On March 3rd, 2021 Sarah Everard left her friend's house to walk home, a walk that should have only taken her 50 minutes--she never made it home. As of March 12th a London police officer has been charged with her kidnapping and murder.
Ms. Everard was a 33 year old London resident, a marketing executive, and those close to her described her “beautiful, thoughtful, and incredibly kind”. This case has gained international attention, as individuals everywhere mourn the loss of an extraordinary life and women everywhere are increasingly in fear for their safety.
The unfortunate reality is that what happened to Ms. Everard is what all women fear. We go through extreme lengths to protect ourselves, and Ms. Everard did the same. She spoke on the phone with her boyfriend on her walk, telling him that she would be home soon, wore brightly colored clothes, and stayed in brightly lit areas--none of it saved her.
The reality of being a woman
Women prepare for and protect themselves against violence their entire lives. We are taught from an impossibly young age the steps to take when alone at night: carry pepper spray, call someone, stay in well lit areas, avoid groups of men, and yet, it doesn’t save us.
Globally, one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime which amounts to approximately 736 million women total. Violence stems from both partners and complete strangers, women fear this in new relationships, Ubers, walks home, the list is endless
What happened to Sarah Everard was a tragedy, but it happens far too often. Domestic violence and sexual assault has become so ingrained in society that it has become a norm. Society has continuously ignored the culture of violence and submission that has been forced onto women for generations. This stems from both language and actions--young girls are taught that when a boy likes you he will pull her hair, locker room talk is seen as a bonding activity for men, and women are viewed as objects to conquer.
In order to overcome this violence as a society, we will have to instill major social change. We must question the systems in place that have perpetuated these norms for so long and everyone must play an active role.
Yes, all men
Ms. Everard’s disappearance has re-invigorated the conversation on women’s rights and equality. Along with this conversation has come backlash from a growing number of men who rely on the hashtag “NotAllMen” to ignore the reality that they help perpetuate.
The “NotAllMen” movement only seems to gain traction in the wake of violence against women, first being popularized in 2014 after a spree of serial killings that the murderer stated were inspired by his hatered towards women. The goal of this hashtag is to emphasize that not all men are rapists or murderers and while that is true all men have the responsibility to work towards making society safer for women.
The reality is that all men benefit from the fear that women feel throughout their lives, even if they themselves may not contribute to that fear. We fear rejecting men, we fear retaliation after reporting harassment, and we make ourselves smaller and less noticeable in hopes of escaping violence. As we make ourselves smaller for safety, men begin to occupy those spaces, take those opportunities, and in some cases abuse of that power.
Some men have recognized this privilege they bear and opened themselves up to the conversation on how to help women feel safer. Next time you find yourself walking behind a woman at night, cross the street, if a female friend asks for you to walk her home, do it, and the next time you witness troubling language or talk of violence against women, stop it. All men have the responsibility to confront other men when they perpetuate inequality and promote violence.