By Sophie Perry
The tragic death of Sarah Everard has reignited conversions around sexual harassment and women’s safety on our streets. So much so, the government has announced the police will begin recording hate crimes motivated by misogyny.
As someone who has lived their entire life as a white, cisgender, lesbian woman, these conversions are nothing new to me.
Growing up, girls are taught to watch for cars slowing down next to them, to be aware if someone is behind them, share their location with others, avoid walking alone, carry keys between their fingers and to only have one headphone in at a time. Meetups with friends are always littered with goodbyes of “text me when you are home safe”.
During the last few weeks one thing, in particular, I have noticed is most women all make the same point: Sarah did all the things we are ‘meant’ and ‘told’ to do but yet she was still not safe.
Shocking, but unsurprising, statistics from UN Women UK showed 97% of women aged 18-24 have experienced some form of sexual harassment. While over 70% of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in public.
There is not a female I know who has not – at one point or another – had an obscenity shouted at them from a passing car, been touched inappropriately in a bar or been leered at in their school uniform.
The simple fact is, women and girls are not unsafe because of the steps they do not take, they are unsafe in spite of all the steps they do take.
To be a woman is thus to live your life in fear at the constant threat of verbal, physical and/or sexual violence.
The government’s decision to begin recording incidents of misogyny is certainly a step in the right direction. Comprehensive data would help to paint a clearer picture of the experiences women know all too well, enabling funding and services to be allocated where they are needed most.
However, data alone will not make women any safer. Simply recording misogyny as a hate crime will not reduce the prevalence of misogyny itself and the real-life impacts it has on women.
If the government truly wishes to protect women, they should endeavour to tackle the root causes of misogyny itself. Namely, toxic masculinity, male privilege, sexual objectification, rape culture, and the legal, social, political and economic structures which institutionally disadvantage and oppress women.
Whether many of us admit it or not, we still live in a patriarchal society which privileges white, cisgender, heterosexual male identities and underprivileges anything which differs.
Time and energy must be spent on education to prevent, address and undo learned misogynist behaviours. Such steps would be slow but tackling narratives of male superiority and entitlement from an early age would inevitably elicit changes in all sectors of society.
Without clear, concentrated and committed efforts to change the way all women are viewed, the government’s decision could turn out to be nothing more than unproductive, spur-of-the-moment political showmanship.
Undeniably, the outcry over Sarah Everard’s death has forced the government to address misogyny head-on. However, with recording procedures initially only being brought in as an ‘experiment’, it remains to be seen how determined this commitment is in the long term. A loss of momentum risks leaving millions of women and girls vulnerable.