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Can we do better?

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

Currently, a major topic on UK news is the murder of Sarah Everard by a white male police officer. She was last seen in South London on 3rd March and her remains were found in a builder’s bag in the woodlands in Kent (about 65 km away). Her death is tragic, and this was another case of a woman who died before her time. She was walking home. She was just walking home.

Part of the outrage and public anger surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard is the response of the London police to the vigils for Sarah. Of course, London is still under Covid circumstances, and large gatherings are discouraged. However, for the vigil, mourners largely wore masks and kept social distancing. Despite that, Police were very hands-on as they handcuffed and forcibly removed women from the vigil. The vigil is to mourn the death of a young woman who was murdered, but at the same time, it draws attention to how common it is for women to be the victims of violence from men. She was just walking home.

In comparison, Tonga is supposedly a relatively safe place compared to London. However, there have been times where I felt threatened and intimidated in public spaces as I too try to go home. One particular experience is when I first started working in Tonga. I was 22. It was Parliament Opening Marching day, and there was police patrol early that morning, telling drivers to find a different parking spot to make room for the marches. I usually park at the side of the road across from the Nuku’alofa Police station, but that day, I had to park across the Royal Nuku’alofa Club because there were no other spaces closer to the office. That night, I had to work late, until around 9 pm. As I walked past the Post office towards my car, a group of men, maybe 6 or 7 of them, saw me and started following me. They probably just left Reload bar down the road and they seemed pretty drunk. They started catcalling at me and calling me Asian racist slurs. I practically ran towards my car and locked myself in, my hands shaking to start my car. I didn’t start my car fast enough, as those group of men had gathered around my car and started tapping on my car window and were making sexually offensive gestures at me. I tried not to cry and turned on my car and lights and honked at them to move. They just laughed, so I started to drive. The wheels of my car ran over their feet, and they jumped aside in anger. They kept swearing at me and throwing middle fingers at me as I drove off. If rocks or anything were lying around, they probably would have thrown it at my car. It was really hard not to cry during my drive home.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, man, she’s such a prude. Vale he fakakata. They were drunk, cut them some slack. She should have turned around and said something. Why did she park there in the first place? She must be lying, that never happens to anyone I know in Tonga. You’re welcome to your own opinion. If you’ve worked in Nuku’alofa or drive around to run errands in town, you know how hard it is to find a decent parking spot at all. Also, lemme ask you, if you were a woman, walking in the dimly lit area, and 6-7 people who are twice your size in height and width, and were aggressively yelling at you, how would you have responded? Also, why should bad behaviours under intoxication be acceptable? Drunk or sober, trash behaviour is still trash behaviour. Anyway, I don’t know how you’d react, but fear was what I felt. At 22. In Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

It’s almost been 6 years now since, but I still vividly remember being genuinely scared that night. I was terrified, walking just 150 meters from my workplace to my car, at night, alone, and being catcalled and called racist slurs by men I don’t know. I used to wonder, had I not ran and locked myself in my car that night, would I have been in more danger? Had I looked more Tongan and less foreign would they not have targeted me? Would people only laugh at my story, but only take me seriously if something bad had happened to me that night? I don’t wonder about what I could have done any more, but that memory now makes me livid. Why did I have to feel terrified? I did nothing wrong that night. Those men should be ashamed and they should have been taught better!

Of course, such situations where you feel threatened aren’t limited to interactions with men you don’t know. It can happen with men you know or used to know. Amongst my female friends and me, we’ve all had our own experiences with a crazy man, usually an ex-boyfriend. A stalker ex who still shows up to your work, home and school even though you’ve long broken up. An ex who still finds ways to contact and harass you after you’ve blocked his number and social media pages. An ex who threatens to commit suicide if you don’t take him back. An ex who threats to spread nasty rumours about you for breaking up with him. An ex who lied and bragged to all his friends that you slept with him. An ex who was physically, mentally and emotionally abusive and manipulative. What these men have in common is a sense of entitlement and toxicity which made them think what they were doing to us were okay and justified…because they are men and we, as women hurt their ego. That's not acceptable at all, and we should stop romanticizing trash behaviour from men (and women) as a type of "love". Ew.

Going back to the murder of Sarah Everard, there is increased attention on the extra vigilance and precautions that women have to take to avoid being in dangerous situations. However, can we change the narrative and focus on the men who perpetuate the violence and cause harm to women? Of course, #NotAllMen are rapists, kidnappers, murderers or abusers. It’s a small fraction of men. In light of that, what also stands true is #NotEnoughMen speak up about men they see abusing women emotionally, mentally, and physically.

If you are a man and you are reading this, please let me ask you some questions.

As a man, when you know your male friends are abusing their partners, do you speak up? As a man, when you see a woman being harassed or bullied, do you speak up? As a man, when you hear your mates speaking in a derogatory way about a woman, do you speak up? As a man, when your mates make a rapey or sexist joke, do you speak up? As a man, it’s easier to stay quiet, laugh along with the joke and pretend you didn’t see or hear anything, isn’t it? That's part of bro-code, isn't it? As a man, why should you speak up for a woman you don’t know or aren’t related to instead of speaking up against your mates? That’s what I mean by Not Enough Men. Only respecting women who are your family isn’t enough. We know it’s not all men, but we don’t know which men are the good ones and which are the bad ones if all men stay quiet. Stop being complicit. Do better. Please.

Sarah Everard did everything right that night. She was walking in a brightly lit street. She wore sensible shoes and bright coloured clothing as she called her boyfriend to let him know where she was as she walked home. Those are all things girls learn as part of staying safe. Despite her precautions, someone’s son, a male police officer decided to kidnap and kill her anyway. She didn't deserve to die in the way that she did. She was just walking home.

As much as we raise our daughters telling them to stay safe and stay cautious, can we raise our sons to be better? Can we raise sons to treat all people and all women with kindness and respect, and not just the ones they are related to, or attracted to? Can we raise better sons? Kinder sons? Empathetic sons? Can we? No matter what we do as women, it won’t be enough until men also stand up and say enough is enough and do better. We can do better, can't we?

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