It is imperative that we stop making excuses for men’s behaviour, says Jameela Jamil.
The ongoing story of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who went missing while walking home to Brixton from a friend’s house in Clapham, has provoked intense debate about women’s safety on the streets and roads of our cities and towns.
Moved by the case, many women have come forward on social media to discuss the things they have felt forced to do over the years in order to ensure their own safety, and lamented the fact that the onus is often on women, not men, to change their behaviour.
Warning: the following article may be triggering for some readers, and includes references to violence against women.
Listing the self-defence lessons she was given in school as a 14-year-old, Stylist contributor Sarah Shaffi tweets: “It is, to put it crudely, completely fucked up that these were things I was taught as a child, and that while I was being taught them there was no discussion about men being in the wrong if this happened to us.”
“We were told, at the same age, to carry condoms just in case we could prick the conscience of our would-be rapist and he ‘would at least do the right thing’,” another woman shares in response to the Twitter thread.
“This was genuine advice. Horrific.”
Elsewhere, Ash Sarkar tweets: “Legalising pepper spray won’t make women safer. There are countries where women can legally carry guns, and that hasn’t meant an end to gender-based violence.
“The answer lies in changing our culture. Don’t ask why women are vulnerable, ask why men are violent.”
And Mariam Khan has lent her voice to the ongoing Twitter conversation, too, writing: “From Piers Morgan’s rage against Meghan to the situation with Sarah Everard and seeing conversations about holding keys, changing clothes, walking on different routes home, not going out after dark, not wearing headphones etc…
“It’s always men who are the problem and women who are punished.”
There are thousands of tweets of this nature – and, inevitably, they have been met with plenty of tweets insisting that “not all men” are to blame for this sorry state of affairs.
Unwilling to let the “not all men” brigade drown out the overwhelming message of these women’s stories, though, actor and activist Jameela Jamil has succinctly shut this argument down via her own social media feed.
“It’s true that not all men harm women,” she tweets. “But do all men work to make sure their fellow men do not harm women? Do they interrupt troubling language and behaviour in others? Do they have conversations about women’s safety/consent with their sons?
“Are all men interested in our safety?”
Powerfully, Jamil adds: “You don’t get to exclude yourself from the wrong side unless you’re actively fighting on the right side.”
Jamil’s is a sentiment that has quickly flooded the social platform, with people of all genders taking up the hashtag #TooManyMen in response to that tired “not all men” argument.
“I don’t want to hear ‘not all men’. There are #TooManyMen who sexually harass, attack, belittle and bully women,” reads one such tweet.
“Too many men who join in sexist banter, indulge in vicious, violent trolling online & too many men who don’t do any of this but don’t challenge those who do. Too many.”
Another adds: “Look, if your response to women sharing experiences of harassment and fear is to make it a conversation about how it’s ‘not all men’ or to try and have a discussion about bad stuff happening to men too, you are part of the problem.
“ If you want to help, LISTEN AND LEARN.”
One more says: “#NotAllMen but #TooManyMen. If you find yourself saying that first one, pause and reflect on why you feel the need to defend rather than show support and listen.
“Violence against women is a global problem that we can’t keep pushing aside.
“I want to be able to walk alone and safe.”
All of this makes it thoroughly refreshing to see some men seeking advice on how to make women feel safer on the streets.
David Lammy, referring these people to the seven tips laid out in Plan International’s ‘Walk like a Woman’ campaign, writes: “Men, not women, need to change their behaviour.”
As previously reported by Stylist, stats from the Mayor of London’s Police and Crime unit have shown that, in the year up until March 2019, 87% of all recorded victims were female, with over 16,000 cases with female victims. 74% of victims were under 35.
The same report highlights the reality for Black women on our streets, who were over-represented, with 18% being effected by sexual violence crimes compared to the average 16% of the London population.
This means that Sarah Everard’s story, though deeply upsetting, is sadly not an uncommon one: indeed, since the case first caught the nation’s attention there has been “six women and a little girl who have been reported killed at the hands of men” says MP Jess Phillips.
However, we must remember that this ongoing conversation isn’t solely about murder; it is about all the more insidious elements that can lead to gender violence, too.
As Fiona Sturges tweets, it’s about “catcallers, kerb crawlers, gropers, stalkers, creeps who ask you out at the bus stop or whisper insults as you walk by, stare at you to intimidate you, or follow you to your front door.”
“This behaviour is frightening and men see that and get off on it. Murder isn’t necessarily the endgame. It’s about sexual entitlement, exerting power and it’s exhausting dealing with this stuff when all you want to do is get home and close the door,” she adds.
Not all men, true. But, as Jamil has made very clear, it is on all men to be better allies, to work to make sure their fellow men do not harm women, and to help change this terrible narrative.
If you are worried about a missing person or have information about a missing person, please contact Missing People via the charity’s website. Anyone who wants to support the campaign against street harassment can find more information on the Stop Street Harassment website.
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