By Lauren Edwards
Definition: To lock up your daughters means to keep your daughters safe by not allowing them to do something, or go somewhere where harm may befall them.
Every now and then a news event comes along that hits you in the pit of the stomach. This is how I have felt following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard. After leaving her friend’s house at 9.00pm, Sarah Everard walked for 15 minutes through Clapham before disappearing close to her home address. A media storm circulated when it was discussed as to whether it was deemed safe for a woman to walk home by herself at night.
I feel heartbroken for Sarah’s family and friends. It also feels incredibly sad that society is still considered unsafe for women. That any grain of blame would be placed on Sarah for doing the very normal activity of walking home during the cover of darkness. That we as women have accepted our unsafe circumstances and that we should feel expected to change our behaviour for our own protection.
Advice given to me by my Mum:
Don’t walk home alone after dark. Don’t dress provocatively. Don’t be alone in a quiet area. Stick to busy places. Sit near couples, families, other women on train carriages. Don’t get in a taxi. Don’t go upstairs on a bus late at night. Don’t drink too much. Don’t wear heels in case you have to run. Don’t walk on the pavement at night as you might be dragged into a front garden/car. Don’t have earphones in. Don’t have a reason to stop.
What me and my friends agreed:
Walk in the road. Take the longer route to avoid dark streets. Hold your keys in your hand as a weapon. Have a bottle of hairspray in your bag to spray someone with. Phone someone to say you are on your way home in case you don’t arrive. Tell your friends to text you when they get in, so you know they got home safely.
Have you felt that you were being watched or looked at in an unwanted intimate way? Have you walked quicker than you wanted to? Have you changed direction? Has a man squeezed past you when it was unnecessary to do so? Have you got off the train or bus a stop early or changed carriages? Pretended to be on the phone? Left somewhere early to avoid unwanted advances?
I have followed all of this advice without question. It is ingrained into us at an early age to be careful, to watch out for the bogey man, that it’s not safe for women.
Recently, my 13-year-old daughter asked to go to a local farmer’s field with her friend. My husband said ‘no, it’s not safe’. She argued that her twin brother was allowed to go there, and that it wasn’t fair. My husband said, ‘but you’re a girl, it’s different.’ She appealed to me to take her side. I agreed it was unfair, but I also didn’t want her to go over there without supervision.
When I was in my early 20s, I was chased by two men. I had been at a pub in the City of London with colleagues after work. I left to go home about 9.30pm, not late. I took a quick route, down a back street, to Fenchurch Street station. As I turned the corner, I heard a shout “Oi!” and looked over my shoulder to see two men, in suits calling after me, “Come here!”. I ignored them and walked quicker, regretting wearing heels. They quickened their pace, and their shouts became louder, “Oi darling.”. They wolf-whistled. They laughed as I started to run. They started to run, they kept calling me to stop. I managed to get round the corner and into the light of the train station. I dared to look over my shoulder. One was laughing. The other just stared at me with a wry smile. They turned and went back the other way. My heart was thundering in my chest. I was terrified. I also felt responsible for putting myself in a vulnerable situation.
My Dad told me that a few years ago he was walking home via a train bridge, which he approached down a dark alleyway. As he entered the alley, he found himself walking closely behind a woman on her own. She looked over her shoulder to see him there and then quickened her pace. My Dad, aware that his presence was causing her discomfort, tried to walk slowly and keep his head down. At the end of the alley before the bridge there was a lamppost. The woman stopped under the lamppost and allowed my Dad to go past. He said that he walked past quickly but as he glanced in her direction, she was holding her bag tightly and allowing herself to be illuminated, for her protection I suppose. My Dad made his way over the bridge as quickly as possible and said that he felt riddled with guilt all the way home.
Following Sarah Everard’s abduction, Baroness Jones of the Green Party suggested that we enforce a curfew of 6pm for all men, to allow women to feel safer on the streets. But this can’t be the answer? Of course, we as women enforce a kind of curfew on ourselves already, but equally, very few men are predators.
We need to find a way to improve the treatment that women receive from men, to allow women to feel less vulnerable in social situations. We need to trust in the men that will not hurt us. We need to find ways to make society safer for women so that they don’t feel like they need a checklist like the one I had.
97% of British women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed in public.
45% of British women felt that reporting harassment to authorities ‘wouldn’t change anything.’UN Women UK | Gender Equality
In 2018, France introduced a new law against street harassment towards women where fines are imposed to deter predatory behaviour. The first French man to receive a fine of £270 had slapped the bottom of a 21-year-old woman and made lewd remarks about her breasts.
We need to toughen the laws around sexual harassment in the UK and change the environment and the expectation of how women are treated. I will teach my daughter to be careful and to be on guard as that is what I must do. However, and more importantly, I will teach my two sons to show the upmost respect to women and to encourage their friends to do the same; to not leer or objectify and to treat women as equals so that we can feel safe and respected.