Beeston women and their male supporters will be assembling in Cross Flatts Park on Saturday (13 March 2021) at 6pm in protest at sexual harassment, abuse and murder of women by men in Britain, and the world.
The murder of Sarah Everard, a 33 year old woman walking home along main roads in London, throws into sharp relief the continuing reality of sexual harassment and abuse and, ultimately, the possibility of murder, faced by every woman, every day of our lives.
It happens everywhere: at work or socially as “banter”, at home in the rising incidents of domestic violence, in flats, “health club”, palaces and brothels as the trafficked victim of a prince, or pauper; and on the streets, by opportunist abusers who could be anyone from a passing pre-teen, a drunk, or a member of the diplomatic protection corps.
In 1973, as a 15 year old school girl, waiting for my bus in genteel Lytham-St-Anne’s, a man muttered horrible words to me. Before that, there was the man in the sweet shop where we girls never went alone; the neighbour whom I avoided on the bus, because he made me feel uncomfortable. I really do understand how frightening it is to be a girl a young woman, and a woman.
I reached adulthood in the late 1970s at the time of the “Yorkshire Ripper” but also at the time of mass feminist protests. Inspired by the equal pay strikes of women Ford workers and the Grunwick women (Asian women, memorably supported by Yorkshire miners) and by protests against Miss World in 1970, we campaigned for abortion rights, for equal pay, for maternity pay, for employment rights, against domestic violence, against racism, for the right to refuge from domestic violence, for the housing rights of women fleeing violence, for LGB(T) rights. We supported the Miners’ Great Strike whilst arguing with them that their sexism undermined united working class fightback against the bosses.
Decade after decade women have been told the we should not wear short skirts or tight jeans, that we should “stay at home after dark”, “walk in pairs”, “stay sober”, “take the safe route”. We’re told that we ”asked for it”, that “it” doesn’t happen to “respectable women”, that sex workers “can’t be raped”. Sarah Everard, a professional woman, was walking home, sober, dressed in loose trousers and an anorak at 9pm on a main road. And yet a man felt entitled to kidnap and kill her.
People demand “more police on the streets”, but it appears that it was a policeman who killed Sarah Everard. So the issue isn’t police presence or absence. And it isn’t what women wear or don’t wear. It isn’t how we walk, whether we’re drunk or sober, whether we wear high heels, tight jeans, flat shoes or trousers, whether we are “respectable women” or sex workers. The issue appears to be an ingrained attitude among some, many, men who think women of any age, any shape, any race, and any class are “fair game” and that sexual harassment and abuse of women is just fine.
I, and the women and men with me on Saturday, will be protesting against that notion. No woman is “fair game”. There is no excuse for male violence against women. No excuse for rape or sexual assault. No excuse for sexual abuse. No excuse for physical or verbal sexual harassment. Banter is not funny.
And for us as women – whether in Beeston, Holbeck, Haringey or Brixton, we should not live our lives in fear, for a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. I refuse to live in fear.
The socially distanced protest to support End Violence Against Women takes place at 6pm by the Lock Tree in Cross Flatts Park .
This post was written by Sue Talbot
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