There is a heavy feeling in my heart and it doesn’t seem to be going away. It’s reflected in the eyes of every girl I have met over the last few days and in every conversation I have had since the news broke. It’s a strange thing to grieve for a person you have never met, stranger and more difficult yet again to find yourself fraught with so much emotion, frustration and anger for something that you cannot understand; she was just going for a run and now she’s gone.
25 years ago a woman disappeared as if into thin air in Tullamore. Her name was Fiona Pender. Ashling Murphy, a teacher of 1st Class at Durrow National School, went for a run along ‘Fiona’s Way’, named in memory of a woman who never came home and was murdered.
It wasn’t 11 o’clock at night. It wasn’t dark. Ashling wasn’t wearing revealing clothing. She wasn’t walking down a deserted alley or through a forest. She wasn’t drunk. She wasn’t high. She wasn’t filling any of the stereotypical excuses that people love to throw around when this happens.
It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun was still up and she was just going for a run.
When the news broke of Ashling’s death I knew what would come next. A text from my Mam asking me to consider changing my walking route and telling me to go earlier in the day. Girls moving in packs walking from university campuses. #notallmen trending on twitter. Heightened anxiety every time I see a girl walking alone, whether I know her or not and blatant excuses being thrown around invalidating the death of a girl who just went out to get some exercise. I have found myself frustrated at the ravings on social media, knowing deep down that no matter how hurtful and wrong what happened to Ashling is, in a few weeks it will fall out of the news cycle and society will forget about it until it happens again.
“When did we all become fluent in this language that none of wanted to learn?” is a quote from Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, a book that if you haven’t read you need to, now. It’s a quote that hit close to home when reading social media posts, twitter threads and news reports today. When did it become normality for us to have to explain that victim blaming is wrong? When did it become normal for us to have to explain that we know it’s not all men, but that it is always a man? Where on earth did we go so wrong that we know as women to change our clothes, our actions and our words because of another’s behaviour? When did we become fluent in this language of blaming women for men’s actions?
We do everything right. Ashling did everything right. She ran during the day on a well-lit and populated route and it still wasn’t enough and to those who have been so kind to offer women’s safety tips to me over the last number of days, what will be enough? We walk with our keys in our hands with earphones in our ears playing no music at all. We make fake phone calls, we take the longer, better lit routes. We have tracking apps and alarms. When is it going to be enough? When did we all become so fluent in this language that none of us wanted to learn?
It is not all men, but it is enough men, it is always a man. This is not a conversation about race or mental stability. These are excuses that nullify and invalidate the life lost of a wonderful woman. This is a conversation about the women that lie behind the statistics, the women behind the famous criminal cases and the women that society is happy to forget once the news cycle changes. You can read this and say I’m being dramatic or emotional and I accept that that is your view point. I do not accept is that I am expected to be okay with the things myself and my friends have to do to stay safe. I do not accept the excuses and rationalisations that “this is just how life is”. 30 years ago my mother was taking the same safety precautions that I am and I do not accept that it is okay that we’re still in the same place as we were when my mother was 18.
This cannot be a conversation that sits in today’s papers and tomorrows papers and the weekend supplements and then disappears after that. This is a conversation that must go from the cabinet table to the kitchen table. This is a conversation that must be father to son rather than just mother to daughter. This is a conversation that must penetrate schools and homes and universities. This is a conversation that cannot stop here. This conversation cannot end at the vigils for Ashling Murphy. This conversation cannot end here. This conversation must be had.
She was going for a run.
If you have been affected by anything in the above article please make contact with the following organisations:
Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 778 888
Text “HELLO” to 50808
You can find more info on helplines in Ireland here.