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Reclaim the Night is iconic in the women’s liberation movement. These marches began in major cities across the world during the 70s, then known as ‘Take Back the Night’, as a declaration that women had had enough of being afraid on their own streets. The essential aim of the march is to demonstrate direct action against rape and other kind of sexual violence towards women. It has evolved a lot over the years, but the message still remains prominent; women and non-binary people deserve to feel safe on their streets.
Over the last few years the women of Lancaster have made the trip to Manchester to take part in their Reclaim the Night. This changed last year when the amazing work of the last women’s officer for LUSU, Caitlin Shentall, meant Lancaster now had its own. However, with the return of the march has come the question: who exactly will be marching?
The Reclaim the Night march last year was open to self-defining women, non-binary people, and anyone who felt they faced oppression from structural misogyny, and this is how the march is being run again this year. This is how Reclaim the Nights are run across the country and how they have been run for years. However, when the march was organised last year there was some backlash to the decision to ‘exclude’ men. Cries of “What about the men?!” could be heard for miles. The majority of these cries came from men themselves who had very little understanding of the purpose of Reclaim the Night and were looking for something to complain about. But among these cries, there were some decent arguments raised by women.
Because of this, we opened a debate in Women’s Forum with the aim of deciding whether to open the march itself to all genders this year. Those in favour of men marching with us argued that if this march is undertaken by feminists and comes from a place of feminist activism, surely it should have more of an emphasis on equality. If we want to be equal maybe we should welcome men into these spaces. Others also argued that, while the march is a protest against sexual violence, it is also about educating people that these are very real dangers women face. By excluding men do we not risk them misunderstanding the purpose of the march?
While these are valid concerns and ones that are often debated when attempting to establish women-only spaces in feminist activism, they fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the Reclaim the Night march.
Reclaim the Night is not about equality, it’s about women’s liberation.
The march exists to give women and non-binary people the opportunity the reclaim the spaces where they have felt unsafe, been harassed or even raped, and it’s about doing this without the presence or permission of men. We have a right to walk the streets of our city without fear of sexual violence, just as men do, and we do not need the presence of men to validate this right.
Moreover, men do not need to reclaim the night, they already have it. Men do not suffer from the oppression that structural misogyny brings in the same way women do. The patriarchal society that we live in means that men exist in a position of power over people of other genders. They have nothing to gain from taking part in this march because they are in a position of privilege.
However, the main reason men are not allowed to march with us is because Reclaim the Night is about creating a safe space, and quite frankly the presence of men could make many others feel unsafe. You never know the experiences of someone else, and the triggers that could bring back many painful memories. To be around many people (some of whom are men), in the dark and shouting, could be very triggering to some people. Furthermore, people might not even consider attending the march out of fear of feeling uncomfortable or being triggered. I would much rather men felt excluded from a space created to help women and non-binary people feel safer, than the women and non-binary people themselves. For them to feel unsafe at a protest which has been created for their empowerment and safety contradicts the very purpose of the Reclaim the Night march.
With all this in mind, the Women’s Forum voted on whether we keep the march on the basis of how it was ran last year, or whether we allow men to march with us. There was a clear majority against men marching with us, and so no change was made to the march’s rules. As of yet there has been no backlash from men towards this decision, and the after- event we are holding at Sugarhouse is open to all genders. I can’t help but feel that if men truly understood the importance of women’s liberation and women’s autonomy over this, they would understand why we are marching without them.