Time to shut up and listen

Time to shut up and listen

The moment has come for men to stop being defensive and start hearing the cries of women who are saying ‘We don’t feel safe in our homes, or on our streets’.

Since the brutal killing of Sarah Everard, women have revealed on social media many incidents of being accosted, abused, harassed and followed home by strangers. They’ve been letting the world know that they don’t feel safe.

Alas, the response of many men has been to hide behind the words: ‘It wasn’t me!’

Guys, if there’s one thing I’ve learned while living in a house alongside six women, it’s to listen a little longer when someone is sharing their story – and not to make it all about me. For women aren’t saying that all men are dangerous; they are saying they don’t feel safe.

If we were to listen a little bit more carefully we’d realise there is a huge difference.

And what growing numbers of women are saying is ‘It’s not all men, but it is some men’.

Right now, in the aftermath of Sarah’s tragic death, I think it only right that we all listen to what is being said, regardless of our gender, or whether we think we contribute to the problem, or not.

Something bigger has been triggered in our society. It is similar to the reaction provoked by the death of George Floyd last year. He wasn’t the first black man to be killed by unscrupulous police, and he won’t be the last. Yet his story ignited a movement of people determined to see change.

And Sarah’s Everard’s story has created a similar tidal wave.

Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, quickly sought to assure women that these kind of crimes are incredibly rare, and she’s right. But even though this may be the case, for very good reasons women don’t feel safe.

My wife works for Restored, a charity working to end violence against women, and she would say it’s not a hysterical overreaction. She’d say that while the big, fat crimes that hit the headlines are indeed rare, many thousands of women experience small-scale, yet serious, violence on a daily basis. These acts leave them wondering when it will escalate into something more?

A huge problem

Two reports were published on International Women’s Day.

First, the World Health Organisation revealed one in four women will experience physical or sexual abuse by their husband or boyfriend globally. You heard me right – 25 per cent of all women in the world who aren’t safe in their own homes, let alone on the street.

And then UN Women UK published a survey revealing 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed in a public space. That’s almost every young woman you know. The abuse ranged from wolf-whistling and images being shared, to being followed home, flashed at or coerced into sex. Get your head around that statistic: almost every young woman you know! It seems almost impossible to believe, but I listen to the stories my daughters tell and realise the survey findings are not an exaggeration.

It makes me want to know what I can do to change this damning narrative; to listen to the women around me; to hear their stories and ask them what would make a difference; and find out what will make them not just feel safer but be safer.

It’s a huge and complex problem. The good news is there are some simple things we can do to improve things immediately:

Get honest

All men need to take a look at themselves and spot the places, however small, where actually it is us. The way we speak about women, where we (even unconsciously) place gendered expectations on them, the times we don’t stand up for them.

Get thoughtful

We can think about how we can help women feel safer by watching our actions in public – making sure we don’t stare at them, crossing the road if we’re running up behind them, not making comments or even compliments that might make someone uncomfortable. We might know we’re not a threat, but we don’t need to feel offended if someone sees us as a threat.

Get active

Our inactions are as important as our actions. Are we prepared to challenge our mates if the conversation gets out of hand? Are we going to hold them to account if they disrespect their girlfriend or wife? Are we prepared to stand by our female friends, wives, daughters and colleagues if someone’s giving them a tough time? Are we ready to stand up and do something instead of insisting it ‘wasn’t me’?

I am.

I want to see a different world for my wife and daughters, and not just for them – for all women.

I follow a God who created men and women in his image to work together, live together and love together, and I want to see a world that looks a lot more like that and less like one where half the population lives in fear of the other.


By Sorted Editor, Steve Legg