“Murderers,” “Thugs,” And “Cads,” v. “Gentlemen”

Thirty-three year old Sarah Everard’s disappearance and murder has grabbed the attention of much of the country over the last few days. On March 3 in south London, she started her 50 minute walk home alone at about 9 PM from a friend’s house, but never got home. She was last seen when she was videoed by a doorbell camera walking by a house at about 9:30.

Her body was found a week later in Kent (just outside of London, to the southeast). A suspect has been arrested: he is a forty-eight year old current London Metropolitan Police officer, amidst other reports of a February 28 “indecent exposure,” no less, by that same officer not far from where she had been abducted, leading to an internal investigation now if proper procedures were followed in the response to that earlier incident. That the suspect is on the force, and may have also committed a sexual offense that fellow officers had perhaps treated “lightly” just days before her abduction and murder, has only made matters worse.

Surprising absolutely no one it seems other than the Met Police brass, an unauthorized – due to coronavirus gathering restrictions – candlelight vigil in Ms. Everard’s memory and to protest violence against women took place Saturday night on Clapham Common, where she was last seen alive.

Clearly having remembered NOTHING from 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests, police on the scene made a mess of policing it, amidst disturbing images of burly policemen manhandling some women and handcuffing several, including this one…

…and managed to accomplish NOTHING other than making this awful situation even worse still.

The Met’s embarrassingly stupid policing of Saturday evening’s unauthorized vigil naturally added fuel to the Everard murder fire. Even before that on social media there had already been a great deal of discussion that had revolved around some women asserting they feel vulnerable and men do not care. Some have also been challenging men for failing to speak up… and even castigating men for failing to “protect” women.

For example, we are seeing variations on these opinions all over the place:

[From Instagram.]
[From Instagram.]

So allow me, as a man (and historian), please to offer the following thoughts:

1/6 I am not “mates” with as-holes and thugs. I don’t know what some women think men talk about when alone with their “mates.” Some of our subjects over the years: cars, drink, food, football, work, changing the kitchen tap, Bogart films, a new novel we are reading (or even writing), if General Hood could have tried flanking the Union corps on Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and I can’t believe she is willing to go out with me.

NOT kidnapping and murdering women is, uh, a GIVEN… so NOT doing such is NOT a guy-bonding “mates” topic normal men discuss.

[“Konrad von Limpurg as a knight being armed by his lady.” Early 1300s. Unidentified German artist. Codex Manesse. Public Domain. Wikipedia.]

2/6 Probably the major reason social interactions were so tightly controlled between men and women throughout history was for women’s protection from some men. We enjoy reading Jane Austen’s books? We loved (well, I did not, but never mind) Bridgerton? Prior to the 1800s, police as we know them did not exist; the State enforcing public security in the immediate area was at best some “watchmen” walking around with sticks. Women did not go out alone especially at night in cities FOR A BIG REASON: survival. MEN too were cautious or even avoided going out at night alone as well.

Was that “patriarchy?” If you want to call it that, fine; but men LOVED their women as they do now and have always wanted to protect them from predator men. Such “patriarchy” developed over the centuries mostly because unarmed women alone could not usually match a man, so if she alone ran into a man with criminal intent she was at a terrible disadvantage.

Pistols in particular in the 1800s, which a woman could handle as easily as a man, leveled the field somewhat. I am no “gun nut,” it is a simple fact. Take away that “gender equalizer” – and most of the time one is not available to a woman – and the bigger and stronger with their bare hands will always dominate, and that bigger and stronger has usually been a man.

3/6 Most women STILL cannot match a man physically. The State is far more present than it was in “1800,” and that is a good thing for streets are MUCH safer now than 200 years ago. The price paid for that is none of us are allowed to be “vigilantes.”

So if some thug catcalls my wife and I feel the only way to shut him up is to slug him, I may well afterward find myself arrested.

“Sir, how dare you insult my wife. We shall meet on the morrow…”

[Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s duel” (1899). Public Domain. Wikipedia.]

Uh, dueling, let us remind ourselves, has long been illegal.

If a man in his young twenties walks up to my 15 year old niece as she is sunbathing (perhaps from a distance he thought she is older than she is) on a Florida beach and starts talking to her (which actually happened a few years ago when we took her on a holiday over there), from my spot feet away I watch him closely. And I watch her reactions too. If I sense she doesn’t like this and he appears about to get too insistent on her attentions, I ask him to walk on.

