Text when you’re home safe. Hold your keys in your hands. Don’t take that shortcut
We go out of our way to stay safe, but we can do nothing about those who trample deliberately into our paths. In the case of Ashling Murphy this is not a metaphorical analogy but the tragic story of her murder.
I cannot stop thinking about her. When the story first broke Ashling was unidentified to the media and so we referred to her as the young woman. This label was attached as a placeholder prior to identification but in truth it is not a label presented out of coincidence. Ashling’s gender is not just relevant to her story but is the running theme of far too many stories. So easily she could have been any of us. So easily she could have gone for a jog and come home. She didn’t.
The news filtered into the media and soon flooded our feeds with a tidal wave of shock and devastation. A nation struggled to find the words appropriate for this tragedy. Simultaneously there was one sentence that cemented itself in our heads.
A jog in broad daylight.
It is a desperate sign of the times when we find ourselves acknowledging that perhaps if it had been in the dark, we wouldn’t be so shocked. The devastation would be unchanged of course – a sinking feeling originating in the pit of your stomach and carried close to heart in the subsequent days. But a dark night would have shadowed the reception of this story very differently.
We are familiar with the risks posed by the ill-matched combination of our gender and our society. Picking up our phone, keys, and mask before we leave the house is a trivial routine. But that phone will also be ready to fake a call, dial an emergency number or share a taxi app journey with a friend. Those keys that we grab absentmindedly are the first weapons our mind turns to in the absence of security. While the mask protects us against the viral pandemic, there is no clothing that will protect us against the endemic of gender-based violence.
The first draft of this article was six hundred words typed into the notes of my phone at midnight. One of the first sentences I wrote was ‘Boys will be boys. Girls will be murdered’. Now typing into a word document I find myself second-guessing my phrasing or rewording and rewriting various elements of this article because of an internalised conviction that perhaps my tone is too dramatic.
Ashling Murphy was murdered. That is not a dramatised headline but instead a devastating theft of life.
Women’s Aid Femicide Watch January 2022 reported that 244 women have died violently between 1996-2022.
We can and should address the intricacies of this case and most importantly we must recognise that at the centre of this story is a young woman and her grieving family. They are now surrounded by a viral hashtag that is cemented in the statement ‘She was going for a run’.
Being a woman in this world involves a series of calculations – the most well-lit area, the safest seat on the Luas, the least chance of violence. Individuals who identify as female can also identify an entire set of fears that are grounded in this capacity. Ashling Murphy did everything she was ‘supposed’ to do, and it wasn’t enough. Because individual action cannot overcome an issue that exists and persists at the societal level.
I have been catcalled by children who have not yet started secondary school. I have had bikes shoved directly into my path with the sole intention of scaring me. I have been jeered at from the open windows of passing vehicles. These are far from the most intense encounters I have faced but it is these seemingly insignificant occasions that often endure as the root of the issue. Each of these events stayed with me but despite my internal rush of adrenaline, my external presence is trained to be one of composure. I go home and so do the perpetrators. The incidents individually are so apparently small that there is no consequence, no follow up and subsequently no comprehension of the inherent harm of these actions.
The misogynistic discourse of Irish society has fostered a system where last week two men were granted €200 bail following an attack that seriously injured a young woman. Gender-based violence does not sprout up one day spontaneously. It grows under specific conditions and thrives over specific conversations. It is imperative that we eradicate the conditions of allowance, of overlooking and of bystanding. It is vital that we correct the conversations of banter, jokes, and ‘harmless’ comments.
On these horrific occasions of widely reported gender-based violence there is an inevitable trend in the attention. In the immediate aftermath social media will be vocal in its calls for change. Politicians will respond to the public and the press. Discussions will begin in workplaces, schools, and family homes. However, in the coming months when the media redistributes its focus and the violence returns to behind doors, the risk and the possibility is that these progressive activities are halted. We cannot afford for these movements to go in any direction but forward and at any pace but urgent. Too many lives have been harmed and changed and too many women have lost their lives.
When my lecture finishes and I head out onto public transport in the dark I will think of Jastine Valdez.
When I finish an evening shift and leave work, I will think of Urantsetseg Tserendorj.
When I go for a walk in broad daylight, I will think of Ashling Murphy.
How many times do we hear iterations of the same story before we find the necessary desire and ambition to change the ending? The answer must be never again and the accompanying enaction must be now.