The UK has been a heavy environment to be a part of this past week, from the tragic news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance and murder, to the appalling behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at her vigils. It’s been a lot to process, a lot to grieve. As you’d expect, this heaviness has created a lot of unrest among those who resonate with Sarah’s story, especially those of us who are not always included in its narrative.
When the details about her murder were released, many women took to social media (rightly so) to voice their upset and anger. However, what a lot of these posts neglected to include were all femme presenting voices.
As someone who is AFAB (assigned female at birth) but genderfluid, it was quite difficult to see these stories time and again be specifically correlated to women, and mostly cis women at that. I didn’t want to take away from anyone’s pain, or make it sound like a “what about us” cry for attention, however, I couldn’t not voice how I felt. I knew then, just as I do now, that my voice and many others are needed in these discussions. Upon sharing my feelings, I found many femme presenting people felt similarly.
The reason we deserve to be a part of this narrative is because our femininity marks us a target, the same as it does for cis and trans women.
My appearance, my curves and how society views them, place me in a position of being marginalised and thus regarded as lesser than a cis man. It doesn’t matter that I’m non-binary. What cis men see is someone to use, abuse, and frighten; a truth that will resonate with all marginalised genders. We’re not part of the privileged demographic, and so no matter the time of day or night we walk the streets, fear of being catcalled, followed, and assaulted is always present.
This is a topic I briefly spoke about at Aurelia Magazine’s virtual vigil, an event I was honoured to be a part of, but felt saddened by the uncomfortable familiarity of our shared pain. Every voice there, both from the speakers and those commenting, told of the grief we feel that this is still happening. In a modern society where we’re meant to have progressed, become more respectful of one another, it comes as a blow to see the misogyny of history prevailing.
Davina McCall was quick to dismiss how often this happens. She tweeted how “rare” the murder of women is, while also imploring us to respect men during this time because they’re struggling right now too. Naturally, this caused a huge backlash to what was, and still is, a distasteful and inaccurate statement.
The murder of women, AFABs, and femmes is all too common — approximately two women are killed in the UK every day. Then there are the statistics of hate crimes committed against trans and genderqueer individuals, which saw 369 reported murders recorded in 2017-2018 alone.
Yet, the above figures still don’t cover all the times we’re approached in the street and asked to smile, or when a man shouts at us about our bodies, only to get angry if we don’t respond. I’m not a cis woman, but I’ve been abused and assaulted by men on many occasions since childhood. It’s terrifying. It doesn’t matter how confident you are, whether you know self defence, or whether you’re able to get away, we’ve all experienced close calls that nearly became the stuff of tragic news.
My not being a woman doesn’t change that. The best way to summarise just how many of us are impacted, I’d like to refer to this tweet, shared by @radamridwan, a non-binary writer and creator. Its powerful message emphasises the struggle femmes face in trying to better protect ourselves — we might be able to remain undetected, but only if we shrink ourselves down. We’re to deny our identity, our self expression, because it potentially spells greater safety. Unfortunately however, not even a more masc appearance excludes you from the attacks of men, especially if you’re AFAB.
We’re damned either way. This is why we’re so angry, and why I won’t stop pushing for femmes to be included in these discussions — to leave us out is to overlook the fact that our experiences are incredibly similar and often the same as those of women.
But what of McCall’s commentary on men, are we being unfair to them? Quite simply, no.
We know it’s not all men. It’s the same as saying not all police and/or not all white people — we know there’s some out there who do good, are good, but that doesn’t absolve the fact that enough harm us. It’s not all men, but it’s enough of them. A sentiment that you’ll have likely seen if you’ve been following the discussions about Sarah Everard, Blessing Olusegun, Nicole Smallman, and Bibaa Henry. The fact that there’s so many names we can use to support our argument only shows that men need to do more.
If you’re a man who knows you don’t cause harm, that’s the bare minimum expected of you. Go and educate yourselves, listen to what we’re saying when it comes to the experiences we have. Not causing harm doesn’t mean you’re not part of the problem; complacency still costs lives. If you do anything today, please watch the resurfaced clip of Scottish comedian, Daniel Sloss, talking about this rape culture during his 2019 standup, X.
If we’re to challenge the oppression still facing us, we need to do it united. Women and femme presenting individuals need to band together, under our anger and grief of being treated this way.
But for us to be able to do that, mainstream media needs to stop seeing “women” as an all encompassing term because it isn’t one. Some non-binary folks will feel aligned to womanhood, but some doesn’t mean all do, so please don’t simplify us because it’s easier. AFAB non-binary doesn’t equal “women-light”.