• Rebekah Holroyd

'I can’t believe how dark it is at 5 pm

The number of times I’ve had to stop myself lately saying ‘I can’t believe how dark it is at 5 pm’ is A LOT. Subconsciously, and what I want to say out loud, is ‘I can’t believe 5 pm is now my self-imposed curfew for the winter months and any plans in the evening must be rigorously thought through, journeys home planned, locations shared, and my partner kept informed of my whereabouts at all times.’ That’s a heck of a sentence, right? Well, welcome to women’s brains right now - and for all our existence, if we’re being honest.

This year, the dark nights hit differently. From the tragic femicides across the year, the (not so) shocking misogynistic and abusive revelations emerging from the police and the delays to the government campaign focused on tackling violence against women and girls, it feels as though it’s been left to women to look after themselves, the onus, once again, placed on us to make sure we make it home alive. And even when we are home, who’s to say we’re even safe there? The National Domestic Abuse Helpline reported an 80% increase of calls during the first lockdown in 2020 compared with the previous year so that’s a clear-cut answer if ever I saw one.

While the act of walking home should be a simple one, that’s not the reality for women. A report from the Office of National Statistics claims that one in two women feel unsafe when walking alone after dark in a busy public place, compared to one in five men. And it was only yesterday that Croydon Police tweeted ‘During the #AutumnNights avoid walking alone, keep to well-lit areas. #KeepSafe #TacklingViolenceAgainstWomen.’ Tone-deaf, and yet, I’m not surprised. The issue of the ‘walk me home’ safety app, thought up by BT and backed by Priti Patel, was another controversial idea. Designed to track women’s locations and raise an alarm if they failed to reach their destination, it was met with criticism as it wasn’t a solution to the underlying cause. I’m not denying that this may provide some solace to some women, but it’s essentially a facade. If we’re only going to consider the issue of male violence after something horrific has happened, rather than preventing it from the off, we’re always going to be on the back foot and not be tackling the root of the problem: misogyny. The parallels that can be drawn between ~ all ~ of this and the serial killer, the Yorkshire Ripper, are incredibly prominent. Has anything changed in all these years?

And then there is the recent, horrendous, spate of spiking by injection leading to women going on nights out in denim jackets because the fabric is harder to penetrate with a needle. Seems normal… What’s more, one in six women are now avoiding public transport at night to shield against harassment (Plan International UK, 2021). And the same charity reports that ‘girls as young as ten are being harassed and followed. As a result, they are missing school, staying indoors and carrying keys in their hands when they walk home.’ Excessive means or copying strategies being adopted to ensure survival? Yet again, women are being asked to change their behaviour in response to the prevalence of male violence. When we publicise what essentially seems like life hacks for women, they become normalised, a part of life, a further enabler and preserver of male violence.

The shocking events earlier this year, which will probably remain with our generation forever, have led to the belief in the police force being at an all-time low. With 48% of the population admitting to lacking confidence in the police (YouGov, 2021), their apology framed as ‘one bad apple spoils the barrel’ shockingly hasn’t cut it. Neither has the impractical idea of undercover police officers being placed in bars and nightclubs to patrol and protect women. If anything has come from this, it’s that women’s anxieties have been heightened as those in power are not taking the issue seriously enough.

Credit where credit is due, Police Scotland recently launched a campaign that took me by surprise. Highlighting male sexual entitlement, the ‘Don’t be that Guy’ campaign stressed that it’s everyone’s responsibility to end male violence, to call out toxic masculinity and act when something doesn’t seem right. Rather than taking the #NotAllMen stance, it vocalised and asked men to reflect and consider where they may have harmed women, but not fully realised. It was a powerful message, even more so since it was delivered by young men, and made me consider packing my bags and moving up there.

Correct me if I’m wrong though, but I guarantee if the roles were reversed, this conversation would no longer exist. For things to change, society can no longer be dismissive of women’s experiences and have their choices, such as simply walking home, subject to scrutiny. For one thing, a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK (Femicide Census, 2021). The initiatives listed above aren’t enough to end male violence. And, the real problem, the entrenched misogyny within the patriarchy, will not disappear overnight. And so, while we slowly but steadily bring down the patriarchy, and continue to push the government and police to step up, we will continue to reclaim the streets, even if that does include a ‘text me when you get home’ version of goodbye.

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