And if he pulls out a knife, and all I have is a towel, and he lunges at her, I may DIE protecting her… before police can be called.

4/6 I am supposed to “call out” a man (or men?) catcalling a woman stranger in public? To invoke reality, I have to first size up the context and egregiousness of the offense. Second, I have to judge that man in comparison to myself and to think about my own wife and my wider family, and if I am willing TO DIE within possibly seconds – especially if I am alone and no other men are around – in order to admonish a stranger (or strangers?) for making ugly comments.

I like to think I would intervene, and I think most men would like to think they would as well. However, the street is not Twitter or Instagram. That man I am challenging could well turn violent on me, so if I confront that stranger I need to be ready for potentially anything, because I cannot just, err, block him.

And here in England, remember, if he attacks me I can’t draw a pistol and shoot him in self-defense because I won’t have a pistol. Carrying a knife might also be deemed by police to be carrying a weapon, and therefore is also illegal. I certainly don’t walk around with a sword.

However, while he probably won’t have a gun either, he may well have a knife… and he does not care about law because he is a criminal.

Even in the U.S., I don’t walk around armed. On the New York City subway some two decades ago, I thought a man had a gun and was about to open fire in the train carriage. I prepared myself to jump on him to stop him from possibly shooting my then girlfriend.

5/6 Women do not fully appreciate how painful and demeaning it is for a man when he finds himself with a woman when a man who is bigger and presumably stronger, or even two or more men, starts talking “bulls-it” to her and he cannot do anything.

We already know a woman cannot easily match up alone physically with an aggressive man. However, a man also cannot easily fend off a much larger man, let alone two or three men. In that latter case I may well have to retreat, or she urges me to do so.

One of the worst feelings any man has to endure is believing he looked “weak” in front of a woman he loves.

6/6 If there was a simple solution to the violence at times from some men toward women, that solution would have been uncovered long ago. The State’s longer reach now – streetlights, CCTV, mobile phones and instant communication, professional police (including now women) most of whom usually trying to do their jobs the best they can – makes public violence against women of the sort that took Sarah Everard’s life much less common thankfully than it was, say, two centuries ago. However, as we see it STILL does happen. The State cannot be EVERYWHERE monitoring for every tacky behavior, every rude comment, and every lascivious look. In public we all – women especially – need to look to ourselves first for our self-preservation… which may mean walking in groups especially after dark, being aware of who is around us, and, yes, being “suspicious” until we discover otherwise, and so on, as has always been the case.

“I’m a lot smarter than your father is,” my mom once remarked, and then added realistically, “but he could knock me through a wall.”

In that sense, I am also disturbed by a developing entertainment trend. I find the rubbish peddled increasingly of “kick ass” young women who weigh “100 pounds” besting men twice their size in a fistfight – as happened, for example, in the film Enola Holmes; indeed her assailant even had a knife – to be presenting a dangerously inaccurate scenario. To be blunt, it is a FANTASY.

In Ancient Rome, strength determined what you got in life. If you were a weak man, Roman men believed, you deserved to be enslaved because you were not strong enough to keep yourself free. When it came to women, men who could not defend their women did not deserve to have wives and children because men had to be strong enough to protect them.

[Niccolò Possino, The Abduction (Rape) of the Sabine Women (painted about 1634). Public Domain. Wikipedia.]

That attitude is seen in myth when men of the new city-state of Rome, seeking more women, lured neighboring Sabines to a festival and ambushed the Sabine men and abducted some thirty of the women.

The Romans were hardly the only men to think that way. And it was not always just men who called for strength, of course: Spartan women in Greece famously supposedly told their own men when the men went off to battle: “Come back [victorious] with your shield, or [dead being carried] on it.” And we see other versions of both all through history… up to and including in the present day.

So nearly 3,000 years after “Romulus” signaled the attack to commence on the Sabine men, we are still here…

[From Instagram.]

I addressed the “talking to mates” argument at the beginning.

And I know my wife’s outlook.

Among men, there have always been “gentlemen” and there have always been “thugs.” While we may be able to alter “surface” matters in the relationship between men and women, ultimately all we can hope to do is to try better to “control” outbreaks of male thuggery because it will never entirely be eliminated. So in terms of “changing the culture,” I am sorry to be a pessimist about this but based on all that we have seen of over 3,000 years of humanity, there is no reason to believe “the culture” will ever change all that much because fundamentally men and women are the same as they were 3,000 years ago and will always be.