Sarah, Blessing, Wenjing – We Must Talk About All Women Who Are Victims of Male Violence (Not Just One)
By Banseka Kayembe
For all women, the last couple of weeks have felt incredibly draining. International Women’s Day was marked with an ugly but unsurprising insight into the institutional racism of the Royal Family experienced by Meghan Markle, and the non-stop misogynoir gaslighting from the UK press, propped up further by bootlicking Royal correspondents. That week ended with the tragic news that 33 year-old Sarah Everard’s body had been found, a Met police officer was charged with her murder and a vigil for her memory was marred by a completely disproportionate police violence against some of the women who attended. Like many, I felt unsurprised yet also completely demoralised by the reality of the physical, emotional and psychological violence inflicted on all women, both on an individual and state level.
All the things we say to ourselves and one another that I don’t normally give a second thought about were suddenly littered all over my timeline. “Hold your keys in your fist on the way home”, “text me when you get home”. Their functionality is to protect us from male violence which we’d come to expect, and know will eventually happen to us. Those uncomfortable moments with men that we brush off all the time as if “it was nothing” because if women complained every time their boundaries had been crossed, we’d have trauma at the front of our minds most of the time.
These events feel surreal, like we are on the cusp of a cultural shift that not only exposes male violence but reveals how much women have joined in solidarity, the next iteration of the “Me Too” movement perhaps. The penny may finally be dropping that the same unfair, patriarchal structures that oppress other marginalised groups, also do little to protect white middle class women either. However, these conversations have also exposed the deep fractures in women’s experiences and the double standards applied to different women when it comes to caring about their wellbeing and safety.
The death of Sarah Everard is deeply sad, tragic and thoroughly disturbing. Quite rightly, it has generated significant press and public attention. But the fact that we often prefer to focus on these tragedies when they are about white middle class women should not be dismissed - even if it makes white people feel uncomfortable. Why aren’t the missing Black women and women of colour, and the systemic oppression and violence they face, also deemed outrageous by the general public? Why are they not afforded the same level of empathy and concern when they go missing too?
Blessing Olusegun was a 21 year-old Black business student from South London, undertaking a work placement as a carer in Bexhill. She was found drowned on Glyne Gap Beach, with no widespread media coverage and it has been suggested that the Sussex Police did not go far enough in their investigation into Blessing’s death. They were quick to determine it as “unexplained”. Sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were stabbed to death in Wembley, North West London, and also received relatively little media coverage. The policemen who found them took pictures of their bodies and shared them on their WhatsApp group. Does that not reveal a lot about male violence, police violence, and the dehumanisation of Black women already?
The deaths of other non-Black women of colour have also not met anywhere near as much concern. 16 year-old Wenjing Lin was of Chinese descent, murdered shortly after an incident at her family’s restaurant. 29 year-old Geetika Goyal was found stabbed to death, bleeding on a street in Leister. It’s extremely likely that you will not have even heard about any of these deaths - yet they are equally as appalling as Sarah’s.
Blackness historically has been constructed as something inherently dangerous and threatening. Black women are therefore never afforded the same level of opportunity to be seen as vulnerable or fragile in comparison to white women (trans women are excluded from femininity even more so). Blackness is deemed as the antithesis of what it means to be feminine. We are the aggressors, the bullies. Black women are quick to be painted as “the mean Black girl” in situations of conflict, and others frequently believe it with next to no evidence. This was made adamantly clear in the press’ framing of Meghan Markle as a bully who made the English rose Kate Middleton cry, despite it later transpiring that it was actually the opposite.
For women of colour in general, violence against them is often seen as a cultural issue, specific to their communities rather than part of a wider issue of male violence. It’s mentally impossible to construe in my mind that Kate Middleton, who is embedded an institution that perhaps more than any other, exemplifies English nationalistic whiteness, would have gone out of her way to acknowledge the death of a woman of colour as she did so obviously with Sarah. Our vulnerability and hurt simply don’t fit with the narrative many have in their heads.
Equally, it’s been deeply painful to have to watch white women come to the same conclusions that the Black community and others have been shouting about for decades. Last summer at the Black Lives Matter protests, we saw chaotic scenes of officers on horses disproportionately attacking protesters, and the mainstream media remained largely unsympathetic, even framing the police response as entirely normal.
But when the image is of a white woman being unfairly handled, suddenly even the most cold-hearted of media commentators found it within themselves to decry it. The vigil was contrasted quite insidiously by a former Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent who stated “this wasn’t Black Lives Matter, this was a sensitive issue where a woman has been murdered tragically”. Perhaps she conveniently forgot that the BLM protests of 2020 were kick started by the violent state-sanctioned death of George Floyd? It’s extremely telling that the residual image of the UK’s Black Lives Matter movement was not of police brutality, but the burly hyper-masculinised Black man Patrick Hutchison saving a white supremacist from harm by carrying him on his shoulders, as though the lasting message for Black people is to always be benevolent even in the face of violent racist extremism.
So why is it only when the victim is white that individuals and our collective establishment can suddenly relate? Where is the vim for these issues when its victims aren’t white? I personally think some white women need to be honestly asking themselves why they simply don’t know about the women of colour who go missing. Coming to terms with this as a Black woman is frankly quite haunting; knowing that if I were ever to go missing, it would statistically be unlikely to ever be deemed significant.
The truth is, our collective liberation from misogynistic tyranny is bound up together. The systemic issues that harm some of the most disadvantaged have the capacity to harm other marginalised groups as well. Ignoring the deaths or other grievances of Black women, women of colour and trans women does very little to dismantle the terrifying male violence that impacts all women. So, whether the next victim looks like you or not, let’s all make it our business to care.