I’ve cried every day since I found out Ashling Murphy died.
It was Thursday night when I saw the news on my timeline. I was curled up safe and warm in the comfort of my home, stressing about a college exam and thinking about work when the news came through and my body froze.
Suddenly all my worries felt so meaningless. Very few details were released about her death, all I knew at that point was that a young girl was out running in her hometown, and that the attack seemed random, and that she was brutally murdered. At that point I didn’t even know her name, but I cried for her, I cried all night, and I haven’t stopped crying since.
I woke up on Friday morning with swollen eyes and a broken heart, so I can’t even begin to imagine how Ashling’s friends and family have felt all week, or how they are going to feel for the rest of their lives.
Every girl I’ve met this week has had the same look in their eyes. Fear, sadness, and exhaustion. When will it ever end for us?
The truth is, it could have been any of us. Why this happened to a much-loved school teacher who was just exercising in broad daylight? Maybe we will never know. And that’s the truly terrifying part.
I’ve been asked to speak about my own experiences a lot this week. What it feels like to live in constant fear of men. What it’s like to exercise alone, what it’s like to get into a taxi alone, and what I’ve realised is how little male privilege is understood.
We all know so many guys who can head out on a night out and forget their phone charger, or walk home because there were no taxis. Whereas I never leave my house without a charger in case I’m trapped or taken or alone and I’ve no battery so I’ve no way to call for help. And walk home in the middle of the night? That’s never been an option.
I’ve been followed by men on my walks, I’ve been beeped at, shouted at, asked to “give us a smile” on a night out, and I’m so sick of it. I’m tired of being worried, I’m so fed up of feeling so vulnerable all the time.
But the reality is, we all have a reason to be worried, as this week’s horrendous murder all showed us.
It could have been any one of us.
I’ve been asked a lot this week, “how do we stop this?” is the answer stricter punishments on men who assault women? Is it education in schools about sexism and consent? Is it talking to our kids, brothers, cousins, friends? It really is a mixture of all of the above.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, we live in a misogynistic society. And I don’t mean we just live in a world where men hate women, women have been conditioned to hate women too. You’ll find more vile, sadistic, sexist comments about women written by women on online forums than you would ever find in a lad’s WhatsApp group.
The reality is, the more we allow this hatred of women to continue, calling girls whores, sluts, easy etc, the more society will create monsters like the man who strangled Ashling Murphy to death.
Everyday sexist conduct perpetuates this behavior. Lads whistling at women as they run past them, driving up beside them and beeping at them for “the laugh”. Maybe men think women are just dying for attention? But the reality is we’re just DYING, we’re scared of more of us dying, and we would rather feel safe than feel admired.
I, like every girl, have had my ass slapped by a stranger, a hand up my skirt when I was a waitress, a man leaning in too close when I was on my own. I’ve laughed off moments of fear in hopes I wouldn’t make a man angry, I’ve pretended to be on the phone in taxis, I’ve sent my live location to girlfriends when I’ve been scared. All of this might sound a bit dramatic, but all girls have been through this. It’s daily, it’s constant and it’s exhausting.
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Every woman out there has a story. A moment where they felt “this is it”, “this is how I die”. Thankfully, for so many of us, we escaped, someone showed up, we got lucky….Ashling didn’t.
There have been vigils all over Ireland and England since Ashling’s death, and to see the country come together has been very overwhelming. I went to a sunrise vigil on Saturday morning organised by Holly Carpenter. She organised a walk on Sandymount Strand, expecting maybe 20 people…2,000 showed up.
I arrived while it was still dark, and while there was absolute silence as dozens laid candles and flowers by the seaside in memory of Ashling, the air was filled with trauma, heartbreak and anger. As I looked around I saw that look I had seen all week in everyone’s eyes. One woman stood staring at the candles as she rocked her baby girl back and forth in her pram. Her little girl looked so happy and carefree, I really wish we could all feel like that again.
Another mother stood there with her two daughters holding on to her hands tightly. I saw groups of young men hanging their heads as they took a moment of silence to mark Ashling’s tragic death. I saw elderly men with bloodshot eyes holding candles, men holding on to their girlfriends like they never wanted to let them go, and groups of girls wiping their tears as they started to walk in Ashling’s memory “this just shouldn’t have happened” I heard one girl say “I never have to worry about going for runs” I heard a young man say as he admitted he had never understood what women went through until this week.
I kept thinking how many more candles do we have to light for women who were brutally murdered before this stops?
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As we made it to the other side of the strand I looked back over the beach. There were so many people there, it was overwhelming. I kept thinking, what any of us would have given to have been there for Ashling. If we could have stopped her death. If we could have protected her. She had no idea in her final moments that literally the entire country wanted to save her. We would have done anything to protect her.
There was no proper sunrise that morning, just a hazy, dark, grey sky. But it was actually quite fitting. We didn’t get to see a sunrise that day, but Ashling will never get to see a sunrise again. My heart just aches for her every time I think of that.
My heart aches for her family, her friends, her community, her students, and it aches for all the women of Ireland. What more can we do to ensure we’re not next? Self-defense classes, rape alarms, no more running at 4pm? Should we just stay inside forever?
I wish I had the answers, I wish I could explain what happened to Ashling, but I don’t and none of us probably ever will.
All I know is the issue of sexism has been here since the beginning of time, and I can’t see it disappearing anytime soon.
I see it every day on the roads, I see it on TV, I see it in board room meetings, I see it in my own industry, I see it in hateful comments online. I know no matter what I do, or how hard I work, I will only ever be judged for how I look and who I date. The focus on women’s bodies and women’s sex lives is beyond depressing.
Women are still treated as the lesser sex, the less-intelligent gender, as beings to be desired and to have sex with. We are still just pieces of meat, waiting to be hunted down by the next monster.
The truth is, these issues are never-ending. Men hate women, women hate women, and I honestly don’t know how to stop it.
I can only hope that after this week we all start talking to each other about this more. We stop ourselves when we bitch about other women, we call out the men in our lives when they make a sexist joke. We educate men on male privilege.
It sounds like small fish to fry, but this is the small way we can start making a difference.
Do it for Ashling, do it for every woman who has been murdered, not just in Ireland but around the world.
We couldn’t save them, we couldn’t stop the men who killed them, but let’s do them justice.