Mansplaining is bad enough at the best of times, but when it’s telling women what they should do to be safe on the streets, it makes a woman’s blood boil. And when it’s done in the context of the brutal rape and murder of a young woman by a then-serving police officer, it makes the blood run cold.
So when, during an interview on the monstrous Sarah Everard murder case, Conservative Police Commissioner for Yorkshire Philip Allott said:
“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t. She [Sarah] should never have been arrested and submitted to that. Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”
Thanks for that, Phil. We’ll just mug up on the law in case we meet a dodgy copper and feel obliged to submit, shall we? Nothing about how to root out those dodgy coppers in the first place. Oh no. Let’s try and imply that if the victim had just taken a bit of trouble to do her research before embarking on the high risk exploit of (checks notes) walking home, she’d have been fine.
Unsurprisingly, there have been calls for his resignation as our sibling publication Yorkshire Bylines have reported. He has retracted his statement with an apology, but where does this attitude come from in the first place? Why did he think it was ever remotely appropriate to say what he said?
Privilege is invisible to those that have it…in this case the privilege of being male.
It didn’t end there. The Met, seemingly determined to mess up an already messed up situation (or perhaps taking a lead from this government and feeling confident that they, too, operate in an environment in which no-one gets sacked or resigns) offered these gems:
Memo to all women: make sure your running and walking routes synchronise with those of a bus. NB: this method will not work at all in rural areas. Sorry about that.
Fresh advice from the Met:
Does that sound like a plan to you? Make sure you have your Nikes on so you have a sporting chance and that you can get your phone out quickly.
The strategy will not work, anyway.
The Guardian’s Marina Hyde has an important piece on the whole incident with what should be a shocking title, but will probably be written off by some men ( a minority, I am sure. I hope) as alarmist nonsense:
All women know they are prey – and that no one with any authority seems to careMarina Hyde, The Guardian
I can’t express it any better than she already has, but I will draw your attention to a number of related issues.
The first is that, very sadly, the Metropolitan Police have form in this area and their manner of handling it is, quite frankly, appalling. It also does a great disservice not only to the public but to the thousands of fine and honourable officers who do live up to our best expectations.
Here’s Sascha Lavin reporting for Byline Times:
And still the bad apples come…
Secondly, there is the problem of institionalised mysogyny. This is inadvertently acknowledged by Johnson in an interview today, 5 October:
That sounds more like a reason to designate as a crime rather than the reverse.
But, thirdly, there is the matter of access to justice and of the swingeing cuts to the police, to the Crown Prosecution Service and the record level of the backlog of cases awaiting trial. The Guardian reported earlier this year that:
“There have also been other reports that victims are dropping cases because the process has dragged on for so long, sometimes as a result of delays in the police applying charges. Recent official figures revealed that the proportion of sexual offences resulting in convictions has plummeted to a five-year low and the conviction rate for sexual offences has fallen by more than 41%, with 10,000 fewer convictions since 2016.”Guardian, April 2021
Once again, though, we have a government in denial, with a leader who shifts the blame onto the institutions that he and previous Conservative governments have systematically defunded.
To get a sense of the scale and reach of these cuts, just watch this Sky News interview. In an all-too-familiar tactic of denying evidence and resorting to just bulldozing through the facts with lies and assertions, minister for policing, Kit Malthouse refutes any causal link between cuts and women feeling unsafe on the streets:
Finally, there is the fact that many women’s lives are already blighted by fear and their activities limited by threats, perceived or real. It is too often fear which shapes our choices…where we live, what we wear, how and when we walk or exercise or travel. And how we behave…you know, just in case we give the impression we are asking to be hit or gagging to be raped.
Not feeling safe outside our own homes (and, even more tragically for some of us within our own homes) is yet another measure of gender inequality to add to the many we still endure and it’s easily the most pernicious. Worse still, we pass this fear on to our daughters. How can we not?
I was shocked to read a report from Plan International UK into the state of girls’ rights in the UK. Here’s one of the findings:
Across the country, UK girls are facing verbal and physical harassment every day – and they’ve told us they want it to stop. In 2018 66% of girls aged 14 to 21 told us they had experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place.
You should read from page 29 onwards for the personal testimonies of young women from all over the country.
Then there’s the report published a couple of months ago by Girlguiding. Its findings include:
Half (50%) avoid going out when it’s dark. This is higher for girls of colour (68%) compared to White girls (46%), and LGBQ girls (63% compared to 47%).
40% avoid going out on their own all together.
Two in five (38%) said they feel anxious, worried and scared (increasing to 65% for young women aged 17-18).
A third (34%) say it stops them from feeling free to go to the places they want, or they take less convenient routes to feel safer, rising to 53% aged 17-18. This was significantly higher for girls of colour — 50% compared to 30%.
A quarter (25%) say it stops them from wearing what they want or means they change their outfits to try and avoid harassment.
One in ten girls (11%) believes fear of sexual harassment negatively affects their education, including how much they can concentrate or participate in class.
And this from Dr Rachel Hewitt:
A group of teenagers were asked to label particular public spaces as ‘very safe’, ‘somewhat safe’, ‘neither safe or unsafe’, ‘unsafe’, ‘very unsafe’. NONE of the girls labelled ANY public space (including their school, the local library etc) as ‘somewhat safe’ or ‘very safe’.
What do we do about this appalling situation?
I say we do make misogyny a criminal offence so that its causes and effects are tackled with education and support. We have to strive to stamp it out of our male macho culture and this also means women resisting pressure to act like men in the workplace in order to be accepted (…but that’s a whole other story). It means the police must take the issue seriously and take action to eradicate the bad apples. It’s shocking to hear that they only started monitoring officers’ social media in April of this year. It means the media not promoting and (implicity or explicitly) condoning misogynistic celebrities and politicians. Johnson is himself one of the worst advertisements with his casual misogyny, racism and inability to take serious matter seriously. That horrific ‘spaffing’ quote about historic child abuse which we have covered here is testament to his total unsuitability either as a public servant or as a male role model.
But most of all, men…and women who want to prove that they can ‘behave’ like men (Cressida Dick?)… have to stop blaming women for the things done to them by men and demanding that they provide the solution. It has to stop. Now. We can start with adding misogyny to the list of hate crimes for which, all too sadly, humanity appears to have a very great capacity.