Every human being is responsible for their own safety and well-being—in a perfect world. In the world we live in, however, where certain people are targeted because of their gender, race, or other identifying factor, we have to place the primary responsibility where it belongs. That means holding the people doing the targeting accountable, which also means enlisting those people's peers who have the power to actually make a difference.
Sarah Everard's recent disappearance and murder in the U.K., as well as the murder of seven women in a shooting spree in Georgia, has prompted a wave of discussion on harassment and violence against women around the world. On social media and TV segments, women have shared the myriad ways they try to stay safe, the precautions they take, and the enormous mental load of constantly being on guard. It's a lot. And there's only so much women can do to get to the root of the problem.
Comedian Trevor Noah explained on The Daily Show why men need to take responsibility for this issue in his brilliantly Trevor Noah way. He pointed out that March was supposed to be a time to celebrate women's history, but we haven't been able to focus on that because of what's happening in women's present.
He pointed to the high-profile murders in the news, then pointed out, "For many women, they're only the most extreme manifestation of a problem that they have to deal with every single day."
"For many women, every time they leave the house, it's a risk. And this is not something that men experience. Like, when the pandemic hit, men were like 'So just going outside is dangerous now?' And women were like 'Yeah, add it to the list.' And that risk of violence is why women are forced to constantly check up on each other to make sure that everyone gets home okay. It's become a normal part of women's routines. Get home, brush your teeth, put on some PJs, and then text your friends a picture of you holding today's newspaper to prove that you're alive."
Of course, he exaggerates for comedic effect, but the checking-in part is true. Women do that all the time. We worry about ourselves and we worry about each other.
"And the truth is," Noah added, "even if women know they will get home safely most times, they never know which is the time that they won't. Because for women, just being out in public means facing a wide array of potential threats from men."
The statistics are stunning. In a poll shared by Morning Joe, 96% of women reported being harassed on the street in the past year and 78% were followed in a way that made them feel unsafe.
Even something as seemingly simple as catcalling, which men might not think much of, is unnerving for women.
"Women never know what a catcall might lead to," Noah said, "since that person already has the audacity to start shouting at them on the street. I mean, it's like the guy at the buffet who starts grabbing rice with his bare hands. Yo, that person is clearly capable of anything."
Noah pointed out that this is why so many women wear headphones. We may not even be listening to anything—many women don't feel safe not being able to hear what's happening around them—but will walk down the street with headphones on so it's easier to pretend not to hear it if a man catcalls. Gross? Yes. But true.
"So, women basically have to tiptoe around the outside world like it's The Quiet Place, which is why they leave the house armed to the teeth in case—just in case—they get noticed by the monster."
Violence Against Women & Why It's Up to Men to Stop It | The Daily Social Distancing Show www.youtube.com
Throughout the segment, Noah shares clips of women talking about their experiences and what they do to try to stay safe. And his reactions to them are honestly refreshing. Here's a man listening to what women are saying and looking at it through a lens of compassion and empathy.
"I never want to hear anyone talk shit about women's giant purses again," Noah said. "Like, ever again. Look at all the shit that they have to bring with them just to stay safe. They got tasers. They got mini mace sprays on their keychains. What do men have on our keychains, huh? Bottle openers. I mean, that should tell you everything you need to know."
Finally, Noah explains that the solution to the problem isn't "to load up women with weapons and gadgets like a human Swiss Army knife."
"In fact," he said, "the solution doesn't really have anything to do with women at all."
"The conversation needs to be reframed. Because this is not about what else women can do. You can't solve violence against women without addressing the men committing it."
Men may immediately respond defensively to that statement because they personally aren't out harassing, molesting, or murdering women. But as Noah pointed out, it's more complicated than that. Women don't know who is safe and who is not.
Noah said we should "be teaching the next generation of men to respect women and be aware of their experiences, and we should start them as early as possible."
"Aside from children," he added, "we have a responsibility to teach each other...as men, we should be steering this conversation to where it belongs, centered on us. Because this is our responsibility, not to be creeps, okay? So let't not make it the one thing that we don't take credit for."
Thank you, Trevor Noah, for listening, hearing, and sharing. The more men who really get it, the safer women will be.
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