A year of activism?
For many, last year saw a readjustment of priority. Despite the wide-spread despair, heartache and uncertainty, it was probably the first time in many of our lives that we were able to take a step back. To observe. And notice.
Life had surged to a somewhat unstoppable halt. We were forced to sit in. Be with our thoughts and think about our impact.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety for most of her life, I knew I couldn’t sit back and wait. I fell into the same trap we all did of seeing this “time off” as an opportunity to be productive. I spent hours mulling over how to keep busy, how to best fill my time, how to be useful.
The stress of potential job loss and the other novelties covid bought with it eventually evaporated from a pain that kept me up at night to an itch I was able to scratch with distraction.
That’s what this blog was. A nice, rough, barky tree I was able to get between my shoulder blades to scratch away the stress.
Typing bought me catharsis, somewhat. Little did I know that it would become inherently more important to a journey and passion ongoing still to this day.
I didn’t start writing about public sexual harassment to try to fix it.
In fact, I vividly remember sitting in my garden, talking to my housemate about how royally pissed off I was and how useless I felt at the fact that my one out-door-hour-a-day’s exercise had, once again, been ruined by a sad-ass workman showing off for his van mates.
Back then, I wasn’t even aware of the proper term “public sexual harassment”.
In fact, I saw the whole topic as too big. Beyond me. Far too ingrained a problem for me to have an impact on.
But, nonetheless, I talked. We all did. The side eye we passed to the honks from cars became mutters of annoyance to our friends. Our longer, better lit routes home became social media posts which we shared a collective, female, eye roll of understanding. Our shared, unspoken experiences became, slowly, spoken.
The movement to wide spread awareness of public sexual harassment, especially in the running sphere, is a counter intuitive sentence.
The awareness has always been wide-spread. It’s spread through women telling each other to “text me when you’re back from your run” or “make sure you’ve got strava beacon on”.
It’s wearing a headtorch and changing your route because the street lights are out in winter.
The problem was, and somewhat still is, that the very nature of these acts, it’s insisted upon, are normal. We’re advised to keep it hush. Because it’s #notallmen who commit these offences so let’s not upset the ones who don’t. Because #notallmen intend on being immediate sexual predators so why should we burden them?
Half of the population were being silenced about an every day affliction, in order to protect the ego of #allmen.
It became evident, early on in this long year of speaking up, that men weren’t aware of the scale of the issue.
They knew. Of course they knew. They’d seen their sisters pack rape alarms into the pockets of their leggings before they left. They’d heard their partners grievance at how “work ran over and now it’s too dark to run”. But what they hadn’t considered was the implications of their nativity.
If you’ve been at all following the past years journey about public sexual harassment in the running community, it’ll be abundantly clear to you that women runners do not have the same freedoms as their male peers. And our forced silence was keeping us in danger.
Social media is often bitched about in regards to how it’s “ruining real conversation”. I disagree. Social media has given so many of us a global reach and voice that would not have been heard otherwise. It allowed me to talk to so many women about their experiences with harassment and abuse and, thus, I’ve realised we share the same stories.
In the past 18 months there has been a surge of information on the internet in regards to public sexual harassment, and more colloquial terms of catcalling and wolf whistling, the animalistic nature of these dehumanising the victims of said acts.
From there being little to no official studies on the topic, multiple media outlets began surveying women on their harassment.
From the government isolating us on our runs for “safety purposes”, we made it know that over 50% of the population were endangered by these rules which failed to take into consideration the woes women face daily. Women challenged the law. Women changed it.
In March 2021, collective grief, mourning and outrage swept across the nation when the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard forced men’s violence toward women and girls into the public eye. The tragic death of a woman who had the audacity to simply walk home was the catalyst for conversation about our distrust of the authorities, lack of justice surrounding sexual violence, stalking and other crimes which primarily effect women and the sickening victim blaming of women who experience such assaults. The normality of every woman’s fear became a reality.
Efforts to challenge the accepted notions and the distinct lack of care around women’s safety hit headlines hard. Protesters became widely recognised, critisised and scrutinised but our voices were being heard.
The heartbreaking fact of the matter is, for one month, our daily plight was thrust into the forefront of the national media., but, as quickly as it rose it soon fizzled out of wider conservation.
Without the headline reminders of tragedy, society slips easily back into its ways of admission.
I have often expressed my frustration around the energy social justice seems to sap out of those willing to obtain an iota of it. It’s constant, thankless work and, a running theme seems to be, with every earth-shattering, tabloid-front event comes a peak of public interest, swiftly followed by radio silence. The work is tiring and often feels futile. It destroys your confidence and provides trolls with a platform and excuse to try to tear you down. You are constantly “not doing enough”, even from your own perspective. And, with that, quickly follows burn out.
Women are tired. And it’s easy to want to give up.
But the work is happening. And people are taking note.
More and more male allies are reaching out, asking “what can I do?” and meaning it.
I’ve been contacted by more men with large platforms willing to share our message than I contemplated possible.
A campaign of speaking on podcasts including A Runners Life, What the Fartlek and Runners World, all hosted and primarily run by men have given me confidence that men do care. They just weren’t necessarily equipped with the tools and information to do so before.
But now, there’s little excuse. It is easier than ever to stand up for what you believe in.
It is easier than ever to have your voice heard, with the right platform, by millions.
It’s easier than ever to listen.
However slow change may feel, and however many professional and legal barriers seem to remain in the way (looking at you policing bill) there is a extensive workforce of allies and survivors grinding, quietly, to fight back. The domestic abuse bill amendment 87B of 2021 which allows police forces to treat acts of misogyny as a hate crime finally passed after many years of campaigners and politicians (notably Stella Creasy and Alicia Kennedy) lobbying for it.
More publications than ever are writing about our safety. More people than ever are conversing about male violence toward women.
We are finally being taken seriously.
It might not always seem obvious and there might not always be drastic results but we are now an army.
Women and other marginalised genders have stood up, in the face of discomfort, fear and tragedy and said “no more”.
And for every social media comment stating “not all men”, all those reports derailing the conversation away from our ordeal, for every victim blaming headline and man calling out to us from his van there is a battalion of badass women battling off their never ending barrage of bullshit.