If the Tables Were Turned
By Jayne CowieMarch 22, 2022
Curfew was a strange book to write. When I told people what I was working on—that I was writing a novel about a near-future Britain in which all men are electronically tagged and not allowed out after 7 P.M.—women would laugh, and men would turn pale and ask me if I was serious.
Like so many women, I am no stranger to male violence; I grew up with it, and even after I was able to escape, its dark silhouette has followed me like a stranger on a dark street. It seems that every week, there’s another news story about a woman who has been harmed by a man. In one week in the UK alone, a Member of Parliament was charged with raping his wife, a hospital worker was charged with allegations of multiple sexual assaults on female patients, and a young woman shared photos of the injuries she sustained after being attacked by a strange man in the street. Unfortunately, male violence is all around us, so tightly woven into the fabric of our society that we often seem blind to it. We say that women are victims of domestic violence, and we make it a complete sentence, as if it contains everything we need to know about the situation. It doesn’t—it doesn’t mention men.
When I started writing Curfew, I knew that it was going to be a book in which men were held responsible for their actions. It was 2019, Trump was in office, and the world had just woken up to Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Jeffrey Epstein. And in the town where I live, the image of a young woman named Joy Morgan smiled at me from posters in shop windows, pleading for information about her whereabouts. Her body was eventually found in the woodlands close to my house by a woman walking her dog. The man who had murdered Joy was already in prison, convicted from the tracking information from his phone amongst other things.
I felt like I was drowning in a tidal wave of stories about the things that men do to women. I found myself thinking how much safer we could be if men were simply denied the opportunity to hurt us. After all, women have been restricted on the basis of sex for long enough. In Curfew, I wanted to explore what it might look like if the tables were turned.
I wanted the world to be plausible, so I drew on real-life situations and technologies that already exist. The idea of a curfew is nothing new. Here in the UK, in the late 1970s through to the early 80s, thirteen women were bludgeoned to death in the street by a man known as the Yorkshire Ripper. I grew up in the town where most of his victims were killed, and my mother told me that women she worked with were carrying knives in their handbags, such was the fear that they might be next. The police suggested that women should stay at home until he was caught; a curfew for us in everything but name. There was never any suggestion that men should change their behavior. When Peter Sutcliffe was eventually caught in 1981, it came to light that he’d been on the radar of the police for some time. They had interviewed him and let him go without charge nine times. Nine times. Would a curfew for men have stopped him? It’s possible.
In Curfew, a similar series of murders also leads to women’s marches. Protest can lead to significant change—the Suffragettes knew it, and so did the women of Finland, who went on strike in 1975 and stopped all unpaid domestic work. Men found themselves in a very difficult position. The political changes that the women wanted were swiftly made.
When the women of Curfew march and then strike, they have a clear objective—they want something to be done about male violence, with a particular focus on women’s safety in public spaces. And they get it. With men indoors after dark, there are no horrendous assaults in nightclub toilets (Orlando and Costanzo, 2019). Women are not tricked into getting into cars when walking home at night and then brutally murdered (Cousens, 2020). Ankle tags, which are already used for some criminals, make it easy to track men who break the curfew, and they are severely punished for it. Society shifts. The gender pay gap closes. Perhaps women even move ahead.
But I knew that wasn’t enough. The majority of women killed by men are killed inside their own homes by men they know, not by strangers on the street. This is why I created Cohab certificates, where couples have to undergo counseling before they live together. Too intrusive? Perhaps. But as things stand, we, unfortunately, live in a society in which it’s easier for women to hide domestic violence than to speak the truth about their abusive husband, boyfriend, or son. Sometimes we even let men claim that their partner asked for the fatal injuries inflicted (Broadhurst, 2016). The Counting Dead Women Project, which names all the women killed by men in the UK over the past few years, makes for heartbreaking reading. In Curfew, women are empowered to identify bad partners and break free from them before any harm is done. It’s a new world that proactively disciplines victimizers instead of retroactively seeking justice for victims.
The world of Curfew isn’t equal, nor does it pretend to be. Is it fair? No. Does it work?
You’ll have to read the book to find out.
About Curfew by Jayne Cowie:
Imagine a near-future Britain in which women dominate workplaces, public spaces, and government. Where the gender pay gap no longer exists and motherhood opens doors instead of closing them. Where women are no longer afraid to walk home alone, to cross a dark parking lot, or to catch the last train.
Where all men are electronically tagged and not allowed out after 7 p.m.
But the curfew hasn’t made life easy for all women. Sarah is a single mother who happily rebuilt her life after her husband, Greg, was sent to prison for breaking curfew. Now he’s about to be released, and Sarah isn’t expecting a happy reunion, given that she’s the reason he was sent there.
Her teenage daughter, Cass, hates living in a world that restricts boys like her best friend, Billy. Billy would never hurt anyone, and she’s determined to prove it. Somehow.
Helen is a teacher at the local school. Secretly desperate for a baby, she’s applied for a cohab certificate with her boyfriend, Tom, and is terrified that they won’t get it. The last thing she wants is to have a baby on her own.
These women don’t know it yet, but one of them is about to be violently murdered. Evidence will suggest that she died late at night and that she knew her attacker. It couldn’t have been a man because a Curfew tag is a solid alibi.