Life

Jake O'Kane: My kids are growing up in a world drowning in toxic hyper-masculinity

While never inured to the horrific rate of femicide in our society, Sarah Everard's death really hit home – and the reason was sitting across the room from me as I watched the news

Sarah Everard, whose kidnapping and murder sparked widespread shock, grief and anger
Jake O'Kane

BEFORE Covid, on nights my wife was able to go into town for dinner or a few drinks with girlfriends, I always insisted she took a private taxi, booked in advance. This has been a running point of contention between us, as my wife, being somewhat frugal, argues that doing so is a waste of money when she could just as easily get a bus.

While not criticising our public transport, having worked in bars and nightclubs for years, I’ve witnessed the very best, and very worst, in human behaviour, and have been left hyper-vigilant to dangers to which others might be oblivious; in this instance, the danger women face especially, but not exclusively, when out alone at night.

Of course, it shouldn’t be like this – women should be able to walk our streets in safety; but that’s not the reality.

The murder of Sarah Everard highlighted this fact; that the man charged with her murder is a serving Metropolitan Police officer only adds to the public’s shock at her death. Sarah should have been safe walking home alone at night but that decision tragically led to her murder.

While never inured to the horrific rate of femicide in our society, Sarah’s death really hit home, and the reason was sitting across the room from me as I watched the news.

My daughter, who’s 11 years old, is in the process of becoming a beautiful young lady. Suddenly, the news was personal; I could connect, in a visceral way, with the pain Sarah’s parents and friends are going through. I resolved, as best I could, to make my daughter aware of the dangers she will face as a young woman.

I’m aware that some may accuse me of ‘mansplaining’ and I don’t give a damn; I’m much more terrified of sending my child, unprepared, into a world of male predators. As is the case for many parents, this will involve walking the tightrope of making her aware of the danger without instilling unnecessary fear and anxiety.

The first thing I’ve impressed on her is to never expect anyone else to come to her aid. As harsh as that may sound, it’s something I learned firsthand when visiting my brother in London.

A woman takes part in a demonstration in Writer's Square, Belfast, earlier this week following the murder of Sarah Everard. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

We were travelling by Tube into the city; the carriage, while not packed, had most of its seats occupied. We were chatting when I became aware of a man, a few seats up, speaking loudly to a woman sitting opposite. He was angrily pointing and it took a second for me to understand he was demanding the woman put both feet on the ground; she was sitting with one foot tucked under her knee.

The woman said her foot wasn’t on the seat and told him to leave her alone. Enraged, the man jumped from his seat and aggressively moved towards the woman; to this day I’m convinced he intended hitting her. I moved to block him. I was in my 20s then and a big lump of a man. I didn’t know if it was my size, or my Belfast accent, but the angry man cowered and retreated to his seat.

Turning round, I almost tripped over my brother, who’d been standing behind me. Maybe it wasn’t my size, or accent, but the fact two big Paddies were definitely more than the man could handle. The woman nodded her thanks as we sat down.

We got off at the next station, along with the angry man. Initially, he didn’t want to join us, arguing it wasn’t his stop; we persuaded him otherwise. I remember being incensed that nobody else had moved to help the woman; my brother explained that was the way in London. People minded their own business.

Every bit as important as making my daughter aware of the dangers she will face is the greater responsibility of teaching my 13-year-old son to respect women. This will involve difficult conversations, as he is growing up in a dystopian world drowning in toxic hyper-masculinity, a world where online pornography, and its inherent misogyny, results in young men reducing women to mere objects of desire rather than individuals deserving of their respect.

The problem is clear, and it rests with men, not women. In our society, where damaging a statue will carry a potential 10-year sentence while raping a woman carries only five years, work remains to be done and attitudes need to change. I know I can’t protect my daughter all the time but if more fathers have the necessary conversations with their sons, fewer fathers will need worry about their daughters.

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