The conversation sparked by the tragic death of Sarah Everard, has resonated with me so deeply. I can’t quite put my finger on whether it is fear, the fact it could have been any one of us, or if I’ve reached a point where I’ve had enough. I just can’t shake this feeling.
I remember being as little as 5 years old, and being told that as a girl, I couldn’t wear certain clothes, because “it doesn’t look nice.” From an Indian household, that often means it “shows too much skin.” I am a part of a family where I’ve been told I can’t wear certain clothing in front of men. I’ve never, ever heard conversations of why men should feel uncomfortable by clothing. It’s almost as if Asian households have somewhat reinforced the idea that clothing can be sexualised, which is just insane if you put it into perspective.
I was 22 years old when I first felt brave enough to wear a dress, with my legs out, in front of my dad. I’d always felt it was disrespectful. It was my graduation and I remember feeling self conscious all morning, but it was also the start of my “fuck what you think,” clothing stage. I get there’s a time and a place for certain clothing, and there’s no way I’ll be rocking up to my Nani & Nana’s in a bodysuit, but I just wish I heard more conversation about how women can wear what they want, without judgment. I wish I heard conversation with men, about respecting women the same, regardless of their outfit.
Sarah Everard did everything by the book, and how many of us do? How many of us lock our cars as soon as we enter? How many of us ping our location to our friends? How many of us have had to emergency call our friends, when they’re feeling uncomfortable on a date? It’s like we have to fight to feel respected. To feel safe.
I opened my Instagram stories for a discussion on people’s experiences of feeling unsafe. The response I got was horrendous, mainly because when you think you’ve heard it all, the responses just kept coming. The fact that every woman I know, has felt violated, unsafe or abused, at one point in their life, makes me question where it all went wrong. Is it that us, as women, are approaching this safety aspect all wrong? Or is it that men need to be more conscious and educated of how we feel?
There’s always been this hierarchical system within the Indian community. In my household, my dad gets the final say (whether it’s right or wrong is another discussion in itself). I’ve come to realise, that sometimes, our parents & their generation, do not understand fully how today’s world works. If we equate women dressing a certain type of way, with becoming sexual objects, how will this change? We have to question it. How many girls have been told that a crop top is inappropriate, but can peacefully wear a sari blouse without discussion?
I don’t ever remember hearing the men around me speaking about how to make females feel more comfortable. I’ve heard and seen a lot of women adjusting who they are to suit the room. I’ve heard and seen a lot of women being referred to as ‘disrespectful’ for not obeying a man’s orders. I’ve heard about women blurring the lines of consent because they are afraid of the consequences. I’ve heard about women being killed because a man thinks they are entitled to dominate and cause fear.
And I know it’s #notallmen, but unfortunately our world has no way of filtering out who is and isn’t safe for us.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we live in a world where men will ever be held fully accountable, for the daily sexual assaults that take place on vulnerable women. I don’t think we live in a world where enough BIG changes will happen, to prevent another murder from happening.
The only thing we can do within our power, is have the conversations in our homes and in our circles, to slowly start making people rethink how they come across. To slowly make people more aware of how others may feel in particular situations. To slowly make men aware, of the borderline PTSD, that most of us women have.
I have grown up in an Indian household where the divide between males and females is so apparent. It is even more important for these conversations to take place, to understand that males do not have to be this dominating force, who have the final say. The conversation of consent, respect and admiration for women, is rarely had. Calling out behaviours that degrade women, is rarely ever done. I’ve seen women slated for ending relationship that have been toxic. All because “it’ll look bad” and people will say “she has no self-respect,” when these people are insignificant. I’ve seen men praise each other on how many girls they’ve slept with, and yet that is still someone’s daughter, sister or friend. Where is the respect in that?
I will be bringing this conversation up in my home and in my circle, and though I doubt it’ll be met with as much passion as I would like, at least I know, I will have done my little part in sparking that conversation. Because having a conversation is better than not having it at all.
If you have ever experienced sexual assault, please find the power and strength within you to report it. If you are told that there is no case to be made, just know that your single report could alert officers to a particular person or location, and could actually save another person’s life. Though we have been massively let down by our system, I hope this won’t deter people from reporting.
R.I.P Sarah Everard, a 33 year old woman, who had her whole life ahead of her.
“Every day you have the power to choose our better history, by opening your hearts and minds, by speaking up for what you know is right.” - Michelle Obama