The Truth Behind The Other Pandemic

Activism
Blog
19th November 2021

Liz Williams

A self-confessed nerd with a passion for sushi and content writing | Liz is an account executive at Cohesive | Trash TV, horse riding, dog wrangling | [ she/her ]

It’s dark. You’re walking alone. You become aware that someone is behind you. How does that feel? If you’re a man, depending on circumstance of course, you may not give it too much thought. But if you’re a woman you just don’t have that option. Recently, I was followed to my car by a man I didn’t know. So I wrote this: about fear, being a woman, and how men can do better.


Picture this: You’ve finished work, it’s November, the clocks have gone backwards, it’s 5:30pm, and it’s dark. You pack up your things and leave your office, walking with no real purpose to your car, you dawdle a little, take in the cool air, and maybe even look at the sky, it’s a nice night.

Now picture this: You’ve finished work, it’s November, the clocks have gone backwards, it’s 5:30pm, and it’s dark. You’re already packed up because you’ve been anxious about this for a while now. You leave the office. You don’t dawdle, you walk with purpose, probably a little too fast because you’re out of breath pretty quickly. You look ahead of you, only stopping to check over your shoulder. You pray you see your car soon, and you do. That final ten metres to the safest metal box feels like one hundred, but you make it. You get in, trying not to fumble. You lock your car doors, check behind your seats, all clear, good. You turn your engine on and try to slow down your breathing. It’s a normal night.

 

Uncomfortable. True

This might seem like an over exaggeration, but it isn’t. This is what I do, whenever I am alone and it’s dark. For context, I’m a 26 year old woman, living and working in South Wales, and the sad truth is, I am still forced to protect myself everywhere I go. This shouldn’t be how it is, but, this is the world we are raising our daughters in.

Growing up was an interesting experience: Don’t wear short skirts; don’t show too much cleavage; your heels are too high, you cannot run, you’re showing too much leg… My point here is that growing up I was educated on how to protect myself without even knowing that is what was happening. I was being corralled into a mindset which ultimately led to a fear of the unknown, and of men.

"Why do women hold the responsibility for their own safety, when the ones we are trying to protect ourselves from hold none of it?"

Liz Williams

The conditioning shows up in all kinds of obvious and subtle ways. A while ago we had a lighthearted office debate about the virtues and pitfalls of talking to random strangers and out of it came this interesting little blog about the value of small talk, and my realisation that it too has a gender divide.

Don’t go out at night; have your keys in your hand; keep pepper spray in your bag, call someone when you leave. As women we have heard it all before, but why should we accept that’s how it has to be? Educating young girls and women on how to protect themselves is fruitless if you don’t show the same enthusiasm to educating young boys and men about not only how to respect women, but how to make sure they feel safe.

I know there is a camp out there, that is shrieking in their patriarchal boots, that not all men are to blame, but I counter your argument with fact.

 

Not all men are to blame, but all men are responsible

Just because you wouldn’t do horrendous things doesn’t stop you being a part of the problem. Men who encourage their friends are a problem. Men who choose to stay silent are a problem. Men who disagree are a problem.

Now, I am not here to label every human being a terrible person, I am here to let you know that being absent and being silent creates a bigger issue. If we educate young boys and men to the importance of respect and safety, then we stand a better chance of protecting more young girls.

Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million globally, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence from a non-partner – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. Chances are the woman you sit opposite in the office has experienced some form of assault and it’s time we make a stand.

I know I’m not going to make massive waves but if I can help educate one person on what they can do to make me and other females feel safer and more secure in public, I’ll have succeeded.

I’m going to be honest with you, some of the practical measures below might sound obvious to women, and some may sound ludicrous to men. I was thinking about the things that would help me personally. Just six things that you can do to help, especially in public spaces, after dark.

6 Things

​​Keep Your Distance

If you find yourself walking behind a girl or woman at night, remember that the closer you are, the more threatening you seem. You might only be walking in the same direction, and that’s okay, but this is how all the scary moments begin, so be thoughtful. Leave a good amount of space, and if you can, maybe cross the road. She’ll be grateful, even if you feel silly.

Don’t Run, Think

Having someone run up behind you at night can give anyone a fright, but for a girl or woman it can be terrifying. Next time you head out for an evening jog, you’re running later, or chasing after your pooch and see a woman walking ahead, stop, think of the situation, is there a safe way to get around her? Or if in doubt, cross the road or make sure to leave a good amount of space while passing.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

At 9pm at night, walking to my car, sat on the train, waiting for a bus, your compliments are unwanted. You’re not flirting, or flattering, you’re freaking us out. This isn’t the time or the place. 

Keep Your Friends In Line

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you do not keep your friends in check, you are a part of the problem. If your friends are doing something wrong, tell them, stand up for the other person and report them. It is your responsibility in that moment to be the educator. Also, they shouldn’t be your friend… But that’s a personal choice.

Be An Active Bystander

One of the most important things is making sure you carry this change within every situation, and not just with your friends and family. It’s easy for us to stand up for our mothers and sisters, but that random girl or woman on the street who is being harassed and followed needs your help too. Ask her if she’s okay, offer to stay with her whilst she calls for help.

I think the one final thing I would like to get out into the world is that, if people are telling you the world is safer, and better, we don’t believe it. Recent events have shown us that no matter what the big wigs up top tell you, it might not be true. It’s our responsibility to make sure that if we ever witness anything, we stand up for the good. 

And for those who are still screaming, “It’s not all men!” That might be true, but it’s still all women.

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