Tuesday, March 16, 2021

This Last Week

The last week has been hard. At best it would have been a lot of reminders about this time last year when we started to retreat indoors, and that Harry and Meghan interview. Sarah Everard's murder changed the story and bought to the surface a lot of anger and upset for many of us - me included.

The reason's for this will be different for everybody, I can only speak for my own, but I know part of my anger is tied up with the restrictions of the last year and how I've felt them as a woman living alone in a city centre - my occasional experiences as a woman walking on her own in the countryside with a large dog have been slightly different.

The first lockdown wasn't to bad for me, the weather was good this time last year, my small local park was relatively empty and so were the city streets. The people I saw were shopping or exercising like me, there was plenty of space, and it didn't feel threatening. That changed as the weeks stretched on and the weather stayed good, Leicester remained in lockdown and a dedicated band of drinkers discovered my small local park. The police keep moving them on, they keep coming back, for months anything up to 30, mostly men have taken up the narrowest point of the park so you have to walk a gauntlet of no social distancing to get through them.

They are intimidating. Part of the park, once a castle motte, has been closed off to public access now, ostensibly for maintenance, but it was also clear there was a lot of drug taking and drinking happening up there, and it's out of sight so difficult to easily police with the stretched resources we currently have. The other park near me forms the boundaries of a couple of local drug dealers and gang territories. A lot of people get stabbed on it. The map of where I felt reasonably safe walking diminished week by week with warnings of muggings and gang activities, increased numbers of people heading for the same few family friendly areas when crowds are the last thing we want to be part of, increasingly persistent and aggressive beggars. Then there are the men who think nothing of urinating all over previously attractive green spaces with apparently no interest in privacy, and yet more dedicated drinkers and their attendant rubbish. 

I don't feel safe in these situations because far to many times I've been made to feel exactly how unsafe they are for me. 20 years living in a city working in customer facing roles will do that to you just getting through the day and using public transport. But the thing that makes me most angry is the disconnect in perception - that so many people, mostly men, refuse to see a problem were there so clearly is one.

I have a torn tendon in my right foot, when I had an MRI scan to see how bad it was it also showed arthritis, and I got referred to a consultant for this. He wasn't helpful, maybe rightly considering that there was nothing much that he could do at this stage (maybe wrongly, how would I even know?). What he did suggest was losing weight, which would help, but as many of us have found lockdown isn't great for that. He on the other hand had found it really helpful, he went running after work and there were less people around to get in his way. Aside from running on a torn tendon being both painful and really bad advice, he couldn't understand why I wouldn't consider it. And yet I doubt very much he would have been happy for his wife or daughter to do the same thing in whatever leafy suburb or village he undoubtedly lived in. 

This is something that really needs to change. I know acknowledging that the world isn't a safe place for women means being open to admitting why it isn't, and that that will be hard for a lot of people to face, but it has to happen. We have to stop tolerating the casual abuse of public spaces so that they become and remain male spaces, and we really have to stop deliberately turning a blind eye on situations we don't much want to get involved in because until we do that we're giving tacit approval for them. Bad things will always happen because there will always be bad people, but a lot less of them would happen if ordinarily decent people didn't let them. 

And now I've written this down I really hope I can actually concentrate on reading a book again because I'm also furious at how much energy, and time, being angry, and frustrated, and scared has robbed me of, and not just this for week.  


  1. An excellent piece and a timely reminder to us all. Thank you!

  2. It's so sad that it's come to this. Well said, Hayley.

  3. Thank you for writing this. What bad, insensitive advice from your consultant: I'm angry on your behalf. And yes, the anger and frustration and fear if this week, and how much of it is not just this week.

    1. My GP surgery is attached to one of the local universities and is really good - they even have friendly, helpful, receptionists and I've got used to that level of care, dealing with the hospitals is another matter altogether and it's really inconsistent. What hit me with this one was his total lack of engagement with the patient in front of him and lack of interest in anything but delivering his own opinion when either a moments thought or reading the notes on my file should have given him pause. Go running at night when it's quiet is shit advice to give any woman.

  4. Hello Hayley, I've only just read this and I wanted to say how sorry I am that you've had all this to deal with. I goggled when I read what your consultant told you and how he refused to accept your sensible point. How depressing.

    I just feel profoundly pessimistic about everything. I mean, how many years since Reclaim the Streets, how long since #MeToo, and yet still so many men don't seem to understand anything. And re Harry and Meghan, I mean everybody can see and with 10 seconds of Googling can find examples to prove the point that a substantial section of the British press is racist, the whole reaction to the interview kind of proves the point. It must be SO frustrating to be non-white and to have to listen to white people saying we're all lovely and never racist. When will it ever end?

    (I hope this comment doesn't depress you all over again.)

    1. My GP made the appointment, because they're really good and they cover everything, although at this very early stage I wouldn't have known I had arthritis if it wasn't for the MRI scan (that's a treat for the future) and I've some sympathy for the consultant who probably felt his time would have been better spent on someone who had more advanced problems. What pissed me off was the casual dismissal of women's concerns and his complete refusal to acknowledge the extra difficulties for a woman trying to exercise safely in a lockdown. I've spent a lot of time helping mum with her dog this winter which has felt like total freedom compared to town life - we've walked for miles and hours at a time without meeting anyone and often when we do meet people it's other women.

      The British press, Britain, is racist and hostile to women. It's built into the entire fabric of our society and I really wish we could just collectively admit it because nothing is going to fundamentally change until we do

    2. I'm sorry about the arthritis too - I mean, that is the worst bit.

      It's just too uncomfortable for people to admit it, because it feels so close to saying well I am racist and misogynist too.

      On Twitter a man asked women how he could make them feel safer at night. And literally the second reply was from another man saying it was outrageous to expect men to change their behaviour to accommodate women's fears. The problem is that I don't think he's an outlier. This is how a lot of people feel about social injustice. Nothing is going to change for generations. It's so crap.

    3. I think it's a really common attitude but one we need to stop excusing and start calling out wherever it feels safe to do so, even if that's just not laughing at uncomfortable jokes or banter, not making excuses for friends behavior, and being someone that can be approached for help or support - too many people in workplaces or schools/universities are not.