I’m sure I speak on behalf of all women when I say how shocked and upset I am over Sarah Everard’s death. The unfortunate reality is, it could have been any woman; this fear lives among us every day. It sickens me that a policeman was the one to end her life. A man whose career is centred around keeping the public safe. We need to do better.
From a young age we are told not to walk alone at night so we avoid it. If we do ‘take the risk’ then we are told to call somebody, wear bright clothing, walk through well-lit and busy streets if possible. Sarah listened to this advice and the outcome was still fatal. We are brought up on stories of female relatives carrying keys in their hands ready to use in self-defence, and we are told to do the same. We text our friends ‘let me know when you’re home safe’, eagerly awaiting the reply informing us of their safe arrival. The worst thing is, it’s all second nature to us now. Why is this acceptable? Why is this tolerated? Why do we still live in a society where it’s deemed ‘dangerous’ to walk home from a friend's house as soon as it gets dark?
In the past, women traditionally got married in their 20s and had protection from a man very early in life. Nowadays, it is less common for a woman to settle down in her 20s, a lot of the time we put ourselves and our careers first. Therefore, we are a lot more independent. The opinion that ‘women should not be walking home in the dark alone’ is dated, much like the tradition of getting married young. Yet the public is still adamant that it is unsafe for us to be out alone past a certain point of the day. When will this be seen as dated?
I pride myself on being independent. However, being a woman means that I am restricted from doing the simplest things alone. Here are some examples from an endless list...
I love sunsets, watching them is something I always want to do, but I can’t walk to the local park to see one because that would mean being alone when the sun disappears and it becomes dark. Society tells me I must not do this. I am unable to go and do one of my favourite things alone as there is a risk that I will get hurt, and it will be seen as my fault because ‘I shouldn’t have been out in the dark by myself’.
Over lockdown I took up running. Over the last few months, I was unable to go as I work full-time. The only availability I had was first thing in the morning or in the evening after work - before the sun had risen or after it had set. Society labels these times as ‘risky’ for women to go for a run, especially when listening to music through headphones because it makes us more vulnerable to our surroundings.
I aspire to travel in the future, but this is seen as dangerous if I go alone. As I’m sure you all remember the tragic outcome of Grace Millane who went travelling in New Zealand by herself. Society asked why she went travelling alone and why she went on a date with a man she didn’t know? She was young and making the most of her life.
In my opinion, with these 3 examples I’m not asking for much. Sunsets, exercise and travel are simple pleasures in life, but I’m putting myself in danger if I were to do them alone.
‘#NotAllMen’ - we aren’t saying it's all men, but if 1 out of 5 boys in a friendship group preys on women and the other 4 do nothing then it helps nobody. I saw an analogy which summed this up perfectly; ‘#NotAllSharks’. If we were in the sea and a shark was creeping towards us, but I said “don't worry, not all sharks attack humans”, would you stay in the sea or would you get out as quickly as possible? The latter? I thought so. In 2020, 157 shark attacks occurred worldwide. During 2019/20, over 179,000 sexual attacks were recorded by police, IN THE UK ALONE. This does not account for the thousands of women who were too afraid to report their perpetrator due to the stigma surrounding this and the fear of not being believed. The comparison of both statistics is astounding, yet the fear of sharks is far greater. I hate to say it, but these attacks also happen in daylight, in public spaces, and they’ve been happening for years. After speaking to the women in my life, we established a long list of incidents which have occurred at a time that is supposed to be ‘safe’ for us. For example, where I live, over 20 attacks have happened during the daytime over the past few months (that I am aware of) - many others have been recorded in the last 40 years, but the reality is that these occurrences began lifetimes before this. How are we supposed to feel safe? Now we need to make a change. We need to educate those who do not understand. Talk to your friends and your relatives, challenge the ones who treat women in a way you would hate for your mother, daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, aunties, friends etc, to be treated.
To Sarah and all the other girls who didn’t make it home, we’re sorry, you deserved better.
Georgia Pennock / @georgpennock_g
'The Virtual Vigil' is a series of perspectives, emotions and poems written in response to the current political climate. As a feminist art collective we want to use our space to empower the voices of those affected by gender based violence. In doing so, we hope to challenge existing narratives and teach men that they have a collective responsibility to speak up and call out inappropriate and violent behaviours. If you would like to take part in our virtual vigil, please feel welcome to email us at email@example.com.
Images by Emily Mort.