I can’t stop thinking about Sarah Everard.

On twitter it seems I am not the only one, as heart felt condolences fill our news feeds. I am so sorry if you are a loved one, or friend of Sarah. I can’t imagine the pain you are going through.

Women everywhere have been rocked by this and I am one of them. For years I have lived in London. The journey across town in the night has always been frightening, whether it was 9 at night or 2 in the morning. Buses and trains could have anyone on, you have always had to keep your wits about you. That is what we are taught as young girls. In a way I felt the same walking home from school in the dark in Bournemouth suburb - it could have been tea-time, but if it was dark, a little later and quieter, I would power walk or run the half a mile home. On my bike from friends in the evening I would cycle quicker than I ever knew I could. I could have put myself in danger throwing myself across roads, not double-checking for traffic, but I had this feeling ingrained in me, that someone was following me; I was in danger.

It isn’t an experience exclusive to London, but I have encountered moments of genuine fear in areas of London I have then moved away from. A man followed me around a shop once, in broad daylight, insisting I took his number while forcefully rubbing his leg. I ran out of the shop as he attempted to follow me home. On the same road, I was walking back from a Christmas party and a group of young adults walked into me and pushed me in the road with no explanation. I spent the rest of the time that I lived there getting the bus two stops home, and running to the front door with the key poised in my hand, ready to defend myself. I have taken the wrong bus to get away from strange people at the bus stop. Sometimes they mean no harm by the strange looks or comments, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Every woman has a handful of stories like this, wherever they have lived.

Women everywhere see themselves in this story. It could have been any one of us. She just wanted to go home. Perhaps normally we would dismiss this, as some people have, as a flagrant disregard of her own safety. Why was she walking so late at night, or her own and for so long? Why would she walk at night wearing head phones? Of course it wouldn’t be safe, we may say it was her own fault. My question is why shouldn’t she be able to do those things? Would we question her choices if she were a man? The fear is the normality for women everywhere but would men accept this normality? In addition to this, I needn’t remind you of the situation we are in and why this has made this story more poignant.

We have been living with restrictions on our freedoms for a year now but deep down we know the reality for women is that it has been much longer than that. We are told that by walking at night, or in the dark, is to put ourselves in danger. We should have a male chaperone, to ward off unwanted attention; they are physically stronger and are taken more seriously. We have been told not to wear this or that for fear that it will attract the wrong kind of people and the wrong kind of actions. We have been told since we were small that we are the weaker sex; that we should be careful and look out for ourselves. Even in taxis we should share our whereabouts so we can be tracked by friends, in case the driver abuses our trust. When will this stop?

I resent that women already feel like their movements and choices have been restricted. We have a right like men to walk safely on this Earth whether it is dark or not and yes, most men are kind and wouldn’t harm us, but why does a situation as simple as getting home from a friend’s house have to be fraught with so much fear, anxiety and in this awful case so much pain?

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I had never really understood Feminism. Back in the noughties when I took my History A-level, feminism was a thing of the past. As far as I was concerned we had completed it once women’s right to vote had been achieved in 1928. Now, after a few years of experience in the big bad world, I can see there is a lot more still to be done.

I attended an all girls school and we were sold the dream. We could have any job we wanted, marry who we wanted, if we even wanted to marry at all, and children; they were also optional. Most of our teachers were women; they were our role models. If they could have a fancy countryside house a few miles from the beach, a nice car and a family, then so could we. It didn’t really occur to me to look closer to home because the two worlds were so different. Perhaps my own mother hadn’t achieved everything she wanted to due to the limits of society, but she also left school at fifteen and had her children very young. Anyway, I knew my life would be different from my mother’s. I believed I could have it all, or at least most of it.

Alongside the uplifting education we received, there were strange elements of sexism at play at the school. When I first joined, the pupils were amidst a battle with the Parent Teacher’s Association and the Governors over the uniform update including the option of wearing trousers. I had just spent the last 6 years of my school life with my legs covered and I was devastated that a presumably pro-women all-girls school would then deny their pupils the option of covering their legs. (The reason I wanted to cover my legs was of course because society demanded smooth shapely calves, with a light tan, which I knew even at eleven years old I would never be able to achieve or maintain, but that’s another story.)

I distinctly remember a friend was suspended for shaving her head for charity, obviously it was too short and too unladylike. She stayed in hiding until it was deemed presentable enough because, of course, hats weren’t allowed either. We were often pulled up on our choices concerning our hair design against the tight rules and regulations, right down to the detail of which scrunchie we were wearing. I wondered if the boys in the neighbouring school were equally harassed for how they looked.

I always found it entertaining that we had to learn how to put a condom on a banana, whilst the boys must have slept through their lesson on menstruation and pregnancy, if they had one at all, if my experience having to explain it to them was anything to go by. I remember the fear of pregnancy was drummed into us so hard, most girls were on the pill before they left school. Not because we were all whores servicing the boys in the school field at lunch, but because education was too important to us for it to be destroyed by a silly mistake. It was clear even then, that it would be the girls who suffered the consequences in that situation.

I got a paper round as soon as I could but I knew friends that “weren’t allowed” whilst their brothers were. Their fathers were limiting their independence from a young age based on the perceived vulnerability of girls from the potential actions of men. My own father, whilst I was encouraged to go out and earn money, had issues with my sister and I having boyfriends; a stark contrast to his enthusiasm over my brother’s multiple girlfriends and sexual exploits. He is a year younger than me.

The trouble with change is it happens slowly. Here we were almost eighty years after women’s suffrage had been achieved with presumptions about gender still hanging around. Unfortunately not a lot has changed since then, either. I know, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a part of the world where while women and men might not be on quite an equal footing, it’s a better situation than some. I got an education. I was able to go to school and to university. Crucially, I have been able to make my own choices; they were not defined by my gender and not decided by my father.

I do, however, think we have some way to go. Feminism is the focus of equality for the female of the species, but there is much more equality needed in this world. Equality for all people regardless of gender, race, sexuality, mental and physical health. I don’t understand why in 2020 we are still trying to close the gender pay gap or why there are so few women in the top jobs. Why does it feel like the country is being run by exclusively white men from Eton? I hope we can increase the visibility of diversity across all groups, including those from poorer backgrounds in all industries. Encouraging young people, like our teachers did back then, that they can be this person, they can do this job. There should be no limitations on ambition.

History is what has defined certain groups to have a so-called easier time today and history is where it should stay. Feminism, however should be in the history books with an asterisk. *the pursuit of equality is still ongoing.

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