Wear clothes that cover your body. Carry pepper spray, a taser, a whistle, etc. Don’t make eye contact with strangers. Keep your head down. Never walk alone, especially when it’s dark. If you have to, keep your keys in your hands when you walk to your car. Don’t forget to check underneath your vehicle and in the backseat. Lock the doors as soon as you get in. Now you can drive home.
These are the rules that every woman must follow every day of her life. It is exhausting. However, even when someone seemingly “follows” all the rules, we are constantly reminded that they are not enough to keep us safe. Sarah Everard tried to do everything right, and was still murdered simply for the crime of being a woman.
On March 3rd, she was walking home from a friend’s house in South London. She followed COVID-19 guidelines that promoted walking instead of public transportation and began the trek home. She used well-known and well-lit streets, and she even called her boyfriend for about fifteen minutes. Yet she was still abducted and brutally murdered by Wayne Couzens. The police officer kidnapped her from somewhere around Clapham Common. From there, the story is a bit blurry, as Couzens has not yet been to court. However, we do know that on March 10, her remains were found in a builder’s bag in a forest in Ashford, six days after she had been reported missing.
Her death quickly hit the media, and people everywhere were justifiably outraged. Clapham Common became a memorial for Sarah, as people from all across the country journeyed there to pay their respects. A small shrine has now been erected with mountains of flowers and posters gently swaying in the wind as protestors flock to the site. However, disaster soon struck. A few days after Sarah’s tragic passing, protestors who were rallying there were violently arrested by male officers. This sparked global fury and indignation. The images were so disgusting, even Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented on the unnecessary force. However, despite all of the attempted suppression, the voices of the protestors were still heard: “it could have been any of us.”
This is what feminists everywhere are championing; this terrible tragedy could have happened to any woman. This is even further proved by a recent study performed by the United Kingdom branch of UN Women, which found that 97% of the women (in the UK between the ages of 18-24) they polled had experienced sexual harassment in some form or another. This statistic is horrifying, and yet also expected. The way that our society treats sexual harassment breeds the perfect conditions for this ancient patriarchal structure to flourish. We teach our daughters how to avoid cat-callers, but never tell our sons not to cat-call. We teach our daughters when and where it is safe to walk, but never tell our sons why our daughters must do so. We teach our daughters how to hold keys in between their knuckles at the first hint of puberty, but don’t teach our sons how to avoid the alt-right pipeline on the Internet. We teach our daughters how to stay safe, instead of teaching our sons how to not make them scared.
This sentiment is being echoed across many social media platforms as feminists cry out for justice. On TikTok, for example, the hashtag “#97percent” has over 118 million views. However, the proponents of this movement are being met with criticism. Many men have taken to criticizing the study itself, claiming that its definition of sexual harassment was far too broad. This is not the case.
The study asked its participants if they had ever experienced the following: being cat-called or wolf-whistled, being stared at, unwelcome touching, body rubbing, or groping, in-person comments or jokes, unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, being physically followed, indecent exposure, online comments or jokes, sharing of suggestive or indecent content online or in-person, being forced into participating in sexual behavior, or had images taken and/or shared without consent. Only 3% chose the option “none of these.”
The fact that critics are arguing that this behavior is acceptable is absolutely astounding. Each and every activity on this list has struck fear into a woman’s heart as she wondered if she was going to make it home safe that night. What the supporters of #NotAllMen refuse to understand is that even if not all men have done these things, almost all women have experienced them. Almost all women have feared for their lives because of unwelcome sexual harassment. It is absolutely exhausting to have to be on guard in public at all times. And even when women are, they are still targeted victims, such as Sarah Everard.
97% of half the population struggles daily. And this statistic doesn’t even take into account the fact that the rates of sexual harassment for women of color is exponentially higher. Our society must address this systemic travesty quickly, as it is long overdue. Sarah Everard should not have to be a name remembered as a champion of this movement. She should be alive and with her family today, but because we let this structure continue, she is not. We must avenge her death, and make great changes so that someday, the 3% will be all women.