Take a look at the first image. It shows an art piece I’m in the process of making. It is a patchwork made from maps of Britain. I am using the quilting technique of tufting using red thread to mark every place where that has been a reported incident of violence or threat to a woman. I think I will run out of thread. For this project I read a book called The Right Amount of Panic, which talks about how rape and sexual violence toward women is still hugely underreported. There are many reasons for this, not least the polices’ unsympathetic handling of victims and the distressing justice process. But the writer also points out that from a very young age we as women have learnt and internalised ways to avoid violence at the hands of men.
Indeed, in the social media storm that followed Sarah Everard’s death, I was astonished to hear about the different protective measures that friends of mine have employed such as holding keys and lit cigarettes, and the many near misses they too have experienced. Marina Hyde talking in The Guardian about her own very recent experience of harassment says, “What happened to me was nothing – the nothing women know all too well” and explains that we are all so used to this that we don’t even bother to report it, we just find ways around it like taking a different route next time. As my husband said, he has walked many a woman home from a party at night, which is kind of him, but the point is: he shouldn’t have to.
Early on in lockdown 2020, I started exploring my locale and thoroughly enjoyed finding new wildernesses to walk in. I shared some of the photos I took on Facebook and immediately a friend worried about me walking alone, even in the daylight. Ironically, the next time I went for a walk, a man trailed me through the woods. Not very ironic, scary. Another friend raised concerns as she had also encountered unnerving behaviour by a man in those woods. We as women have each other’s backs but we also know that this is tiring, it is hard work, it shouldn’t be necessary, and it can damage our freedom to enjoy life to the full.
The second picture is a photo I took during the vigil for Sarah and for women everywhere. I took a candle for a walk around my town, including down some dark alleys. It was a very moving experience, especially when the candle snuffed out a couple of times and I thought of all those women whose lives have been ended through male violence. Just before I went, my daughter made sure I knew about the emergency shortcut on my phone. It was rather lovely to be mothered by her, but it also showed me that this continues down the generations and that we are still in this space even after so many years of protest and awareness raising.
On Mother’s Day, my son phoned me and thanked me for teaching him how to be a good man. He said that in the conversations he has had after the Sarah Everard case, he has been shocked at how few of his friends have awareness of how to behave to enable women to feel safe when out and about. In her article, Marina Hyde also tells that although she made it very clear in a public space that the man was harassing her, two men nearby ignore the signs and did not intervene “Come on guys – don’t you read the internet? Hashtag be an ally!” And, although the vigil was illegal, Police behaviour at Clapham Common has shockingly shown a similar lack of awareness, if not a complete intransigence to understand and therefore behave differently. It really is beyond belief that, when one of their force is being held in custody as a suspect, their choice of action is to run roughshod over women’s concerns and anger.
Yet again, it seems it takes a tragedy to highlight something that has been an issue for as long probably as women and men have existed. Like Black Lives Matter, we need a media frenzy to finally shake up the discussion that women, like black people, have been having for years and foist it into the public realm. Why, in the 21st Century, can this still happen and why, when it does, is the outcry met with a countercry that sounds, to me, remarkably similar to the complaint that ‘all lives matter’. As someone on social media has said, not all men – but all women. Yes, all women. I do not know a single woman who hasn’t experienced some form of harassment if not abuse.
Not all men, but every woman.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What thoughts and feelings do the events of this last week stir up in you?
- How can we act and behave toward equanimity for all?
- What might you do in the next week to work for this?
You will need a candle in a jar, matches
- Light your candle and take a moment to think or pray about these issues. Maybe remember Sarah
- If you feel brave, take your lit candle for a walk in your neighbourhood. Try to keep it alight
- Observe how it feels to carry a light around, the vulnerability of the flame, the way it easily gets quenched or snuffs, its warmth, its brightness.