CW: mentions of suicide, sexual assault and death.
I imagine there are many members who, like me, have been struggling to concentrate the past 10 days or so. First the ‘Women belong in the kitchen’ tweet from Burger King, then the sexism of Good Morning Britain, and then Piers Morgan’s denial of Meghan Markle’s confessions of mental ill health (CW: suicidality) - all in a week that began with International Women’s Day and ended with Mother’s Day. Then the news hit about Sarah Everard.
Sarah was so like me - her family are from Yorkshire, she worked in marketing, she was almost exactly the same age as me. She had visited a friend and was walking home, down brightly lit streets and on the phone to her partner. And someone chose to harm her. It’s the fear many of us carry with us all our grown lives. A recent study found that 80% of women reported having been sexually assaulted, and this rose to 97% for those aged 18-24. We are taught to modify our behaviour - to shrink, to hold our breath, to keep loved ones on speed dial. How many of us have held keys between our fingers on walks home, or taken a detour because we noticed we were being followed? The reality of this omnipresent fear is exhausting.
More exhausting can be the sense that the media, and some men, are only just acknowledging the problem. #NotAllMen began trending, with celebrities wading in to say that we should think about the mental health of men in the face of another murdered woman. This misogynistic violence doesn’t just affect cis women either - it is metred out against trans women, non-binary people and is related to the violence gay men face. 70% of LGBTQ+ are sexually harassed at work. Most people don’t report their attacks - I’ve never reported any of the one’s I’ve experienced to the police - and even when they are reported, they are rarely prosecuted. If you present as anything other than a macho, straight cis man - the patriarchal violence and justifications for the violence will follow.
It may be uncomfortable for some of our male members to read this. Thank you for getting this far. We need you to listen to us while we experience this grief, because without you we can’t change the system. Feminism is sometimes wrongly thought to be about artificially pushing women into power. Or about swapping a system that favours men for a matriarchal one, that favours women. Feminism is actually the struggle to destroy the patriarchy.
The patriarchy is a social system in which men hold most power and dominate political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. It creates arbitrary gender roles that hold us all back - like boys don’t cry and girls are irrational. Patriarchy promotes those who believe that men are naturally better than women, and keeps others out. Patriarchy enforces the idea that men are naturally violent and sends them off to die in wars. It enforces the idea that women should be caregivers, and punishes them if they stray outside the home - with sexual assault, with catcalling, with blame when they get hurt. The backlash against trans rights is, in part, because it undermines the idea that the imaginary, supposedly fixed, societal roles of men and women are just that - imaginary.
In destroying the patriarchy we will free everyone to be themselves. After we’ve grieved, we need to come together and fight for all our freedoms.
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Emma Lazarus