The Death of 'Not All Men'

Content warnings: sexual harassment, SA, mentions of r*pe, violence

97% of women aged 18-24 in the UK experienced sexual harassment, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit. When UN Women UK published the report on March 10th, and its highlights flooded my various social media feeds, I reacted with bitter smugness, a rueful headshake, and a dark ha, what else did you think? What, you guys do know any women who don’t have a story about sexual harassment? My most recent one occurred last week: I caught accidental eye contact with a man in a group of loud drunks while walking back home from a friend’s birthday at 7pm. He shouted at me, said something to one of his pals, and a minute later they were following me down the alley, catching up to me and screaming things I don’t want to recall, and I had to merge into a crowd at a random bus stop to get rid of them. I texted my friends, received a share of “oh not again-s”, got myself a tea, and finally reached home, mostly numb except for crashing exhaustion.

As I’m writing this, I am less than ten days removed from the last time I turned my music off, clutched my keys in my coat pocket, and feverishly debated whether it would be more damning to look over my shoulder and trigger interaction, or remain unaware of the voice’s exact position, for maybe the twentieth time in my twenty years of life. (Somehow, you always expect it, but you’re never prepared for it.) So, yeah, just ask your gal pals - we’ve all been intimidated, catcalled, followed, touched. But the internet kept circling back, and the report kept gravitating my way, and it took me a minute to register, but it clicks now: it’s not a response of shock. It’s one of anger.

No one is surprised that these things happen. However, now that the scale of it is so clearly mapped out for us, right after Women's Day and by the Sarah Everard case, the awareness of its severe and frequent occurrence is reaching new highs. We’re not surprised, but we’re suddenly very conscious, and we’re furious. And I think we all know who it is that we’re furious at.

There is an Instagram post going around. The account, @/girlsagainstoppresion, asked its female followers what they would do, if there were just no men for a day. The most common answer was what I immediately thought about too: go for a walk alone, after dark. Then there was a hike. A night spent stargazing. A day trip, alone. And those stopped me in my tracks, because I thought, I sure as hell would never do any of that. But if you had asked me “why wouldn’t you go on a hike alone?” just a month ago, I don’t think I would have mentioned men. I would have just said, “I’d be afraid that someone would try to hurt me”. But this hypothetical “someone” I’m afraid of is never a woman.

It came to me annoyingly late, but when I say “I’d be afraid to be out at night alone” what I mean is: “I’d be afraid a man would hurt me if I went out at night alone”.

When I say, “I’d be afraid to travel alone”, it comes down to:“I’d be afraid that if I travelled alone, a man would find out I’m on my own, and used that knowledge to hurt me”.

When I get a “let me know once you’re home x” text, I might as well get a text that reads: “let me know if you weren’t hurt by a man on your way back”.

Every time we talk about how dangerous the world is, how much you have to look out for yourself, we don’t mean the world –we mean the extent of normalised gendered violence. And frankly, I don’t think that will ever change if we refuse to admit that we know where the issue lies, that there is a pattern, and that this pattern is real, traceable, and constant.

We need to say that it’s men. We don’t need to say it’s all men, necessarily, but we need to acknowledge that it is, in fact, men. We need to acknowledge it for the human rights crisis that it is; for the terrible, awful abomination that has over half of the population anxious, calculating, alert every time they leave their houses, and occasionally in those houses, too. We need to admit that there are some fundamental issues in how we socialise boys, that prevents our girls from ever feeling safe. We need to focus on men, because focusing on women is time and time again proven to not be enough.