Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. But perhaps not for the reasons Tammy Wynette sang about in her 1968 hit Stand By Your Man.
No, the difficulties attached to womanhood aren’t typically around deciding whether to submit to a philandering partner. Instead it’s checking the news and being confronted with a deluge of harrowing headlines about violence against women and girls.
Last week felt particularly grim. There were reports from former Metropolitan police officer David Carrick’s sentencing, where the court heard in excruciating detail of his catalogue of violent and brutal sex offences against 12 women over more than two decades. The case makes Carrick – a man who abused his position as a serving police officer to prey on women – one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.
We read the victim impact statements – of dreams, identities, relationships and futures lost as a result of the trauma Carrick instilled in his victims.
As Carrick began his 30-year prison sentence, details emerged of an incident at Epsom College. The school’s headteacher, Emma Pattison, had been found dead along with her husband and their seven-year-old daughter Lettie at their home on the school’s grounds.
The following day Surrey Police confirmed what deep down we all already knew – although we’d hoped we were wrong. The family’s deaths were being treated as a murder-suicide, with police believing Pattison’s husband shot Emma and their child before turning the gun on himself.
It’s reading stories like Pattison’s that make it hard to be a woman. Last year at least 108 women were killed in circumstances where a man or men were suspected, according to the Counting Dead Women Project.
Last week, Cheryl Giavannoni, CEO of Girls Day School Trust, made a comment that cut to the heart of why so many women felt rocked by Pattison and her daughter’s deaths. In an interview with the BBC, Giavannoni said: “It doesn’t matter how successful or accomplished or brilliant you are as a woman, you are only as safe as your male partner allows you to be.”
Domestic abuse and femicide know no bounds. They are not confined to class, to religion, to race or geography. Coercive behaviour and the violence that often follows exists in the homes of those working in our authorities and most prestigious establishments. Last week’s headlines demonstrated just how far the epidemic of violence against women and girls stretches.
But while we grapple with yet two more grotesque instances of male violence, teachers are raising the alarm about the spread of misogyny in schools.
Last month teachers speaking to the Guardian warned how so-called “king of misogyny” Andrew Tate’s videos are making their mark on teenage boys. The influencer spouts views claiming women are a man’s property, cannot do jobs as well as men and belong at home, as well as claiming rape victims should bear responsibility for attacks. Teachers described how boys are parroting Tate’s views in classes, even leaving misogynistic notes for female teachers at the bottom of their homework.
Last week we saw the reality of male violence at its worst. But the popularity of influencers like Tate is fuelling a culture that allows sexism and bigotry to thrive.