Words by Alice Stevens, Arts Online Editor
“Text me when you get home x. ” This common procedure carried out by many women reflects a darker truth within our society – women are made responsible for avoiding their own harassment, assault, and death.
The reaction to the rape and murder of Sarah Everard back in March 2020 shone a spotlight on violence against women and girls, where her story provoked an outpouring of women reflecting on their own experiences of sexual harassment. Yet six months on, it appears nothing has changed. Sabina Nessa was a 28-year-old teacher from South London who was murdered on the five-minute walk to her local pub. Statistics show that in the UK, two women are killed every week as a result of domestic violence and 71% of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. Violence against women by men is not rare – and yes – not all men are rapists and murderers, however, 93% of killers in England and Wales alone are men.
Violence against women is a men’s issue, and unfortunately, not enough men are standing up and speaking out. Violence against women does not happen because of the clothes we wear, how much we drink, or if we’re alone – it happens because someone decides to use violence against us. Telling women there is something we can do to protect ourselves from our own murder is the heart of the problem. As children, we are taught to protect ourselves from our own attacks, and if we don’t take all the precautions and something occurs, it is thus our fault.
The combination of how we speak about gendered violence, weak legislation, and a lack of education surrounding consent and gender, contributes to the ubiquity of gender violence. The attitude that women’s safety is not important is deeply rooted in our society and is itself a global epidemic with severe consequences. Whilst gender violence of course affects the victim, it has also been found that such violence threatens our economy. According to The World Bank, it has been estimated that gender violence costs a country up to 3.7 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, to tackle gender inequality, we must change the narrative. The acceptance of ‘locker talk’ and catcalling creates a climate where predatory behaviour is tolerated and thus becomes a gateway to violence. Therefore, it’s crucial that we stop managing the problem, and instead focus on prevention.
It is important to mention that this is an issue that disproportionately affects oppressed groups with intersecting identities of race, class, gender, sexuality, disabilities etc. Systemic racism and the oppression of women of colour impacts their health and safety. For instance, women of colour are often excluded by classical feminist theory, health professionals, and the justice system due to racist biases.
“Violence against women of colour is affected by the intersection of racism and sexism and the failures of both the feminist and antiracist movements to seriously address this issue.” Crenshaw (1994)
To challenge gender violence and inequalities, it is vital that we begin to examine the existence of toxic masculinity and structural failures that have produced this epidemic. Toxic masculinity impacts essentially everybody and contributes to many societal problems, such as gender-based violence, sexual assault, homophobia, and men’s mental health. Thus, tackling these issues is a win-win for all – and this is where literature and theory become essential tools.
If you would like to delve further into this topic, I have selected a few recommended readings that you will be able to find on YouTube or in the Library!
Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue. Ted Talk by Jackson Katz
Women, Race & Class. Book by Angela Y. Davis
Everyday Sexism: The Project that Inspired a Worldwide Movement. Book by Laura Bates