By Rory Morrow – Deputy & Sports Editor
One of the best things about being a part of QUB Athletics is the social side of it. For me, it is as much about the sweaty rides and hoarse chuckles as it is the precision of my heel-kick warmups. Heck, we even have a weekly social run for an informal, casual, and friendly form of running.
Something else that this provides, which until now I had been oblivious to is the safety that comes with group running. The murder of Ashling Murphy brings into sharp focus the need for action regarding female safety, to listen to and respect women. Ashling Murphy was a 23-year-old primary school teacher who went for a run in Tullamore, County Offaly on Wednesday 12th January 2022. She was murdered. Since Sarah Everad’s murder in March 2021, the Guardian reported a further 81 murders of women in the UK that have a male as the main suspect until October 2021. Male violence against women has escalated. Certain men may say that it is only a minority killing women but arguably this stems from a culture of toxic masculinity. So, men- let’s start to make a positive difference. Small actions can make a big difference. Call your friends out on sexist remarks they make to you. Ensure your female friends get safely home if they would feel safer that way. And, especially, listen to women and what would make them feel safer. If you can, act on it.
Although great strides for gender equality within sport have been made (Alex Scott and Emma Hayes are prime examples within the region of women’s football), discrepancies remain. Competing prior to the Tokyo Olympics in July, the Paralympian Olivia Breen was told by a female official told her that her sprint briefs were “too short and inappropriate”. It left Breen pondering whether “a male competitor would be similarly criticised”. Six months on and still one would struggle to find any example of a male athlete having their chosen sportswear publicly rebuked. And the real pity is that these kind of comments (from the official in this case) threaten to overshadow the actual brilliance and heart-warming stories that are the achievements of female athletes. Which also deserve to be treated with as much worth and told with as much detail as the encouraging male minnow tales. Inevitably these inequalities consume the headlines because quite rightly, action needs to be taken, awareness accelerated but also because at the time they are newsworthy back pages. In an ideal world, sports journalism would cover just that, sport. Things are different now. Covid cancellations, pay-per-view punditry and unwelcome State intrusions are recently discovered hostilities. But female inequality within wider society has existed forever in some form. Breen took bronze at London 2012 and silver in Rio 2016 (in the T38 long jump) wearing her preferred sprint briefs. No athlete should have to jump through hoops to wear legislated kit that they feel they can perform to their best in.
Simultaneously men must improve their awareness and activism surrounding the issue of female safety within wider society. Let this message be clear, it is men that need to change. Right now, women are having to change how they get home after a night out and who they can get home safely with. This should not be the case. As a friend from athletics said to me, why should women have to make significant changes and alter their routines to feel safe? As another female student pointed out, harassment, in its many ugly forms, remains a considerably prominent issue. Cat calling and wolf whistling do not make you “big lads”. They make you a sexist, insensitive douchebag. Touching a female without consent, even if it’s a friendly gesture, can be unnerving. Just ask and avoid any awkwardness.
Since returning to (hopefully) post-pandemic night life, it has been all too easy to get overexcited, strain the purse strings a bit too tight, accept a jaeger bomb and make fun, slightly hazy memories. We students are young, after all. Yet what recent events have also illustrated is that we all, as a collective society, need to be wary of people trying to take advantage of tipsy friends and look out for them. Not only is this after the club lights come on. This is imperative for the duration of a club night out. Especially regarding spiking which has emerged as an unwelcomely common presence. Even starting 2021 in lockdown, around 50 spiking’s, half of which were associated to needles, were recorded officially. Even without the unreported incidents, this still equates to a scarily common weekly spiking. Having never been spiked myself, I cannot represent its true impact. However, a female friend who was spiked in Belfast described it as scarily sudden, the spiking making her unconscious. Do you want to imagine and envisage the sense of panic among your friends seeing you go unconscious (and them having maybe ordered the exact same drink)? Would you be able to reassure them how they got where when they awake in an unfamiliar environment, memoryless? Would you want that to disrupt and dampen your night out, as well as potentially your friend’s confidence? Spiking can happen to anybody but again females seem to be predominantly targeted. Watch your own drink but also watch your friend’s drink too, anything untoward can be secretly squeezed in via a needle whenever a drink is left unattended. We all want to enjoy our nights out and we deserve to cherish them following a covid-hell time of restrictions. It goes without saying but try to look out for each other, especially your female friends.
Like Maeve in Sex Education, don’t let your friend think it was an innocent misunderstanding if quite plainly, as was the case with Aimee’s assault on the bus, it wasn’t. Statements from the police encouraging women not to go out after dark, whilst well-intended, send out the wrong message entirely. Asking women- the victims, more often than not- to tweak their lifestyle around a dangerous environment completely dodges the fact that there remain many violent and threatening individuals out there. Surely, that is the main issue needing to be tackled. This implies that, like State meetings about climate change, the easier, more casual form of “action” is being chosen. Instead of doing their utmost to remove dangerous murderers from our streets or implementing meaningful policies, they are simply regurgitating an open source of already public information.
No person should have to fear their enjoyment of going for a run in a recognised route by themselves. Some sport and societal issues are interlinked. Racism and sexism can stem from an angry response to the successful momentum of movements, such as Black Lives Matter designed to lessen such inequality. In GCSE English, a sample essay surrounded the debate of “Do young people today have it harder than our parent’s generation?” Well whilst there are more opportunities, there are also far more ways for people to be hurt, abused, and subsequently traumatised today. The world can still be our oyster but only if we look out for each other, call each other out (when warranted) and seek a calm chat instead of violent (in the case of spiking, cowardly anonymous) encounters. Ashling Murphy was going for a run. Hopefully, by pulling together, all women will be able to go for a run or on a night out and return home safely. Small changes by all men will help to make a big difference surrounding the safety of women in society.