In case you don’t know Sarah Everard’s name, she was a 33-year-old marketing executive who was walking in South London on the evening of 3 March 2021 — when she disappeared. She had left a friend’s house nearby to walk home. A few days later, she was found dead. Her death and disappearance has caused rage not just in the United Kingdom, but all over the world. A constant refrain? Grief, and rage.
“But why are you so affected by something that happened in London, Maanvi?” I asked myself this question while reading women’s reactions to Everard’s death. Here’s the answer I instinctively came up with. Fair warning, I’m not proud of it. The answer is, “it’s because Sarah Everard did everything right, and yet, she died.”
You see, every report on Everard’s death mentions that she was wearing bright clothes, she wasn’t walking late at night, she was just a few minutes away from home, she took out her earphones, and it was a path she knew well. In the Manual of How To Keep Yourself Safe From Danger If You Identify As a Woman, she had tick-marked every box. And, yet.
I am ashamed of that answer, because as a feminist, I know that it shouldn’t matter if Sarah Everard did everything right. I know that even if she had been walking at 3 am and wearing short skirts, I should still be terrified and angry.
But that’s what happens when your lived experience is so at odds with what you believe in. I know of fierce feminist women who avoid going out late at night, unless they have to. I know of women I admire, who either text me or call me, just to feel safe while they’re in a cab.
Keys in your hand. Pretend calls where you’re saying, “Oh! I am just a few minutes away!” Pepper spray (I used to carry one everyday to my undergraduate college.) Looking out for people you can reach out to for help, if something happens. Being constantly alert of the slightest movements around you. Feeling ready to scream yourself hoarse, because you know that's a great way to get attention in a public place.
We know these rituals. We know them too well. And somewhere, we hope that strictly adhering to the Manual of How to Keep Yourself Safe From Danger If You Identify As a Woman will mean that we are safe from danger. A guarantee against the world.
Sarah Everard's death reminds us that there’s no guarantee. Even if we keep telling our girlfriends, “text me when you get home.”
PS: On second reading, I realise this dispatch seems more despair-filled than usual. If you have any ideas on what women can do to feel safer in a public space, reply to me. I am listening.