WOMEN'S MARCH

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The high-profile case surrounding the rape and murder of Sarah Everard sparked a series of marches protesting violence against women. It also sparked a conversation throughout social media. The movement was reminiscent of the international #MeToo campaign, started in 2006 by the survivor and activist Tarana Burke, which gained traction in the UK. It is important to recognise how the #MeToo movement began with Burke, a

black woman. As it gained momentum it

often centred white women in the conversation. Intersectionality is fundamental in any discussion of the history of protesting gendered and sexual violence. 

Both the Sarah Everard and #MeToo movement have evolved as the result of the activism that came before, namely what is broadly termed the anti-rape movement, linked to the Women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the same manner as the Sarah Everard movement, and many other social movements we observe today, the 1970s anti-rape movement in the UK began with the high-profile murder of 13 women by Peter Sutcliffe. It was termed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ case, illustrating the problematic way in which murder cases are often sensationalised and 

how they centre and mythologise the cis male murderer, whilst subjugating the identity of the victims. 

The past is always present, and this is particularly true of protest and activism surrounding sexual and gender-based violence. The arguments used against these movements are haunted by the sexual and gender politics of the past. Another feature of the Everard moment was calls for a curfew for women, in order to protect them from violence. Again, there are historical roots to this argument. Following the murders by Sutcliffe, Leeds issued a curfew for women.

There are frequent calls for women’s behaviour to be constrained and therefore punished as a result of the behaviour of men. The Reclaim the Night protests began in 1997, illustrating how women deserve to feel safe at all times. 

 

A common theme in these cases is the way in which the media perpetuates notions of victim-blaming. This is a particular historical notion: “women who were raped were viewed as responsible for the crime. Victim-blaming was prevalent, as women were considered unreliable and prone to lying, particularly when “scorned” by a male lover”, as this book explains. The media focused on how Sarah Everard was an ex “Durham student” with a “boyfriend” in a way implying that she did not deserve what happened to her. A similar moralistic judgment was implied in the Sutcliffe case; there was no attention towards the case until Sutcliffe stopped killing sex workers and killed a student. 

Women are still protesting for the same rights they were protesting for 50 years ago. It’s important to note this in order to understand just how systemic gendered and sexual violence is. 

Book Recommendations: 

What We Talk About When We Talk about Rape

by Sohaila Abdulali

 

Film/TV: 

Mrs. America - for the history of the Women’s liberation movement