(Photo: BBC News)
By Joshua Chapman – Contributor
The fact that the events of last week happened during International Women’s Week can either be because of it or in spite of it. Because of it: there was heightened awareness over the struggles that women face across the world and therefore people would be more susceptible to having conversations about ways to address these issues. In spite of it: the media coverage over the Duchess of Sussex, as well as the information that has come to light regarding Sarah Everard’s murder has been truly awful.
In respect to the former, I have tried to pay as little attention as possible. My reasoning is that every time I like, comment, or click on an article, I am signalling to the media that there is a demand for stories surrounding Harry and Meghan, and by extension the royal family. I decided a couple of years ago that all that family, and especially William and Harry, wish for is to be left in peace. They have always been angry at the tabloids because of the way they treated Princess Dianna and I want to respect their wishes. The way Meghan and Harry were treated by the media has been appalling, but my reading and commenting on those articles will only fuel the flames.
However, Sarah Everard was completely different. She was an ordinary woman, doing a normal activity, and her life was tragically cut short. Her death has sparked a national outpouring of grief, anger and frustration that in 2021 over half the population cannot walk the streets at night in safety. Reading posts on social media has broken my heart, to hear the pain and anguish from people close to me, especially when knowing that there have been times when I could have stopped something, and either did not see the problem or did not do anything to help. Figures such as the 97% make me stagger me not because I do not believe them, but because they opened my eyes to how pervasive the problem is. Those that tweet ‘#notallmen’ or say that this outpouring of grief could be damaging to male mental health are part of that problem. The posts on social media are not attacks towards men, they are women deciding that enough is enough and the system must change.
This is what my eyes have been opened to. As a straight, white, cis man, whilst I still face hardships and struggles (as everyone does), none of them have been caused by my race or gender. As a 20-year-old, I am new on the block and I have not contributed to society much. I certainly have not done so in a way to actively disadvantage others who are not in the same demographic as me. However, the society that I have been born into is profoundly patriarchal. It is dangerous for those who did not create, or now benefit, from its prejudice. What I have started to realise since George Floyd’s murder last year, is that not actively causing harm is not enough. The action of not stopping something makes you guilty of perpetuating it because you are allowing it to happen.
Hannah Arendt said ‘no one has the right to obey’ regarding oppressive laws. Her point was that the act of obedience and not kicking up a fuss makes you partly responsible for the discrimination that those laws cause. It is the same for sexual harassment. Bystanders are not as bad as the person committing the act, but they are responsible for their own actions, and not intervening or not stopping it is an active choice to make. If you are scared as a bystander, show some empathy, the person being harassed must be terrified. There is always something that you can do. In a club, find a bouncer. Walking home, call the police and wait until they arrive. To change this culture, we must show empathy, courage, and kindness to our fellow humans. It is not enough to not be misogynist; we must be anti-misogynist. It will take a collective effort to make society safe for everyone and everyone has a responsibility to play their part. Hopefully next year’s International Women’s Week will be one where we can celebrate the progress we have made since this year’s.