First a little parable for you: Two fish were swimming along, going about their business, enjoying their day when another fish swam by and said, ‘the water’s lovely today, isn’t it?’ The other two fish looked at each other, ‘Water? What’s water?’
So, to Professor Chris Whitty, The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, who in February had been jostled and shouted at by anti lockdown, anti vaxxers. A teenager was the main culprit and his mum apologised for him and by all accounts Prof Whitty was unharmed and just wanted the fuss to die down.
And then, June 27th, I saw a similar story; once again Prof Whitty had been accosted by the general public whilst he was simply going about his daily life. ‘How horrible,’ I thought but didn’t even bother to read the article because let’s face there’s far worse in the news isn’t there?
But, as usual with news pieces, little bits began to seep into my brain by osmosis, sub-headlines giving a clearer picture of what had actually happened. Prof Whitty had been grabbed by two young men and held against his will for a few moments as they demanded he take some selfies with him. ‘Huh,’ I thought, what’s the big deal here?’
I truly didn’t see an issue. So, a couple of over exuberant guys had wanted to stop Prof Whitty as he was going about his business, demand he take photos with them and actually held him in place until it had happened. So what?
And yet, the establishment were up in arms over it all. MPs, leaders of opposition parties, the Prime Minister himself, all were outraged on Prof Whitty’s behalf. All wanted to see something being done because for Prof Whitty to be so accosted in daylight in a London park just wasn’t good enough. What was the world coming to?
I thought this an hysterical over reaction. I literally couldn’t see what the problem was. I was one of the two fish saying, ‘Water, what’s water?’
I am a 54 years old woman. I grew up in a society that has never felt safe. Where, if I meet two young men who held me in place while they took a photo, like all the other women I know, we would smile tightly, assure them its fine, absolutely okay, just so we are let go of and able to go on our way again in relative safety.
Being ‘assaulted’ is a daily occurrence for women on the UK’s streets and there is no mobilisation of forces to hunt down our transgressors and hold them accountable. Promising young men don’t lose their jobs over assaulting a woman, there is no immediate manhunt launched to track down the perpetrators. To suggest such would be another hysterical overreaction.
It was this blog post by Gemma Atkinson of Yes Matters, a UK charity that educates on gendered violence that opened my eyes to the dirty sea I was swimming in. https://yesmattersukreact.home.blog/2021/07/01/yes-matters-response-to-the-cosby-release/?fbclid=IwAR1MXjaZE574fjXniqgLMQBlJyu3-rnfXs3k81P2GJbdG8becMeDTgbWahU
A younger woman was showing me why what happened to Prof Whitty was wrong. I had accepted casual assault as a normal part of everyday life as a woman because for me, as a woman, it is a normal part of everyday life. It shouldn’t be. It absolutely should not be and we all need to step up and say this behaviour is unacceptable, no matter whom is targeted.
I am deeply sorry that Prof Whitty had that experience but I am glad in one way for it, because it showed just how deeply biased against women our current systems of policing, justice and society in general are.
I had my eyes opened to the fact that women are habitually assaulted and we put up with it because the patriarchal misogyny our society is steeped in allows it. Enables it to such an extent that we see it as normal.
There is so much I could write about the recent ONS report into levels of sexual harassment against women. It sometimes feels like its too much to bear.
Maybe, after the immediate outcry and galvinising of the forces of justice to hunt down Prof Whitty’s attackers, the police and other members of the establishment will notice the difference in how they treated the crime against his person as they would against a woman?
And we have to keep reminding everyone that its not okay for half the population of the country to always feel threatened by the other half. Its time for men to start calling out other men, for people to open their eyes to the murk we have been living in and seeing it for what it truly is.