Sarah Everard's killing: Why the Twitter hashtag 'notallmen' was idiotic – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

I count myself a feminist but if I’m brutally honest with myself, I don’t think that’s always been true.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 7:00 am
People leave floral tributes at the bandstand on Clapham Common, London, for Sarah Everard. A serving police constable has been charged with kidnapping and murdering the 33-year-old marketing executive (Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

I’ve never been consciously sexist, but I, like most other men my age, have been willing beneficiaries of the patriarchy, lapping up the advantages and the blessings that thousands of years of human culture have bestowed on our sex. I’ve come a long way in understanding that imbalance, but I realised this weekend that I’m still on my own learning journey here.

I was raised by liberal parents, my mum was a flower child of the Sixties. She’d grown up in North America during Vietnam and the civil rights movement and we had copies of The Female Eunuch and The Feminine Mystique in the loo. I didn’t read them.

Gender equality seemed to reign in my childhood home, it seemed like a battle from bygone days, already won and memorialised in yellowing, dog-eared paperbacks. My parents both cooked and did housework on equal terms, they were both academics and they supported their two sons and two daughters equally.

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Perhaps the bubble they’d created hid from me the reality that this struggle was still ongoing and it continues to this day.

With the desperate news that human remains had been found in a forest in Kent by police looking for Sarah Everard, last seen walking home across Clapham Common, my Twitter timeline erupted in righteous anger.

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It was filled with the description of a kind of fear that I have never had cause to experience. I've walked down some sketchy paths and felt a frisson of tension, but I’ve never felt actual threat or fear that someone will come at me for anything more than my wallet. It was sobering and humbling.

There have been a range of reactions to Sarah’s killing and some of them demonstrate other layers of sexism and big questions for our society. The hashtag #notallmen started trending, almost as a reaction to the stories of fear that women were sharing across social media.

It was an idiotic sentiment. Of course, it’s not all men that rape and kill women walking home at night, but it is #almostalwaysmen who do.

Then there were the scenes from Clapham Common. You can’t directly compare policing styles between forces and across nations, but it was striking that 1,000 drunken Rangers fans were met with calm and watchful policing, while 1,000 sober women, laying flowers and candles at a vigil for someone who died were manhandled, arrested and bundled into police vans.

I know that police are hurting, that they are horrified that a police officer has been charged with Sarah’s murder, but what happened on Saturday was troubling on many levels.

The #MeToo movement captured the global consciousness in 2017 with a great revelation of one of the most insidious frontiers of sexism that still exists. It captured it and then it lost it again.

I was reminded of that in the individual stories of the women I know that surfaced over the weekend, demonstrating just how far we still have to travel for women and girls to feel both equal and safe.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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