Three years ago, our daughter had to catch a cheap, 1am flight from Stansted. The whole family drove her to the airport, and even got chips from the drive-thru McDonald’s on the way. We know how to have a good time.
However, as we drove through north London – Highgate, Barnet, Edmonton, Brent Cross – something started to make me feel odd. There was something wrong about what I was seeing, but I couldn’t, at first, put my finger on it. It was 11pm, on a Friday in July – the streets in the suburbs were reasonably busy with people walking home from restaurants, and pubs; or walking to friends’ houses. It was a hot night. People were enjoying the summer.
I realized what the odd thing was when I saw her: a woman, in her early twenties, in running gear, waiting at a zebra crossing. As I looked at her, I felt an automatic and terrible fear. My heart went cold. Why are you out?! Out now! In the dark! You should not be out!
She was, I realized, the first and only woman on her own that we had seen on our drive. That was the odd thing.
I kept looking at her, in the rearview mirror, as we drove on. I realized I was describing her to myself, and noting where she was, in case… in case she ended up on a poster, or on the news. There’s a part of women’s brains – programmed after years of reports and names and campaigns – that will do this. A young woman, out at night, on her own, is a potential future tragedy. That’s what you think.
And as we kept driving – driving past young men laughing, messing about with friends, getting on with their Friday nights; men, only men – I realized, for the first time, what we were driving through: a curfew. Women curfewing themselves. Half the population stays at home after dark. Or else, if it does go out, constructs such an elaborate protection system – cabs, texts to friends, being walked home in a gang, keys between fingers – that it looks less like a normal social life, and more like a small, military incursion into no man’s land. No Woman’s Land: this country, after dark.
All you see is men on the streets, after dark. Like some weird version of The Purge. Women have purged themselves from the night.
The thing about this curfew, this cage, is – it’s been there so long, you often don’t notice it. You don’t need to notice it – after all, you built it yourself. To keep safe. I don’t think I had thought about mine for years.
But of course, right now, I’m noticing it – because the story of Sarah Everard has terrified every woman in this country; it has rattled us into talking and tweeting and thinking. Thinking: women make their lives smaller, and safer, and still this happens. Thinking: is there any way to change this? Thinking: do we ever intend to stop expecting that, when a woman goes out, on her own, after dark, the worst can happen?
A young woman, out at night, on her own, is a potential future tragedy.
Until now, I don’t know if I’ve ever consciously compared my working day to my husband’s. We’re both at home. We both write. In winter, a fact I know is that I will have to have completed all my work by 2.30-3pm, if I want to go out that day, to exercise or walk the dog. That’s the size and length of my days in the winter. They end when the sun goes down, because – I can’t go out once it’s dark.
He, on the other hand, can work until 5pm, or 6pm – an extra two hours’ work, an extra two hours’ pay – before putting on his trainers, and running where he likes. I only realized this on the day they found Sarah Everard’s body, in the woods. The day I stopped work at 3pm to walk the dog, and every woman’s eyes I met in Finsbury Park said, “I’m scared.” The day I realized that, in each of the three places I walk the dog – Alexandra Palace, the Parkland Walk and Finsbury Park – a woman has been either stabbed, raped or murdered. This fear is not an overreaction. I don’t even count the places where a man showed me and my daughter his penis at 1pm; or the place a man asked my daughter to get in his car and “help” him with a mechanical problem; or the place where a man chased my daughter down the street shouting “Dirty c***! Whore!” at 11am. There’s only so much time to be scared. You have to pick and choose your bad memories.
“There are places where it is unsafe for men to run! There are men who feel scared!” some men will say. And that is, of course, true. But it’s not most men.
Nearly every woman is scared. Nearly every woman puts herself under curfew.
Here’s the problem with this curfew: it’s not a plan. There’s no strategy. There’s no exit point. “Police have advised women not to go out on their own after dark.” How long for? For… ever. We’re just presuming it will go on like this… for ever. It’s a silent, unwritten law for women.
