#NotAllMen–a discussion worth having?
Sienna White discusses the important conversations surrounding female safety
The recent tragedy of the Sarah Everard case sent shockwaves through the UK. Walking home from a friend’s flat, the 33-year-old marketing executive was allegedly abducted and murdered by a figure we are taught to trust completely – a police officer. Her death has sparked outrage on an almost unprecedented scale, triggering a wider conversation about the topic of female safety and the prevalence of sexual assault towards women.
Much of the discussion has taken place on social media; more and more women are coming forward and sharing their stories of sexual assault, coercion and harassment, the large majority of which were acts committed by men. The sheer volume of stories goes hand in hand with the overwhelming statistic that 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment and yet, despite this, only four per cent of women report these incidences to the police for fear of inaction.
97% of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment and yet, despite this, only 4% of women report these incidences to the police for fear of inaction.
The pre-existing dialogue is evidently becoming more open, with women who previously have stayed silent feeling more comfortable speaking about their experiences. However, some men have expressed upset and anger at this growing movement, arguing that it is unfair that men seem to be being blamed for assaults against women, as not every man takes part in these behaviours. At one point, the hashtag #NotAllMen was trending on social media, even above Sarah Everard’s name at one point.
It would be a sweeping, incorrect statement to claim that ‘all men are guilty of assaulting women’ – and a troubling generalisation of a highly nuanced topic. However, the discussions around the topic of female safety, particularly on public social media platforms, are being used as a space for women to share their ordeals, and express their feelings of anger, frustration and fear at the concept of going anywhere in public without the guarantee we will make it to our destination safely. The fact that there are attempts to overshadow this narrative in order to make claims that it is just an opportunity to criticise men, or blame them all for the actions of a few, not only misses the point, but refocuses the discussion away from an issue that has never needed to be discussed more urgently than now. We know it is ‘not all men’, but it is far too many men.
We know it is ‘not all men’, but it is far too many men.
The majority of the backlash stems, most likely, from a misunderstanding of the aim of these conversations. It is predictable to see how men could feel sidelined or stereotyped here. However, while this discourse is, by definition, female-centred, the objective is not to alienate men – quite the opposite.
It is virtually impossible to understand the constant fear faced by women without walking a mile in our shoes. The list of precautions we are told to regularly take when leaving the house is exhaustive: you avoid walking in the dark on your own if it can be helped–but if getting public transport or a taxi you have to be equally alert to ‘stranger danger’. We should always wear bright clothes – but nothing that would draw unwanted attention. If we are harassed in the street, we should be firm in saying no – but not too firm, in case the pursuer gets angry and decides to hurt us. The paradoxical nature of safeguarding measures shows that whatever we do, however we act, we can never fully ensure our safety. Green Party peer Baroness Jones’s call for a 6pm curfew for men (LBC) was, understandably, met with uproar as an overly restrictive measure, but it highlighted the fact that the emphasis is so often placed on us to protect ourselves from danger, rather than on restricting those who would carry out the assault/harassment.
The paradoxical nature of safeguarding measures shows that whatever we do, however we act, we can never fully ensure our safety.
What is needed then, is for men to attempt to understand the depth of this complex problem by listening to what we have to say, and do their part in the shared process of beginning to solve it by thinking critically about their behaviour.
If, as a man, you have found yourself vocally siding with the ‘Not All Men’ movement, you are almost certainly doing more harm than good. You may not be someone who assaults or harasses women. However, the main message the women in your life will take from your reaction to this issue is that you find deflecting the conversation to protest your own personal innocence more important than discussing the fact that sexual violence against women is widespread in our society. This is a conversation that should involve everyone in a way that facilitates positive change – change that is, as the last few weeks have revealed with more clarity than ever before, desperately needed.
Yes, not all men assault women. But all women fear it happening to them.