how they relentlessly clamp down on their free use of public space to take account of the few shitty men who are too entitled to leave us alone when they fancy having a crack, or who actively enjoy a bit of terrorising women. And you can be sure that all of these women will be able to tell you of times when a banal and tedious situation has escalated suddenly into an abusive or frightening one. Don’t try to tell me that these men haven’t known the power of their ability to frighten women.
On a scale of one to dead, how does a girl assess the risk to herself of a man that won’t leave her alone, then starts calling her a slag because she isn’t responsive to him? Is that a three, a verbal risk, unpleasant, sure, but unlikely to go any further than the bar where they meet? Or might it become a more frightening seven when he follows her, because she’s wearing a short dress and wasn’t outright rude to him when he first spoke to her, so he got his dim and disingenuous wires crossed?
On a scale of one to dead, if a man grabs your breast in a quiet street, how do you assess the risk of who or what might follow?
On a scale of one to dead, when you are walking alone at night, there is no one about, what is the risk? But every second tv show features a woman getting prettily, brutally murdered in just that scenario, and it will be your fault when they find you, because having a night out with your friends was condemnably more important to you than your own safety.
On a scale of one to dead, when a man has attacked you, grabbed you and groped you in the past, when another has flashed you when you were still a kid, when you personally know too many women who have been seriously sexually assaulted, when random men are pathetically punished for raping a passed out woman, when most rapists get away with it, when a police man lets himself murder a lone women, how do you assess your safety?
All of you spouting your superior, knowing, statistics, preening in your self-image of dry intelligence are showing only that you know nothing.
You owe us a fucking apology.