Here’s a proposal: we change things. We try a reversal. Many have suggested a legally enforceable curfew for men. No men allowed out after dark. Only women on the streets – to run, walk. Stroll through the park. Walk to a friend’s house, without taking their life into their hands. Reclaim the streets, again. Permanently.
I suggest it on Twitter. The outrage from men is, understandably, palpable. “But we have done nothing wrong! This is unfair! Why should good men, who have done nothing bad, be punished?”
But please let me say all this back to you: currently, women have to stay at home – but women have done nothing wrong. It is unfair for women. Why should good women, who have done nothing wrong, be punished? After all, the worst thing about a legal curfew for men is that, if you break it, you would be arrested. The worst thing that happens to women when they break their informal curfew is: they die.
Good men are angry that they are being punished for the crimes of bad men. Disproportionately angry, I would say: dispiritingly, #notallmen trended higher than #saraheverard the day after her body was found. Men would rather defend their sex – most of us aren’t rapists, or murderers! Do not slander us! – than mourn mine. But, if you are a good man – if you want to publicly declare you are a good man, who would never hurt a woman, who is on women’s side – then: how about you put a bit of skin in the game? Currently, you have no skin in this game, whereas women stake everything, every day. Good men need to feel as impassioned – as desperate – as women to change things, and make the world safer. Walk in our shoes – by sitting in your house, at night. Actually feel what we feel. Because just saying, “I am a good man. I support women. I am horrified by all this,” does nothing. Women stay at home, scared. Men carry on, as normal.
From Man to Monster
Here’s a story that abuts into this: in my social circle, there is a man with a long history of being physically and emotionally abusive to women. He’s left scars on skin; the police have been called out. On social media, I see many of my male friends are still friends with him. Males who regularly post about feminism, and believing women, and abhorring violent men.
A friend of mine contacts one of them, politely: do you know about his history? Do you know the women – women you know – who have been hurt and terrified by this man? Perhaps you might want to do the very mildest thing, and unfollow him. Unfriend him. Make one tiny, starting gesture, that indicates good men will not be friends with bad men.
The reply is long and rambling and disconcertingly comfortable: yes, he has heard about this man’s reputation. Should he shun him? Maybe. Will he? No. He will not unfriend him. Things will remain the same.
I’m going to say something terribly simple and terribly true: women alone can’t stop men raping, hurting, scaring and killing other women. We need men – these #notallmen, these good men – to help us. Help us. YOU KNOW THESE MEN. You know their edgy jokes, their drunken darknesses, their increasingly long lists of “crazy ex-girlfriends” who weren’t “crazy” before they knew this guy, but who all, oddly, seem to have gone crazy after they met him.
Women alone can’t stop men raping, hurting, scaring and killing other women.
Men don’t go from “good” to “abusive” overnight – they will have spent years, decades, giving off warning signs, saying weird things, making women sad in front of you, at that party, in the pub. There is work you can do here. Women talk to other women about the bad men they know all the time. What looks like “gossip” is actually survival. Join us in this. Share your information.
Tell your “creepy”, “odd” mate his behavior is unacceptable. Discuss it within your male friendship group. Saying, “That’s not cool, dude,” the first time someone catcalls, may well mean it’s also the last time he catcalls. Whole lifetimes of behaviors only grow when they’re tolerated, or shrugged off, or laughed over. Men grow up in a climate of other men. You can change that climate.
What will make men want to do the work, and police other men like this? Maybe it will take a curfew. Maybe then, men will finally feel the urgency women have. Men will want a proper strategy. Men will have skin in the game.
#Notallmen are rapists, abusers, street harrassers or murderers – this is true. But almost all men know someone who is. Or will be. Someone not quite right. Someone “handsy”, or “bad when he’s drunk.” You can talk to them. You can shun them. You can stop them.
All women can do is wait at home, every night, until you do. There is no other exit plan.