Do you have your pepper spray? You should only run where you can be seen by lots of other people. I always carry my keys between my fingers. Don’t worry, I have my taser! Text me when you get home. Why do you keep looking behind you?
As a woman, these are all phrases I am familiar with.
It’s 2021, and women continue to fear their lives when simply walking home from the library or a friend's house at night.
On March 3, 33-year-old Sarah Everard was walking home from a friends home near Clapham Common in the U.K. when she was kidnapped and brutally murdered. A police officer was arrested and charged with Everard’s murder on March 9.
Everard was walking home on well lit streets, wearing sensible shoes and even called her boyfriend. Everything women are told to do to stay safe.
Following Everard’s murder, women in the U.K. began to speak up. Vigils were held and broken up by police, which sparked a movement surrounding gender equality and women’s safety worldwide.
A vigil at Clapham Common was allegedly broken up due to Covid-19 restrictions; however, the aggressive arrests of many of the women in attendance sent a different message.
While Covid-19 is a major safety concern, unfortunately for women, so is walking home. Women were using the vigil to mourn Everard and speak up for themselves through protest. Instead they were met with violence, the exact action they were protesting.
Since women were not given a safe space to speak their voice, they have taken to social media as well.
#ReclaimTheStreets and #TextMeWhenYouGetHome have spread rapidly across social media platforms. Thoughts that are always on the minds of women are now being projected into the minds of everyone on social media.
Women are attempting to show others what they feel on a daily basis. The fear they have walking home at night or the awareness they must have on the short walk from the grocery store to their cars.
This movement shows that Sarah Everard’s murder was not an isolated incident. Women around the world experience fear when going about activities that others may consider mundane.
Almost nine out of ten women worldwide feel unsafe in public areas. Additionally, over 70% of women reported being sexually harassed in public places, according to UN Women.
My first week at Gonzaga, I was given very clear instructions on what I should and should not do as a woman in Spokane.
Never walk home alone in the Logan. Always carry pepper spray. Never walk on Centennial trail by yourself, especially at night. Just try not to go off campus alone in general.
While I may feel safe on GU’s campus during the day, the minute I step off of it I feel increasingly aware of my surroundings. At nighttime, campus feels just as scary as any other street.
This all stems from bigger issues. Women are taught from a young age that their bodies are sexualized, that they are distractions. In school, girls are told to cover up their shoulders so as to not distract their male classmates.
Girls are told that what they wear is why they are harassed and that the amount they drink is why they are sexually assaulted. Girls have been taught that the crimes inflicted upon them are their fault, not the fault of their attacker.
Sexual harassment, rape, murder. None of these are the fault of the women who have experienced them.
The phrase “Maybe not all men, but all women” has been prominent on social media following Everard’s murder. It signifies that maybe not all men are committing acts of violence against women, but nearly all women have experienced some sort of harassment from men.
This is not to say that men do not experience sexual harassment, assault or murder. It is saying that women experience these acts at much higher rates strictly because of their gender.
March is Women’s History Month. It is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of great women in U.S. history. However, this movement is turning Women’s History Month into a time to remember and to fight for all the lives of women that have been lost due to violence.
This month must also be used to educate men on how they can stick up for women. We need more men to speak up when they see women being harassed and to hold other men accountable for sexist and harmful behavior.
Another viral phrase that has been circulating on social media is “Educate your sons”, instead of the phrase “Protect your daughters”. Educating men on the disproportional violence that women face because of their gender is one of many steps that must be taken.
Walking home alone is not safe. Taking an Uber alone is not safe. Riding the bus alone is not safe. So what is safe for women?