It’s time to recognise the constraints and discrimination imposed by society’s gender norms

It’s time to recognise the constraints and discrimination imposed by society’s gender norms

By Phoebe Baltazar

I’m angry, sad and hopeless.

In the space of just one week we began with the celebration of International Women’s Day, immediately followed by a vicious online attack of a high profile woman; followed by the news of a missing woman whose body was found; followed by the charging of a male police offer for the crime; followed by a gentle vigil of and for women being overcome with unnecessary violence by male police, and ending in oh – Mother’s Day. From this recent chain of events, it seems that feminist empowerment is undeserving of a consistent agenda.

Women and our bodies are under siege. They always have been. Looking back in the history books we can agree that changes have been made for the better – we have better access to birth control, improved (though by no means complete) fertility rights, and more freedom over our sexuality. But success in women’s liberation has always been permissible at the hands of patriarchy. Men get to police women’s lives and it feels like there is no way out.

Thinking of Sarah

I’m ashamed to admit it but the first time I scrolled past a picture of Sarah Everard I almost reacted indifferently before reading up properly. Sexualised violence against women happens so frequently that I had become desensitised to the culture of women’s victimisation. But, of course, as I gained full consciousness, the gravity of the situation sank in.

I feel sick to my stomach. A tragic and horrifying attack on a woman, doing nothing but living her life as she should be, whose soul is now gone forever. A woman that could have been any woman.

In the following days, the outpouring of love and collective grief for Sarah spoke volumes. It’s not a new situation we find ourselves in, but an event that has spawned anger and resistance against the fatal powers of patriarchy and misogyny. I have found myself in a constant state of traumatic reminiscence going over my own countless experiences of sexual harassment; from the minor everyday catcalling, to the indiscreet acts of physical violence that I have dismally tried to shut out.

Our bodies, our basic rights to freedom and safety are under gross scrutiny and threat every day. The raw statistic that 97% of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment of some form is harrowing in reality, but women across the UK aren’t batting an eyelid because we know and live this horror.

Thinking of the regime

Our culture normalises the degradation of women. It’s not even just harassment but it is pervasive across everything we do. Men can walk around topless on a hot day but women wearing crop tops or miniskirts are assumed to be on show for male voyeurs.

Why should we have to dress down for fear of being eyed up or slut-shamed?

Men will give themselves a trophy for dating and sleeping with multiple women, but if we do the same, we are immediately labeled as promiscuous.

Equally, those who are asexual or simply don’t date are questioned and stigmatised. Men can eat and drink whatever they like and no one tells them to watch their waistline, meanwhile, women are bombarded with sexist diet and beauty regimes that can induce food disorders and depression.

Men take up all the physical space they can on public transport and don’t even realise because it is so normalised for the ‘passive woman’ to cross her legs and take up as little space as possible. Why shouldn’t we be able to sprawl without being called unladylike or butch?

The perpetual narratives imposed on women alongside the gender binary code is exhausting. If men find women attractive, they are constantly their object of desire, and if not they are cast aside and undermined. More importantly, there’s more to life than simply following a two-way system. There is absolutely no need to thrust generic and outdated modes of femininity upon women, or to force everyone to follow gender at all.

As much as the media love to ask “Was it at night-time? Why were you alone? What were you wearing?” in response to a woman’s attack, the answer is obsolete. You don’t deserve an answer. No matter what we do or how we look, men have the audacity to invade our personal space or time to whistle at us, call us derogatory names, comment on our bodies and actions, demand our time and assault us. The onus is always on women but the responsibility must go to the harasser. The attacker. The perpetrator. The man.

Thinking forward

There’s work to be done, as there always has been, and that’s what makes it feel so impossible to be a woman right now. We are all mourning and aching from the reality of our fearful existence. All we want to do, all we should be ALLOWED to do on this planet we are supposed to call home, is live freely and without fear. Men need to realise that women are not here at their disposal – we deserve liberty from the patriarchal chains that confine and patrol our lives.

To that end: Misogyny is a hate crime and sexual harassment of any form should be criminalised.

We want men to take responsibility for their actions and choose empathy and compassion for all the women and non-binary people that share this world. We must recognise the constraints and discriminations imposed by society’s gender norms. We will not be scared into submission of a destructive culture anymore.