TW: sexual assault

I was sexually assaulted as a child. Since then, I have been groped in bars or large crowds, I’ve been catcalled, approached in public by men asking for my number or making comments about my tight running clothes, and I’ve been followed down a busy street by a man in broad daylight. I am just one 19-year-old woman, and those are just some of my stories.

At least 97% of women will have stories similar to mine[1], and tragically, when we hear each other’s testimonies, we are no longer shocked or surprised. It is something we expect. Harassment is not a possibility but an inevitability.

The #metoo movement made important headway in exposing some of the world’s most powerful abusers, but now it’s time to take #metoo out of Hollywood and bring it to the streets. Sarah Everard’s murder has brought to light the extent of ingrained violence towards women, no matter how large or small, and it is clear that almost no women will escape it. At least 97% of women in the UK can declare “me too” with regards to sexual harassment, and you can be sure that the other 3% know someone who’s been affected.

The social standard for male behaviour is so low that we, as women, almost  feel lucky if we can avoid sexist harassment or violence. The bar is clearly on the floor, and trends like #NotAllMen only make me more certain of this.

#NotAllMen is all too reminiscent of #AllLivesMatter. Both point out obvious facts which serve no purpose but to absolve one’s own guilt about sexism or racism. The narrative of male victimisation that has come to the fore with the #NotAllMen goes to prove the continual inability to take responsibility for violent actions against women, and reinforces the reasons women have to feel unsafe. The simple presence of a man should not make a woman feel unsafe: she should not have to pretend to speak on the phone when walking alone; to pick clothes that provide more coverage in order to feel less exposed; to cover her drink so it doesn’t get spiked; to be afraid to go the police and get help; to expect to be groped or grinded on in a club. This is wrong. All men know it’s wrong, but not all men have stopped doing it, or stopped being friends with those who do.

The real problem with a trend like #NotAllMen is that it seems to pressure women to apologise or defend themselves, when really it’s not up to women to change the culture of sexism that they are victims of. It perpetuates the age-old narrative of female subordination and apology. It’s up to men to call each other out, and to build a culture that makes it shameful to participate in sexist discussions or behaviours – not one that encourages a code of silence.

Women are told ‘protect yourself’, mothers are told ‘protect your daughter’. When will it become normal for men to be told ‘protect women’, and fathers to be told ‘educate your son’? 

Although women should not need to bear the responsibility of protecting themselves, we live in a climate where not enough men are educated; not enough men are brave enough to call out sexism; not enough men are entirely committed to ending sexual violence. We are living in an age where the sad reality is that women must look out for themselves, and each other. 

If you’re a woman looking to protect yourself or friends, or if you’re a man looking to help women out, here’s some things that you can do: text your friends to make sure they get home safe; tell someone you trust where you are going when you go out; download some safety apps like Circle Of 6, bSafe, Life360 or Shake2Safety; put the University Security Number on speed dial; walk into any university building if you feel unsafe around Oxford, and always call a friend or get help, even if what’s happening seems insignificant – trust your instincts.

When women say All Men are a threat, it’s not that we literally believe every man is a rapist. But sadly, there is enough harassment perpetrated by men against women for All Men to be a potential threat – even though every wasp probably won’t sting you, you wouldn’t walk head first into a wasp’s nest. It’s enough that 97% of women have been harassed, and it’s enough that all women live in a constant state of fear – the only way to keep ourselves safe is to assume that everyone is a threat.

Enough is enough. This is not a mentality that women need to change; it’s a set of behaviours All Men need to change. When women say All Men, we are not trying to point the finger; we are inviting, demanding All Men to become part of the solution.

Cover image: Emily Perkins