Thursday, October 23, 2014

Take Back the Night: Point & Rebuttal

Take Back the Night: Point

 by: Sheila Ager, Department of Classical Studies

I have always had very strong objections to the Take Back The Night policy that bars men from participating in the march.

I would consider myself quite a committed feminist, and I am familiar with all the reasons that have been put forth in support of this policy. Nevertheless, I find it both short-sighted and inconsistent with the premises of human rights. The latter objection should be pretty clear: men should not be excluded from the opportunity to participate in an activity on the basis of their sex, when that activity is not such as to necessitate a gender division. The implicit message is that all men are sexually abusive or otherwise violent (and conversely, that all women and all trans* people are not). The policy also sends a message that men who have themselves been victims of sexual violence and abuse do not rate the same consideration as women, children, and trans* people.

On a more pragmatic front, I think this policy is seriously short-sighted. It once again implies that this is a "women's issue", instead of a grave social issue that concerns society as a whole. Men should be encouraged to adopt values and take actions that are conventionally labeled as "feminist" but this policy does the reverse, in spite of the invitation that men line the route of the march and so on. In my view, society will move forward more quickly and effectively towards desirable social goals of the type that Take Back the Night stands for if men are encouraged to partner with women in achieving those goals. Activities and rhetoric that discourage men from doing so are counter-productive, however well-meaning they may be. If anything, I think our society needs to take a much stronger stance, through education and other means, in getting men to actively espouse such goals.

Barring men from the actual march may be a "tradition", as the message states, but I really think it is a tradition that needs to change.


Take Back the Night: Rebuttal

 by: Diana Parry, Recreation and Leisure Studies

Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an annual event that sparks critical public discourse and action to stop violence against women, children, and trans* people. Historically, TBTN marches are rooted in 1970's England, when, in response to murders by the “Yorkshire Ripper,” police put women under informal curfew, urging them not to be out on streets after 10 PM without male accompaniment. Outraged women took to the streets and marched to reclaim their right to walk in public without male accompaniment.

Waterloo TBTN consciously honours both this history and its core symbolic gesture: women, children and trans* people walking at night unescorted by men. This symbolism powerfully conveys that women, children and trans* people should not have to be escorted by men to exercise their right to move about in public space without fear of violence (sexual, physical or otherwise). Indeed, for many who march, violence has intimately touched their lives, and the act of uniting in solidarity with others offers the opportunity to reclaim some of the power, and potentially the voice, that such violence may have eroded. 

Far from being excluded, men help to organize TBTN, they volunteer at the event, and they attend the opening rally and the post-march reception. Organizers also ask men who wish to show their support for women’s, children’s and trans* people’s right to walk at night unescorted to do so by flanking the streets and shouting words of encouragement.  This year, as the marchers filed into City Hall after the march, we were greeted by a sizeable group of men smiling and clapping. Many of my fellow marchers voiced their appreciation for the support they felt from these male allies.

TBTN events have certainly never endeavoured to suggest that all men are perpetrators of violence, nor that men are incapable of being victims of sexual or intimate partner violence themselves.   Organizers are well aware of research such as a 2005 Statistics Canada study that suggested nearly 7% of men in intimate relationships have reported being slapped, kicked, bitten, or hit by their female partners (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/050714/dq050714a-eng.htm). 

This same study, however, demonstrated that when women are victimized, the level of violence is often much more severe than that experienced by men.  Women were found to more likely to be beaten, choked, sexually assaulted, and threatened with a weapon by their partner than men were.  Women were also more likely to be injured through such violence and were three times more likely to fear for their lives than male victims. Within the Waterloo region alone, 14 women experience some form of sexual assault every single day (https://www.facebook.com/events/1484815838430775/permalink/1513855365526822/). Clearly, sexual and intimate partner violence represents a major social problem in Canadian society and one that can affect anyone, regardless of gender. TBTN draws attention to these social issues and serve as a call to action to end gendered violence.