On the evening of Friday, September 18th 2015, over 400 women gathered to protest male violence against women. Women from various B.C. women’s organizations, such as Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), UBC Women’s Centre, Asian Women’s Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP), Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN) and many others took to the streets to protest male violence against women.
This is the first year Take Back the Night, organized Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRR), with the support of ReSisters (a group of lesbians, working class women, and women of colour formed for the purposes of helping to organize TBTN) and had happened in Vancouver in over 10 years. (Sidenote: Andrea Dworkin made an appearance at one of the previous TBTN rallies organized by VRR.) Organizers understood this particular moment in time as crucial for a resurgence of the event — the need for women’s organizing is urgent in our current climate, as we’re faced with the sexual violence committed by Jian Ghomeshi, the murder of Aboriginal woman Cindy Gladue by a violent john, horrific rape chants at the University of British Columbia’s frosh, the fatal gang rape of an Indian woman, the arrest of Ng Lai-ying, a woman from Hong Kong who was sentenced to jail for three and a half months for “assaulting a senior police officer with her breast” during a protest.
We took the streets and we were loud, marching from the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, to Granville street, chanting, “Lesbians are everywhere,” “2-4-6-8 Stop The Violence, Stop the Rape,” “Women unite, take back the night!” We sang revolutionary songs, we cried and laughed with our sisters. We did not rely on men or police officers to keep us safe, rather we relied on one another, and had safety women to protect us from male intruders and aggressors. We marched up Granville mall, a street rife with sexist culture — strip clubs, porn shops, male-centric clubs, and hypersexualized American Apparel advertisements which promote the infantilization and objectification of women and girls. This part of downtown Vancouver is a space where women feel threatened by intoxicated males, where groups of men harass and catcall women, where women are sexually assaulted and given the date rape drug at clubs. We surrounded a strip club and “sex shop” with caution tape, a symbolic gesture that draws attention to the material oppression that the sex industry produces. This promotion of sexist culture deserves feminist attention.
Fay Blaney, revered activist and member of AWAN, delivered a passionate speech the oppression and abhorrent violence against Indigenous women and girls; Maria Wong addressed the realities of living and fighting as a working class woman of colour; and Daisy Kler criticized the New Left’s failure to focus on or even acknowledge male violence against women. I, too, was honoured to have been given space to speak at this powerful event alongside my sisters in the fight to end male supremacy. I spoke about male violence against women on campus and how male violence permeates our lives. I felt proud to be among feminists who refuse tolerance as a platform for change, who reject the notion of prostitution as empowering, and who speak out against all forms of oppression that affect women’s lives directly, such as poverty, state violence, race, class, and sexual orientation. Take Back the Night was a space for lesbians to be celebrated, rather than be erased or abbreviated into LGBTQ… politics. It was a space for women to come together across difference, a moment of real solidarity for all who attended.
The herstory of Take Back the Night can be situated in San Francisco in 1978, when women took the streets and demanded an end to male violence. In Vancouver, that same year, a local group called the Fly-By-Night collective organized a Canadian version of the march. VRR organized many TBTN marches in the following years.
Take Back the Night has a long herstory, but is not antiquated, as some might argue; it is a direct response to male violence that cannot be ignored. It names the problem, unlike newer events like Slutwalk. It is about women taking up feminist space and demanding safety on their streets and in their homes. As women’s spaces and even the category “woman” itself are being disappeared, as male violence against women is degendered and neutralized, these kinds of events become ever-more urgent. Our need to organize as a class, across lines of race, class, and sexual orientation, is crucial.
Slutwalk and other forms of sexualized protest (topless protests, for example, popularized by Femen) have become commonplace recently, especially among my generation of women. But it is imperative that young women learn they can fight back without making themselves subject to the male gaze — that they can be seen and heard without being pornified.
To echo the words of Andrea Dworkin, “Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defense of woman hating”. We demand nothing less than safe spaces for women. All women deserve the right to organize, theorize, discuss, fight back, and live free from violence. The legacy of TBTN shows how we wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for the independent women’s movement – a movement that isn’t going anywhere, that will not be erased or made palatable for consumption by liberals and men. Take Back the Night is not solely about the right to feel safe at night, as all forms of male power are connected within the spectrum of male violence. Take Back the Night is about the liberation of all women.
Emily Monaghan is a second year student at UBC, a lesbian, and a radical feminist.