UK women Reclaim the Night!

femandfab.jpgWomen in the UK took to the streets this Saturday the annual Reclaim the Night March, organized by the London Feminist Network. Hotness.
Jess McCabe at the f-word reports that 1500 women gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square to protest violence against women and sexual assault:

We were protesting against the epidemic levels of violence against women – against rape, domestic violence, and against the mentality that in order to protect ourselves from these threats, we should half live our lives, afraid to walk the streets, or wear what we want, or do what we want.
But, despite how serious these issues are, despite the impact they have had on us, our friends and our families (almost inevitably, if you consider that one in four UK women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime), the atmosphere in our bit of the crowd was joyful.

Awesome. I always have felt that the marches/protests I’ve been to for women’s rights–whether the protest was about violence against women, racism, or reproductive rights–they really do always seem to be joyful. (Feminists know how to party protest, I guess!)
Julie Bindel at The Guardian, who was a speaker at the event, has a call for action for “armchair feminists”:

…I do still believe that direct action can have an effect. It is 37 years now since feminists threw flour bombs during the Miss World final at London’s Albert Hall, an action that ended that competition’s unquestioned popularity. Then there were the successes of the group Justice for Women, founded in 1990: we would gather outside the Home Office or the Old Bailey in our lunch hours carrying fold-up placards and banners. Whenever a man got away with murdering his partner on the grounds of her “nagging”, or a rapist was given a non-custodial sentence, there we would be, rain or shine. And guess what? Editors took note, articles were written and our issues were discussed.

Bindel seems concerned that the advent of online organizing takes away from the warm bodies at in person protests, but it seems to me that the two support each other. Just look at how many people were mobilized online to show up to the March for Women’s Lives in 2004.
But in all, it seems like the event was a super success and checking out some pictures certainly made me wish I was there!
Question for discussion: The march is a “woman-only” event; the London Feminist Network has their reasoning here. Is this a way to provide a safe space or is it just exclusionary? And who defines who “women” are? Is this like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where trans women are shamefully excluded? (I have no idea what the LFN’s position is, I’m wondering aloud–if anyone knows, please educate my ass in comments.)

Join the Conversation

  • Ronia

    I was at the march (and last year’s) and it was SO much fun. The atmosphere was really celebrationary and fun.
    I agree with the women-only policy of the march itself. Given the history of Reclaim The Night it makes sense. For those that don’t know, after the Yorkshire Ripper killings women were advised to remain indoors at night for their safety. Women at the time rightly wondered if women were the victims, why wasn’t it the gender of the perpetrator who was being asked to remain indoors. So a women-only march makes sense. There is a rally afterwards that men are encouraged to attend.
    Also, I did see some signs along the lines of ‘trans women against violence’ so I’m guessing trans women were welcome!

  • Jester

    Thanks so much for linking us up :)
    It really was an amazing night.
    In terms of the trans issue – I’m not sure off hand what the policy is, but I definitely saw a ‘trans women against sexism’ placard.

  • Helen

    their website seems unavailable, but as for being women-only, whilst I agree with ronia’s sentiments, feminism in the UK has been largely a separatist event and so preventing male inclusion is largely a reflexive reaction.

  • French Jessica

    Thanks for linking to my pictures! Had a hard time taking nice pictures with a lousy flash…
    I had a great time, it was so uplifting to be with so many awesome women. I also blogged about it here, as part of the 16 days against gender violence blog here.

  • Marissa

    I can understand the safe space idea behind women only spaces, except that it completely ignores trans people, which is beyond terrible, and also, if it is a feminist event, presumably the men would be in full support of feminist issues. I think I understand the safe space idea moreso for places like gyms, where women have felt threatened or bothered by men oggling them. But I would like to assume this would not be the case for men joining in a feminist protest. Plus, even if trans people were actually included in the event, just the women-only language itself might deter many trans people from risking possible harrassment, exclussion, or worse.

  • EG

    I disagree. The point of Take Back the Night marches and rallies is that they represent the reclamation of space by women that we have been told we haven’t any right to, that we can’t go out in without risking violence. Women have traditionally been told that it’s “safe” for us to go out if we’re accompanied by a man (walking us home, seeing us to a taxi, whatever). The symbolic importance of Take Back the Night is that women alone have the right to be outside after dark. Being accompanied by men would defeat the purpose.
    When I see “women-only,” I assume it means transwomen as well. If this protest excludes transwomen, then it’s problematic and bigoted. Certainly transmen are also at very high risk of sexual assault, and a Take Back the Night centered on transissues would be a good idea. But that doesn’t take away from the import of a woman-only Take Back the Night.

  • prof/activist

    I think it is good to have women-only spaces, especially to have women taking up space in public and at night (see comments above). And it is not exclusionary — if “it” is the movement and feminism. I think too much is made of “exclusionary” because something is woman-only. Yes, we’re all in this movement together, but sometimes we have to separate in order to deal with our realities. And women cannot walk safely at night so it is important to have this symbolic walk — makes the reality of women walking alone at night without fear imagineable. (Men against violence against women or men against sexism need spaces to be men-only, even if they support the larger issues that require integration.) I personally don’t cry “exclusion” when women of color or men of any color separate from me to fight feminist battles; in fact, it reinforces our various strengths, as well as the idea that real diversity is multiplicity, multiple spaces and places, not all of us hanging out under one big ol’ umbrella.

