The burden of fear

I’ve been struggling for days how best to articulate the way it feels to hear the news that yet another woman has died at the hands of a man.

It hurts.

Not because I knew her – I didn’t. Not because my life looks like hers – it doesn’t. Not because I’ve experienced violence – I haven’t.

It’s the sadness at a young life cut short. At a creative person who will never have the chance to prove how great she could’ve been. At how close she was to making it home before she was raped and murdered.

It’s the impotent rage at the instant flood of #notallmen that appears under every social media post from the men that have to centre themselves, that have to make it about them, that have the temerity to turn themselves into the victims, even when a life has been taken.

It’s the anger at the rapist and murderer being excused for his crimes because he’s on the autism spectrum… as if there aren’t millions of people on the spectrum who somehow manage to get through every day without raping and murdering someone.

But mostly, it’s the deep sense of helplessness that we’re still being told to take responsibility for not being attacked. It’s the knowledge that we are not equal, are still not fucking equal, even when we’re white, middle class, straight. It’s imagining how much worse it could be for women of colour, for low income or homeless women.

We’re still not allowed to take up equal space in the world. We’re still told we need to be afraid, instead of the world telling men that they need to stop assuming our bodies are theirs for the taking.

Stop telling us to be afraid.


Every woman lives with this fear inside us. It’s always there, that latent terror, lurking beneath the surface, ready to spring into action. The scenarios we go over in our heads in every situation, day or night, the plans we devise to get away just in case that man who gets off the bus at our stop follows us home.

That fear is our reality, day in, day out, and it is exhausting. It feels like we are born to carry it.

We are told to ‘use our common sense’, to be afraid of the mythical monster, but we also mustn’t dare to vilify all men for the actions of the few. At the same time, the steady, unending stream of domestic deaths tells us that we are more likely to be murdered by someone we’re close to, someone who tells us they love us.

Part of me understands that when the police advise caution, advise walking in groups, they’re only saying it because this culture is so deeply ingrained that they have no idea how to even begin to address it. This excellent piece by Jane Gilmore sums up the enormity of the problem. I know it’s hard. I know there aren’t any easy answers. But continuing to trot out the same old lines isn’t good enough anymore.

Do better. Be better.

We don’t want to be protected. We want the freedom to walk wherever we want, whenever we want, wearing whatever we want, alone or with friends, without being afraid.

We don’t want to carry the fear anymore.

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