In April 2021, the world was rocked by the death of Sarah Everard. Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, left a friend’s home in the Clapham neighborhood of London at 9 p.m. on March 3 to make her way back to her apartment in nearby Brixton. The walk should have taken her 50 minutes. She chose well-lit streets and spoke with her boyfriend by phone. Sarah Everard, was abducted and later found dead. In May 2021, Miss Iniobong Umoren was declared missing by her friends after she went for a work interview. Less than 48 hours later it was discovered that she was raped and murdered by the fake job interviewers. Miss Ini was in Uyo State, Nigeria.
London and Nigeria are culturally, economically and geographically worlds apart. Yet, somehow, in both places, women fear that anytime, such might be their fate. Our world is one global village, stretching from one city to another. Violence is everywhere and is a tale as old as time, almost as though violence in its varying degrees is an expected component of the female experience. In some countries, like Morocco and Egypt, 70% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic that affects more females than you realize. The numbers are staggering: 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
We have to accept that the world is an unsafe place for women. From India to London from the developing nations to the United States. Violent abuse and murder of women knows no social or economic boundaries. Studies reveal what we already know: women feel more unsafe and spend more time worrying about their safety and spend more time escaping from danger in their day to day than men. This study demonstrates the startling disparity in the way women and men navigate their lives because of the fear of daily threats.
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This fear follows women when they walk down a street late at night, or during an early morning run. It is present at the grocery store or at their local markets, when they feel a man’s hard stare burning holes through their backsides or when they walk through a busy street amidst catcalls. It is present when they’re out alone or with their girlfriends, and a group of ‘stellar’ guys come over; a fear that is ever present, makes women feel uneasy but somehow often cannot be named.
Women have to watch their drinks, cover them with their hands or toss them down the bathroom drain if left unsupervised for even a moment. Because better safe than sorry right? It sounds like madness, doesn’t it? Paranoia? Being a woman has been made dangerous by our society and if we are being honest, this danger is fueled by men and follows women. And this is not an exaggeration. The sort of things women worry about daily could literally happen to them, anywhere, anytime, in any part of the world. Do most men fear walking home alone? Do they worry about safety at the gym, at the club, in a taxi? If you identify as male or a man, can you imagine having to live like that?
Against this background, when women cry out and say that men are the problem, the response they get is “not all men”. This phrase works as some sort of mental shield for men but for women, it is infuriating for several reasons. Now, being a man myself, I understand what people mean when they use the phrase “not all men”. I neither believe that I am guilty for the actions of men who commit vile acts against women nor do I feel that I should be blamed for the evils of other men. I mean I don’t receive any praise as a man when a man in the US does a heroic act. Why should I receive condemnation for their evil acts then?
On a daily basis, the male gender is placed under persistent attack in modern culture and so the shield of not all men sometimes seems to be an escape route of sorts. Lately though, I have understood a little bit more of why the ‘not all men’ defence further aggravates the subject. To put it simply, by responding with this phrase in any conversation about violence against women, you automatically exclude yourself having subconsciously labelled yourself as ‘the good guy’. The problem with being ‘one of the good guys’ here, asides from adding insult to injury, is that you remain mentally closed off, will not participate in the discussion and so will not learn better ways to show up for women.
Yes, not all men rape, beat, abduct or kill women. But lots of men who think they are good guys belittle, threaten, or stay silent when other men say derogatory things to and about women, manipulate, play with the boundaries of consent, catcall, refuse to communicate, and even refuse to babysit their own kids. Men like us genuinely think we are remarkable but we still watch women get harassed in the streets saying ‘not all men’ and often never actually doing the work on ourselves or helping to guide our friends and family members to be better men.
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Rather than argue ‘not all men’, wouldn’t it be better to actually relearn how to be and raise better men? It is our collective responsibility as men to ensure that by our actions or inactions, we do not further encourage a hostile society for women and the sooner we take this seriously, the better for us all. I know you are a good and upstanding man but if you pay attention – with a view to be better – you would be amazed to learn that you aren’t as ‘good’ as you believe.
As men, we pride ourselves on our ‘innate’ nature to protect, lead, and solve problems. However, if for all our goodness, leadership, supposed strength and ingenuity, our best response to the daily abuse of women is “well it’s not me”, then we’d best wake up and smell the coffee. Too many women live in fear and for things to get better, men would have to make a conscious effort to do better. Plain and simple. It is no longer enough to shrug and deny personal culpability. The buck stops with all of us.
These past few years, I’ve had to do a lot of learning on this subject. It is sometimes uncomfortable but it has mostly felt surreal to realize that I may never entirely understand the fears that women live in for the simple reason that it is not my reality. What I can do is to continually learn better ways to show up for women. I can also refuse to be the asshole whose best comeback on this issue is “not all men”.
Margaret Atwood once said that “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” and this is undeniable reality is at the heart of the issue. We cannot keep fighting for our bruised ego while women are fighting for their lives at our hands. We have to do better. On top of everything else, women shouldn’t be saddled with the task of educating us but in my experience, they are willing to teach all who are willing to listen.
We have to learn how to make the leap from abusers, bystanders and observers to allies. We have to actually examine our own behaviours and quit with the ‘not all men’ retort. We have to stop breaking women down into all the tiny unnoticeable ways the ‘good guys’ do. Women have been suffocating under our abuses for many years – within our own families and within our communities – and if we truly want to help, we must become and raise better men.
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Cover image by Anete Lusina.