International Women’s Day has coincided with a terrible reminder of our vulnerability
Sometimes you don’t forget a face. And all this week, it has been Sarah Everard’s. When she went missing, any woman who has ever walked home alone at night felt that grim, instinctive sense of recognition. Footsteps on a dark street. Keys gripped between your fingers. There but for the grace of God. She was a perfect stranger, someone I have never met nor had any connection with. But half the women I knew were sharing her image on social media feeds, willing her to make it home. Even though we know that home is where women are statistically most at risk.
Women who vanish stick in our heads precisely because they are rare. It’s men who are more likely to be killed in public places, invariably by other men; meanwhile two women a week die at the hands of their own partners on average, and mostly nobody hears their names. The Labour MP Jess Phillips, who reads those names out in parliament every year, said on Thursday that by her count, six women and a little girl had been murdered in the days since Sarah Everard had vanished. That doesn’t make one form of violence against women any more or less shocking than another. It just means that misogyny takes many forms; and that our primal fear of it bleeds into everything. It turns what may sometimes seem to men relatively trivial street encounters into something darker. It’s why we’re instinctively frightened of feeling trapped, dependent, with no way out.