Reclaim the Night!
Posted by Mel Campbell on October 29, 2008
The first Reclaim the Night rally took place in Rome in 1976 in response to skyrocketing numbers of reported rapes. Women in England marched in 1977, when a series of murders in Leeds led to women being advised to stay indoors. Australia’s first rally was in 1978, and similar events take place across the world wherever women want to protest violence against women, or rail against the ‘curfew’ mentality that leads to ‘commonsensical’ beliefs like the ones my mother is constantly spouting at me:
- Women shouldn’t walk alone at night
- Women should avoid dressing and behaving ‘provocatively’ at night
- Women should avoid parks, dark streets and deserted places at night
- Women shouldn’t get drunk at night because they’ll be more vulnerable to attack
- Women shouldn’t speak to strangers at night
While I was definitely spooked last year after getting mugged around the corner from my house, generally it really pisses me off that women are expected to be personally responsible for potential violence against them, to modify their night-time habits and to feel worried and afraid whenever they venture out at night, whereas men can just do anything and go anywhere, unobserved, unharmed and uncriticised.
Of course, women don’t want to think of themselves as powerless or vulnerable, but at the same time there are also blasé attitudes about the things that happen to us in public. Sometimes we don’t interpret them as harassment or assaults, or we’re worried about looking silly, prudish or hysterical if we do. It’s easy to look at statistics (according to CASA, one in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime) and think, “That’s not me, I haven’t been raped”, but almost everyone has a story about being followed along the street, flashed at, groped at gigs, in bars or on public transport, or generally feeling creeped out by someone else’s treatment of you.
That shit is not normal. We don’t have to stand for it, and when I say that I’m not advocating taking arse-kicking classes to learn how to fight off attackers. These just feed into the attitude that violence against women is inevitable and it’s women’s job to anticipate it. We need to highlight the fact that everyone has a right to feel safe at night and that public safety is a consensual social contract, not the sole responsibility of one gender.
I say this because sexual violence isn’t only a concern for women, and it isn’t the only reason the night doesn’t feel safe. A (female) former workmate of mine got decked by some guy earlier this year in a fight over a cab, and on Caulfield Cup Day, my brother saw two men harassing a woman and when he told them to cut it out, he got bashed and ended up in hospital. A male friend of mine also has an eye-opening story of being stalked down the street late at night by a man in a car who was jerking off the whole time, and when he reported the licence plate number to the local police, this stalker was already known to them from several previous incidents.
Reclaim the Night takes place at the end of October every year. See if there’s an event happening near you: some are happening on Thursday, some on Friday. The Melbourne event kicks off at 7pm this Thursday at the State Library; the march itself ends up at Trades Hall, where there’ll be an after party from 8pm with free food, live performance from local musos, stalls and a zine fair. The march itself is for women and children only, whereas everyone is welcome at Trades Hall.
I must admit to being kind of ambivalent about these events, because they tend to take place in an ‘activist’ context that can seem daggy and offputting for people who don’t identify as activists, whereas this is an issue for everyone. At the same time though, I’m pleased to see the Bella Union bar used as a space of solidarity. I have been extremely unimpressed to see this historic site degenerate into just another indie and comedy club, with its labour movement heritage aestheticised for the appreciation of apolitical (yet left-leaning) local hipsters.