We all know that feeling. Ask any woman. We know the rules, the multitude of calculations that go through our head the second we step out the door. We part ways with our friends and say, “Text me when you get home, please?” Or “Let me know when you’re home safe!” We say it cheerfully, as if merely an upbeat sign off, but we always say it.
Today, I’m not okay. Today, I’m broken. Last night I fell asleep crying to the cadence of “I don’t want to die” running through my mind. I am tired, I am exhausted. I thought of all times to not have to worry about being harassed, followed, catcalled, assaulted, raped, kidnapped, or murdered it would be now. But no, apparently even during a global pandemic, women are not safe to walk home alone at night.
And I know as well as any other woman the dread of not hearing back from a friend, probably because they’ve passed out with their make up still on after a night out. I know I have been guilty of raiding the fridge and then falling asleep without texting my friends to let them know I’m safe. So today my heart hurts in a very real, very physical way.
Any of us could have been Sarah Everard. We are all Sarah Everard. We are all living in a game trying to live our lives to the fullest (yay, girl power, amirite?) whilst simultaneously haunted by the constant fear of living in a world in which we are the prey (oh, but not too much girl power that you get yourself killed!).
I am heartbroken about the disappearance (and likely murder) of Sarah Everard. But my heart shatters to know there are women everywhere with stories like hers that aren’t told because they are not beautiful white women. I could’ve been Sarah. Would people have posted on social media and been so outraged for a brown woman gone missing? Would we care for my friends who are black women? For those who are trans?
This Monday was International Women’s Day and I saw a lot of posts from men and women with the call to action, Choose to Challenge. I chuckled darkly to myself. Challenge what? Challenge a world mired in patriarchy that will not protect me, but instead criticize my decisions if I do die? No, thank you.
I see so much advice to women all the time. My friends, my mother, my cousins have always cautioned me: don’t walk by yourself after dark, hold your keys between your knuckles, wear comfortable shoes in case you need to run, don’t listen to music – you need to be alert, if he comes on to you don’t reject him outright – it’ll make him mad. The list is never ending and it is tiresome. Why do we teach our girls and women to make themselves smaller, to arm and train themselves for this world? To take on the burden and responsibility of men’s disgusting behavior? Why don’t we instead look at who is perpetuating this violence?
If we must choose to challenge, my challenge is this: Let’s raise our boys and men to respect girls and women. Let’s abolish rape culture, which blames victims for the harms that others inflict upon them if a woman is believed in the first place. Let’s call out our friends and family and our social groups who uphold this idea of feminine fragility. Let us create a world in which every woman does not have to live in fear every waking moment of the day. Because as I write this all I can think is, I don’t want to die.