We asked women about times male friends and family members made them feel unsafe

‘Women have to constantly prioritise their safety which many men can’t comprehend’

Trigger warning: Sexual assault, trauma

The death of Sarah Everard has brought the conversation around women’s safety to its most prominent point in recent years. Whilst there has been a lot of needed discussion around how men can make women feel safer in public, there’s a sense that men haven’t often spared a thought for just how important this is until now – and to a greater extent – how their own actions could be seen as unsettling or unsafe to women.

The actions of men that make women feel unsafe aren’t restricted to murderous hooded villains in dark alleyways, but quite often to normalised and unconscious behaviours that have developed over time. I wanted to know which behaviours women found unsafe in men, so I asked them about times male friends and family, people who they’re supposed to love and trust, displayed potentially dangerous behaviour.

Bean Urquhart

Bean feels she has been let down by the majority of boys she has been in relationships with

‘You see the ugliest side of a man when his ego is hurt’

Where men I’ve loved or trusted often let me down is when relationships start to go sour. I’ve always been pretty vocal about my feminist views and an outspoken person, so guys learn pretty early on that this is really important to me and important for me to see in my partners.

When we’re dating, boys really play up to this – push that they’re massive feminists, that they respect women and hate sexism. However, nine times out of 10 this goes completely out the window when things start to break apart.

I wouldn’t date someone I thought has sexist views and yet almost all men I’ve dated have used sexist language towards me, objectified me, purposefully tried to knock me down and outright lied about me to their mates and mine when things broke up. In my experience, you see the ugliest side of a man when his ego is hurt. When you’re on the receiving end of this behaviour from someone who really convinced you they’re “not that guy”, it hurts a lot and is a painful reality check.

– Bean

‘Guys don’t have to worry about this kind of thing’

The thing that surprised me most with previous partners is that they’ve acted surprised when I’ve said I won’t walk over to theirs when it’s dark. If I have to, I Facetime them the whole way and they never really seem to understand why.

They were never rude or anything, I just think it was a lack of understanding which makes sense because, I assume as guys, they’ve never had to worry about walking alone. It really made me realise that guys don’t have to worry about this kind of thing. When I’ve called girls they’re always happy to stay on the phone the whole time.

– Sanjana

‘He and all his flatmates ganged up on us and said that we were wearing provocative clothing, flirting with them and asking for it’

One of my old guy friends had always been there for me when I was having a rough time, but then my boyfriend broke up with me and all my friends came round to rally the troops and look after me. The plan was to get really really drunk, so I was smashed and this guy kept inappropriately touching me.

My friends flagged it with him and apparently I told him to stop (but I don’t remember). The next day we spoke about it and he tried to gaslight me into saying I wanted it, even though I’d just been broken up with – the last thing I wanted was one of my guy mates trying to touch me up. At this point, I knew this guy really wasn’t who I thought he was, but then a few weeks later he did the same thing to one of my other friends.

He and all his flatmates ganged up on us and said that we were wearing provocative clothing, flirting with them and asking for it, but then turning them down. My friend had been passed out on the sofa and definitely wasn’t asking for it. Neither was I. It just made it evident that they think so little of us and mistook being nice as a girl for being interested.

– Emily

Anna Meehan

Anna has struggled with the behaviour her brother used to exhibit towards women

‘Men look at women first and foremost based on whether they want to have sex with them’

What I’ve learned from a lot of my close male friends is that so many men use really hostile language about women so casually, and I’ve had boys objectify women right in front of me. I remember once a friend said a girl had “fat tits” right in front of me, and even my own brother uses language like “hot chick” and “crazy bitch”.

I’m not a “woman” to him in that he’s not trying to have sex with me, but for him and a lot of men, women are sexual objects and that only. It’s subconscious patriarchy that men look at women first and foremost based on whether they want to have sex with them. As his sister, I get a lot more respect from my brother, but it makes me wonder what makes me any different from the girls they talk about and what boys like that say about me when I’m not around – it’s so hostile.

– Anna

‘It has become more of a ‘good people can do bad things’ situation’

I have a pretty large group of male friends who all play for the same football team, and at one point was sleeping with one of their teammates. This guy doesn’t drink at all, but I very drunkenly booty called him and went over. I was so drunk I couldn’t speak properly and even proceeded to throw up on him during sex.

He told me to clean myself up, then he cleaned himself up and he continued to have sex with me. When I told this to my female friends, they were all horrified that he did this. When I told my male friends, on the other hand, they all defended him and said it was my own fault for calling him and going over of my own will. None of them could understand why what happened was so wrong because I’d “consented” by calling him.

When you’re too drunk to speak properly you’re too drunk to consent. It really changed my perspective on my male friends – they were willing to stick up for the lads, instead of admitting or even trying to understand that he was capable of doing something wrong. I still have to see them sometimes because my housemate is on the team. It’s uncomfortable but I’ve learnt to live with it. They’ve definitely had my back in so many other scenarios so it has become more of a “good people can do bad things” situation.

– Sophie

‘It made me aware that these jokes were acceptable when girls weren’t around’

The most overarching thing I’ve noticed at uni is the presence of rape jokes. The word is used a lot in gamer culture, such as to say “I got absolutely raped on Fortnite yesterday”, but it really trivialises the trauma that the word represents, and is especially uncomfortable and triggering to be around as a victim.

I was at predrinks once with my best mates and a couple of people in our wider circle. We were playing Mr and Mrs, and one of the boys asked: “Who is the bigger rapist?” I felt literally everything at once – trauma, anger, shock, sadness – and all my closest friends immediately turned to look at me.

I obviously kicked off and a couple of the boys shot him down like: “Why would you fucking say that?”, but I had to leave because not only was I the only girl present, but not enough was done by the people I trusted to allow me to feel comfortable again in that setting. It made me aware that these jokes were acceptable when girls weren’t around.

– Kirsty

‘Women have to constantly prioritise their safety which many men can’t comprehend’

I was walking home from a night out with one of my closest male friends and, just as we were leaving the town centre, he decided he was going to go to the house of a girl who he was talking to, ditching me in the town centre without any warning or discussion.

I found another male friend eventually so all was fine but the principle of it felt really unsettling. Then walking home with my other friend we bumped into a girl we knew who had also been ditched by her mates, so we walked back with her as she lived near us. She was getting on well with my friend and I was feeling like a third wheel so I walked slightly behind most of the way and left when we got back to my road so he could walk her home.

However, the next day he accused me of cock-blocking him. It was just so frustrating because what did he want me to do in that situation? I hate the phrase “men think with their dicks”, but honestly it just felt like they had no understanding of how worrying it can be to be alone on the streets at night. Women have to constantly prioritise their safety which many men can’t comprehend – and this leaves you being labelled as annoying, paranoid or “cock-blocking” by asking for their support.

– Katie

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Women are sharing how men can make them feel safer at night

• Ninth ‘Kill The Bill’ protest takes place in Bristol

• Patsy Stevenson, student arrested at Sarah Everard vigil, says she was ‘terrified’