  • Marissa

    EG, I have to say I do see your point, especially about women needing to be symbolically unaccompanied by men for this particular event.
    Maybe the whole practice would be less exclusive if the title was changed to “women and trans people take back the night.” (Hopefully phrased a little better than that, and possibly expanding the title to include more groups subject to this same discriminatory/hateful violence) This way it would be a more inclusive statement about fighting back against violence against marginalized groups. I am concerned about the women-only language because trans-people have been subject to harassment and exclusion from other similar types of events, which I find very sad given the high rates of violence so many face. Based on previous exclusion and the great extent to which this violence NEEDS visibility, I do think it is equally important to include the word “trans” in the language as much as it is important to include the word “women.”

  • EG

    I agree with you, Marissa, and would completely support language that visibly includes transpeople.

  • The Crab

    Semi-related. I did this Take Back the Blog thing last year, to coincide with many Take Back the Night events worldwide. I would love for someone to host it this spring. Maybe now is too early to make inquiries for this but I would prefer that a woman blogger host a similar event in 2008. Anyone interested, please let me know. Thanks!

  • No, Robot!

    I agree that Take Back the Night is mostly relevant to women; however I personally know several men who find this issue important to them. I think it would be unfair to exclude them from such an event.
    Furthermore, while I understand the initial purpose of Take Back the Night was for women only, I think it’s important to extend this anti-violence demonstration to include all groups.
    Furthermore, I think allowing men to attend such events really opens their eyes to these problems. I went to the latest rally on campus with a couple of male friends, and it opened their eyes to issues that they had been less informed about. Education is key to changing the status quo.

  • Ronia

    Men are invited and encouraged to attend the rally after the march and to hear the speakers there. It’s just the march itself which is women-only. For one night for a few hours, the streets belong to women. It’s great.

  • Suzy

    ah! This is crazy! I was in London that night except on the West End.

  • Jeff

    As a man, I’ve participated in Take Back the Night events before, and I think a policy of allowing all people is the best policy.
    I don’t recall if it was on this blog that I read it, but I read a month or so, perhaps the most succinct definition of feminism that I have ever seen that went something like: “[Feminism means all persons are people.]”
    I don’t think any event or discussion group should ever bar people who are willing to respect the rules of that event and/or discussion group. If it’s, a say, LGBT discussion group, there’s no reason why a straight man can’t come in and join, if he respects the safe space created and talks about LGBT (NOT his straight man’s issues).

  • Thene

    I left a comment here earlier – dunno where it’s gone. :/ Anyway, Julie Bindel is a notorious transphobe who has, over a period of years, been publishing hateful articles referring to transwomen as ‘men in dresses’, and similar. (See here and here for some truly sick examples of the hate-speech the woman is capable of). As she’s, it’s fair to say, Britain’s most notorious transphobe, I fear her presence would harm trans inclusion at any event, and I think it odd that you’ve quoted her in an article in which you strongly support transwomen’s inclusion in women-only spaces. If you’d quoted a notorious racist who happened to be at an event and then asked a question about black women’s inclusion, I’d imagine my discomfort would be similar.

  • Ruth

    I was marching around with a “trans women against violence” (“sexist violence” wouldn’t fit!placard all night, so I thought maybe I could clarify some of the issues concerning trans participation in Reclaim The Night.
    I believe that the arguments for the inclusion of men in demonstations of this kind are valid, but disagree. The march is not only protesting specifically against violence aimed at women, but as EG points out, there is a powerful symbolism in women physically reclaiming the streets. There were men being supportive and cheering us on, and they were greatly appreciated!
    Since the Reclaim The Night is for “all women”, I – as a trans woman – consider myself more than qualified to participate by dint of my gender, let alone the fact I’m affected by women’s issues. The is no policy of trans-exclusion on the march, which has to be a good thing! However, there is a deliberate lack of clarification on the issue of trans inclusion, which I would guess is down to not wanting to put off either trans women (and allies such as the National Union of Students, who are official supporters of the march) nor trans exclusionists. The result is of course that many trans women who fear discrimination or even attack simply don’t attend. A simple statement to the effect that trans women are welcome would make a great impact.
    London Feminist Network itself does not have a position on the issue as far as I am aware. There are women in the group who are all for trans inclusion, and there are those who are somewhat transphobic. However, it’s worth noting that this year the highly transphobic Julie Bindel was invited to speak at the rally following the march. It was for this reason I had a placard drawing attention to the fact I happen to be trans: in an environment where casual transphobia is apparently accepted, trans visibility is of great importance!

  • EG

    Bindel is appalling. Kudos to you for making it clear that trans women won’t keep quiet about either sexual violence or feminist transphobia.