How would the average British person react if I told them that I would rather live in a society where I have to deal with women getting more willing to be violent than a society where I’m not allowed to go out and about past 6pm? Or a society where the only recourse is to put your trust in the state and its enforcers to save us? That’s where my mind turns now that we’re all talking about the police failing to protect women again. This comes after the Metropolitan Police admitted that they had failed to spot the warning signs that indicated Wayne Couzens was planning to rape and murder Sarah Everard, and then released a statement of advice for women who don’t trust certain male officers?
You want to know what the police advice for women being threatened by lone officers was? Literally, it was just call 999, shout out to passersby, run into a house, or wave down a bus. Yeah, if you’re a lady and you think you might be in trouble from a predatory police officer, you’re being expected to call the cops…on the cops. And also wait for someone to come get you, by which point for all you know the predatory cop has already caught up to you. So all that institutional self-reflection that translates to no substantial institutional reform.
But meanwhile, what is our advice to ourselves? I mean, besides everyone telling each other than men in general are the problem, at which point the question still arises as to what to do. There are some who maintain that a curfew, in which men would not be allowed to leave the house after 6pm, is the solution. Putting aside the fact that such a proposal would be so authoritarian as to almost make Soviet Russia look like Switzerland, do you really trust the police to enforce it and protect women, and do you really think it will make the rapes go away? Sure, it might mean less rape and murder on the streets in theory, but what about the rape and murder committed in your own home? What good is telling men they can’t go anywhere if some men will just abuse women when they come home from work anyway?
Some suggest that the answer is to simply vote for a party that wants to reform or fund the police. As I thought about the discourse about police violence, it occurred to me that the Labour Party and its supporters are caught in an obvious contradiction. On the one hand, they seem to acknowledge the issue of police officers responsible for systemic violence against women, not to mention racial minorities. On the other hand, as part of their central focus on the public sector, they tout as their solution to the problem, and crime in general, pumping more money into the police. That in theory means more officers on the beat, which we’re told should mean less crime, but how do we know it doesn’t also mean more Wayne Couzens’ in the force for every “good cop”? Also, when we consider Keir Starmer selling the Labour Party as some kind of “law and order” party, that’s surely be a slap in the face for anyone remotely concerned about the institutional problems of the police. Don’t even bother talking about the Tories. Boris Johnson is out there telling you to just trust the police, so he’s definitely not on your side. And the right’s answer is in general just “more cops”, and completely ruling out any talk of systemic reform in favour of some meaningless rhetoric about individual responsibility. So, “voting for the right party” is truly an empty set of words.
But why do we tell ourselves this stuff anyway? That’s what I’m more interested in than anything. When you talk about how we should encourage women to defend themselves with pepper spray or weapons, some people go at you and think you’re absurd, or even just enabling psychopaths down the line. When you point out that self-defence laws in this country are draconian as fuck, gods forbid start to inquire about the sense of powerlessness that this helps engender, people think of it as ridiculous to even talk about and some will even accuse you patronizing women. Because you know, wanting women to be free and exercise power in their own lives is the same thing as patronizing them, whereas begging the state to oppress as many people as possible isn’t, for some bizarre reason that frankly I’ll never understand. If you can’t trust the state to protect women, since the police as its armed enforcers are clearly going to abuse them and the major political parties won’t do jack shit for you, why not teach each other to rely on ourselves and each other and no one else? Why is this seen as such a ridiculous or even dangerous proposal? Is it not more dangerous to keep relying on the same structures of power that seem to be literally trying to abuse and kill you just so that they can police the behaviour of everyone else?
Still, though, my question remains unanswered. Why do we tell each other this stuff? In my view, it all rests on powerlessness. We do not have any real power over our lives. Brexit has not changed that, despite all the rhetoric about “sovereignty”. Our democratic freedom consists of occasionally voting for alienated representatives to decide our fate on our behalf, while the actual conditions of our lives are totally out of our hands. That’s true for all so-called democracies I suppose, but in our country self-defense is weird. Officially, according to the Criminal Law Act 1967, it is legal to use “such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime”. In theory, you have the right to self-defence. Pepper spray, though, is illegal, and carries the same penalties as owning a gun, which would mean that, as far as the law is concerned, a pepper spray is legally the same thing as a firearm. This is despite the fact that, unlike how a gun can be used, pepper sprays are non-lethal. So self-defence may be legal, but your options for how you defend yourself are pretty limited, at least next to what we might consider to be common sense. We talk so much about what men can do to make women feel safe at night, and it always seems like, when we talk about that conversation, we’d rather do anything except give women the ability to actually fight back against people who might abuse them, like we’re afraid of women becoming aggressive in defence of themselves. And to that end, we continue to put our trust in the same police force that is happy to shield rapists like Wayne Couzens until it is no longer convenient to do so, the same political parties that defend the same institutions and oppose meaningful systemic change, and the expanding power of state control over our lives. All of it seems like a mask for our own powerlessness, a powerlessness which is the only thing that the British person seems to have any pride in. “English liberty” is said to be the chief virtue of British society, but since that “liberty” doesn’t actually exist and almost never has done, the real “virtue” of British society can be more described as “English civility”. Simply put, the British value respectability and civilizational normativity over human life and freedom, and I think that this is unlikely to change.