Trigger Warning: Sexual harassment and violence against women.
Social media is notorious for spreading information like wildfire and so the news of Sarah Everard’s murder was no different.
Her wrongful death by a policeman has rightfully been publicly admonished, with headlines galore, trending hashtags, and infographics, all of which have pressured an overdue call to action.
Sarah’s situation is not unique, shocking, or outlandish. It’s been an area of contention since time immemorial. A recent stat revealed that approximately 97% of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed.
Again this isn’t surprising.
Sexual harassment is a sliding scale that goes from seemingly ‘benign’ everyday occurrences, to the most extreme acts of violence against women. This is permitted under a system of patriarchal structural inequality. Under patriarchy, the continued cases of harassment are due to how men view women, men’s overall entitlement to women’s bodies and the violence they subject women to. This need to keep women in line and control women’s bodily autonomy to maintain being at the ‘top’ is entrenched in the mindset of everyone and respected as part and parcel of life.
It is vital for how life runs and is directly related to the subjection of women in all spheres. Policing of clothes, chastising make-up wearers, pitting ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ girls against each other, are again seemingly benign examples of the impact of patriarchy and misogyny on the mindsets across society.
It is not exclusive to men, and everyone can uphold these societal norms. However, the collective support of toxic norms is indeed poisonous to society. The negative attitudes and maltreatment of women enables other forms of abuse as permissible. It excuses the actions of men and absolves them of responsibility across the board. So issues like talking over women and even cheating are trivialised instead of given due attention, given their problematic beginnings.
The impact of patriarchal societal norms don’t stop at women, but affect those with layered identities from marginalised groups in an even greater way. Think disabled, Black, and trans people. Deliberately forgotten minorities, who’s lives are deemed of less value, and so problematic attitudes towards them fester and enable greater harm. Structural inequality places them at the bottom of the pecking order. Their experiences are regarded as an opinion and their voices drowned out. They are seen as an unfortunate byproduct of humankind, which is strictly cis-hetero-white.
Sarah’s murder disrupted this as it garnered attention. It went beyond one person’s death and cultivated a moment that formed a route to a larger conversation on much-needed liberation.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” (Fannie Lou Harmer)