I had intended to write about Skylarks today. At long last there is temporary fencing up on Wanstead Flats to keep people and dogs out of the breeding area. I have not been outside all week and as I approached it this morning there were Skylarks singing from within it. It cheered me up no end. Skirting around the edge of the new fence I met up with a couple of the local birders, and naturally it was our first topic of conversation.
But this soon changed, and the Skylarks will need to wait for another day. The headlines at the moment are the kind of headlines nobody wants to see. In London this week a woman was snatched off the street, killed, and her body dumped in a wood in Kent. By a policeman of all people. Sarah Everard was her name. Reading about it yesterday I was shocked to hear that this poor lady was just one of over a hundred killed in the UK this year alone. Not all of last year, this year. A little over two months. I had no idea. Think about that for a moment. Two months. Think also about why none of them made the headlines. I have done no research, frankly I don't want to - it is appalling - but the fact of the matter is that without any fear of being remotely wrong about this almost all of those murders if not every single one will have been committed by a man.
There has been a lot of response on social media. The one that everyone is talking about, at least in the circles that I inhabit, is from Lucy McRobert, a fellow birder. That's what our conversation turned to on Wanstead Flats this morning. You can read what she wrote here and I strongly suggest that you do, particularly if you are a man. There are a ton of awful real life quotes at the end of the article. Women know all this already, men likely do not. I don't know about you but I know very few female birders, the hobby seems to me to be an almost exclusively male pursuit in this country. So if you take that small subsection and extrapolate across the wider population can you imagine the scale? My own daughters have already been exposed to it from a white van window. One is just 13 years old. It is pervasive. It is dangerous. And sometimes and as we have all just heard about, it ends very badly.
Many will argue that a wolf whistle or an "oi darlin'" is just banter, boys will be boys. But that's a very male view. I suspect few women feel that way about it. Banter, however innocent or cheeky, emboldens. The sad fact of the matter is that from quite a young age women feel instinctively threatened by men. It is ingrained. I have experienced it out birding, likely you have too. You are out and about, likely in a quiet spot as these tend to be birdier than busy thoroughfares, and you cross paths with a woman. Immediately you feel awkward. What do you do? How do you signal that you are not one of those men? I subconsciously look through my bins, trying to clearly demonstrate that I am in this neck of the woods for an entirely innocent purpose, but in truth I don't know whether this is of any comfort at all. What else could I do? What should I do? Smile, wave, try and say hello? That feels creepy. Do nothing? Stand back? Walk the other other way? I am not sure there is anything I can do to provide instant reassurance, my gender is unfortunately immediately threatening and off-putting. That's not my own fault, but it is a cold hard fact, and it stems from years and years of abuse through the generations that means that still, in 2021, women are afraid. Afraid of what type of man I might be.
I have an inkling of what this fear is like. About 12 years ago I was mugged by four guys not far from where I live. A violent assault. The experience affected me greatly. For a while I was on edge whenever I was outside of the house. I avoided certain areas, areas where I felt penned in, and I only went where I had clear sight lines and could see people coming from a long way away. I remember frequently looking over my shoulder when walking in built up areas. When enough time had passed that I had stopped doing that, I remember walking down the pavement on my own street and not hearing a jogger coming up behind me - clearly a kind of Michael Holding. I jumped out of my skin. I was so clearly terrified that the jogger actually stopped and apologised. He didn't have to do that but at the time it was so appreciated. Clearly I have not forgotten about this and I never will, but time has proved to be a great healer and when I go birding I do so now without fear. When you read Lucy's article you realise quite quickly that women are not so lucky. They can never feel completely safe, completely at ease. Because of men. It goes without saying that it shouldn't be like this. And only men can change this.
There has been a huge outpouring of support for Lucy and others who have spoken up. Pleasingly this has been mostly from men. The fact that me and my mates were talking about it this morning is also a good sign. Support has not been universal however. Enter Ronald. Ronald's response to Lucy's article was distinctly unsupportive. It was boorish and unpleasant. I had not been following the online conversation that had stemmed from the article, but when mention of Ronald appeared my heart sank as I knew exactly which Ronald this would be. And it was. I don't know Ronald, he may not even be real, a construct of a bored person's imagination perhaps, but I've had a run in with 'him' before and he is exactly the type of person you would expect him to be. I feel bad about even giving him airtime. Ronald does not like Europe for instance. He also does not like foreigners. Or immigration. He thinks that there are too many black people on the TV. And if he dislikes multiculturalism he absolutely hates woke lefties, remoaners and snowflakes. And so quelle surprise it also turns out he dislikes women enough to abuse them on social media for penning an uncomfortable truth. Way to go Ron.
Ronald and his version of masculinity are not a rare phenomenon. He is particularly vile of course, and quite publicly so, but I reckon there are many men with similar views on women. Ronald is a jerk, for many reasons. Don't be like Ronald. And don't accept the Ronalds of this world as harmless idiots.