A new study by YouGov has revealed that 97% of women aged 18-24, and 80% of all women, in the UK have experienced sexual harassment. For some, men, this comes as a huge shock and maybe even an inflammatory figure. Whereas for 97% of women, this is an unsurprising statistic reminding them of their own experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and violence.
From cat-calling in public spaces, being groped by passers-by and having to fight off the advances of homeboy in the club who won’t take no for an answer, women have been through it. Even in school, “feeling up” girls was almost a rite of passage for boys and girls alike. And I know many people who can atest to that. If you were considered pretty, or “buff”, you were getting groped and if you weren’t, you were lucky (or unlucky, depending on how your teenage brain rationalised sexual harassment back then). But the narrative that “boys will be boys”, the lack of male accountability and the policing of female bodies has made such problematic and violent behaviour acceptable and the “norm”.
Parents are more worried about their daughters going out then their sons being the sexual predator. How long before we realise that policing women is yet to save them?
Until we start focusing on the behaviours and ideas we project onto boys about masculinity and what is acceptable for them to do, it will never be surprising that these boys grow up to be men with a strong sense of entitlement to women’s bodies.
Because patriarchal society, and lack of male accountability, makes this so.
The news of Sarah Everard ‘s disappearance, and that her body may have been found, have come in the middle of a very trying and testing week for women, and black women in particular. The revelation that a police officer has been arrested under suspicion of committing the crime against Sarah, raises questions around the extent to which officers who are meant to protect and serve the community, are held accountable for their actions when they break the law. Let’s not forget the two officers who took pictures of the dead bodies of sisters Nicole Smallman, 27, and Bibaa Henry, 46, who were stabbed to death in Fryent Country Park in Wembley, in the early hours of June 6. Such actions would suggest there are indeed some officers who break the law they themselves are to uphold.
What is also clear, is that white women are society’s archetypal victim as the solidarity for Sarah has been very apparent on social media over since Wednesday. What is unfortunate, is that the same sympathy and solidarity is not afforded to Black and minoritised women in the mainstream media. Instead, white cis men and women who operate in mainstream media spaces, fixed their mouths to question the legitimacy of Megan Markle’s experience of racism by the British press and Monarchy, and to even go so far as to say our experiences were examples of “casual racism”.
Please, make it make sense. Whilst, Sarah’s story is a heart-breaking example of how unsafe society is for women, I’d argue that that lack of safety and threat of violence is heightened for minoritised women.
Surely it is time for the narrative to shift and for boys, and men, to unlearn these toxic masculine traits that leave women and girls the victims. But alas, patriarchy.
It is evident that we must do the work as individuals, with our own sons, nephews, cousins and grandsons to ensure the unlearning begins. Here, is a simple video using the analogy of tea to teach consent. I use this teaching Year 9 Sex and Relationships in Citizenship and used correctly, it can be quite effective. And of course, we must continue to advocate for the protection and safety of women, and girls too but not in place of educating our boys.