Once upon a time, a young lady called Desirée worked for successful company. After spending months organising an event that allowed the company to entertain old and new clients, that opened doors of opportunities and sustained current ones, the young lady was pleased with her efforts. Her skills were finally appreciated.
On that night, Desirée shared a taxi home with one of the directors in the early morning. Exhausted from the evening’s demands of running up and down to make sure all the clients’ needs were taken care of, it never occurred to her to be mindful of the director’s intoxicated state, until he attempted to kiss her and grabbed her inside thigh.
Unsure of the best way to handle the situation, Desirée did what so many women have done in a situation of unwanted sexual advance, she diffused the moment by pretending that it had never happened. It felt safer to remain silent and hope that a clear message had been sent.
The next day, Desirée retold her experience to a female colleague who she believed was a trusted ally. Unbeknown to her, this colleague informed the director who immediately summoned Desirée to his office. It wasn’t the first time she had stepped foot into the room, yet this time her stomach churned with nerves. The director sat confidently in front of her and mumbled something along the lines of: “it has come to my attention that you have said that I acted inappropriately, if I did then I apologise.” Between the fear of losing her job or being singled out and seen as a ‘troublemaker’, Desirée denied that anything had been said and swiftly left the room.
Years later, that incident still runs through my mind. It isn’t the act that disturbs me the most, it’s the fact that it felt obvious to put others before me, in fear of being discriminated against, seen as a liar or rocking the boat that carried my career. Or maybe simple cowardice prevented me from telling the director how I truly felt. Whichever it was, silence and denial felt like a safer option.
The question of where women can truly feel safe, both physically, emotionally and mentally has once again been raised after Meghan Markle’s admissions to Oprah and the tragic death of Sarah Everard. The fact that as a society we still cannot provide answers, should have us feeling ashamed and worried.
For Markle, some of the backlash she has recently received are accusations that she lied about her poor mental health and suicidal thoughts. As an actress, of course she’s made it all up. Duh! This same mindset is why I chose not to admit to the truth. The fear of being disbelieved and then ousted from a company that I once loved. Taking a chance seemed unworthy, especially in a society that continues to poke holes in women’s confessions with the sole aim of proving they’re lying, instead of understanding the patterns of behaviour of those who mistreat them.
For Everard, her passing has deeply triggered me. I have mulled over in my mind how this young woman could have been snatched from a residential area by the one person who we’re all told to trust; a police officer.
Every woman understands the fear of walking home late at night. Too many times I have forced myself to appear bolder than I am when getting off the night bus or exiting a train station. Fragments of TV shows where women are advised to walk with their heads high to appear confident to deter a potential attacker run through my mind, whilst I grip my door key ready to use as a weapon if needed. Regardless of where I go, a pair of trainers are as essential as my purse, wearing heels after 10pm feels unsafe.
As someone who comes from a community where trust with the police has always been fragile, it’s imperative that forces across the country respond accordingly to women’s reasonable requests of reassurance of safety and an understanding of our frustrations of still having this ‘shitty’ conversation decades later. Viewing footage from Everard’s vigil at Clapham Common, it feels ironic to see women being handcuffed, face down, by those who work in the same institution as the individual who has been charged with her murder.
It does not escape my attention that other women like Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor have also lost their lives to those in authority. Both women whose lives were taken in acts of violence. For women globally, the outcome is like Groundhog Day, the only difference, these men just like Everard’s murderer wore a uniform. Officers who pledged to protect and serve, but achieved the complete opposite.
In 2021, with all the challenges we have faced from the pandemic, the urgency to protect women has only been heightened. The upward trend of domestic violence against women has seen increasing demand for services provided by charities such as Refuge.
And before anyone jumps on the ‘not all men’ bandwagon, let me stop you in your horse tracks. We know. However, judging from the nation’s reaction to both Markle and Everard, women still don’t feel safe or believed. And we have the right to say so.
Women cannot afford to wait for society to finish arguing about whether all men are to be blamed or not. A lack of action could see more of us dying, literally.
It would be far more useful for both men and women to hold the men who act inappropriately to account. If a male friend calls a woman a name because she rejects his advance, instead of doing a ‘Piers Morgan’ and obsessing about the woman’s decision and then making her life hell, why not pull your friend to one side and tell him she has a right to decline his offer, just as he has probably done to the women he didn’t fancy. Let your male friend know that it’s not okay to put his hand on a woman’s body without consent and challenge the mindset that society encourages us to see women as commodities and not as human beings.
I include women in this ask also. For the colleague who betrayed my trust, I cannot say for sure if her intention was to enforce the director to take responsibility or not. But her action left me alone to face a man who was in a more powerful position, and inevitably held all the cards. It would have been better if she had asked me first if I wanted to say something and if I agreed, then we could’ve addressed this person together.
Allyship means having zero tolerance for behaviour that we would not want bestowed upon ourselves. Whether it’s women calling men like Trump’s conduct of “grabbing women by the pussy” as being nothing more than “locker talk”, or men becoming defensive because women are justifiably asking for more safeguards, none are helping your daughters, nieces, mothers or wives feel safer when they walk the streets; and surely that’s what is most important.