Reclaim the Night!
On Saturday night, Alex and I went to the Reclaim the Night march and rally. I was there representing the White Ribbon Campaign (and myself, of course).
When we arrived at Whithall Place, I was initially surprised to see so many police officers there. I thought, “what, do they think we’re going to get violent at an anti-violence against women march?”
It didn’t take me very long to realize that they were there to protect US. That was scary.
Alex and I saw many men (usually in groups) laughing at us as we marched through downtown London, bringing traffic to a standstill. One man stood at the edge of the sidewalk, frowning and staunchly thumbs-downing our march. A lad, being a little shit, ran up to us and stuck his butt out at us, saying something like “don’t you want to get some of this?” Another man, more aggressive, started running toward us and yelling “I’ve been on the other side of that!!” until a police officer stopped him. Of course, there are male victims of violence, but how does that fact make protesting violence against women (the VAST majority of domestic violence, rape, honour killings, female genital cutting, forced marriage, etc) any less valid or important?
Still, what we saw was nothing compared to what happened to the blogger Noble Savage, who was sexually assaulted during the march:
Last night, I marched through the streets of central London with 2,000 other women and dozens of police escorts, holding a sign that said “End violence against women.”
Last night, I used my voice to chant and shout about sexual violence, unsafe streets and women’s rights.
Last night, when I should have felt at my most powerful, most inspired and safest, I was sexually assaulted.
I had to stop typing there for a minute and make sure I’d written that right and that it wasn’t just a strange dream. But yes, I was sexually assaulted at a march protesting sexual assault. How’s that for irony?
As we came through Leicester Square, a man pushed his way abruptly past the barrier and with one swift movement of his outstretched arm, managed to push me backwards and roughly grab my breasts at the same time. I swung at him with my right hand but he’s already stormed past so I only made contact with the back of his shoulder before he disappeared out the other side and down a side street. My friend Jen and I looked at each other in disbelief and shock. I hadn’t seen him coming until he was centimetres away and before I noticed the arm coming at me, what I undeniably saw was a face riddled with disgust and anger.
He, along with the man who had spit towards us earlier, and the one who had stood on the side shouting “Boo! Boo!” with his thumbs and his mouth turned downwards, and the significant number of men I saw mocking us — laughing, rolling their eyes and grabbing their crotches — were obviously disturbed by our presence. Perhaps we were reminders of violence they had perpetrated themselves, or a catalyst for the potential violence bubbling within them, just beneath the surface, like a nearly-boiled kettle. Maybe they felt threatened by our numbers and our voices and our demands. Maybe they were scared.
But whatever the reasons for their animosity, they will never know what it’s like to be scared of being humiliated and violated, in public, by people who feel they have a right to our bodies, our smiles, our time and our compliance. They will never know what it’s like to trade stories, with friends of the harrassment, abuse, assault and violence nearly each and every one of us has experienced, some of us in many different ways. They will never understand that we call these ‘war stories’ because every day is a battle and we are tired of feeling like soldiers, fighting off an enemy that has the better, more powerful weapons. They will never experience life and humanity the way we experience life and humanity because their view is unobstructed. They stand on the shoulders and backs of so many people, so many women, to survey their kingdom and claim rights to us, its spoils, with indifference and greed.
It’s disgusting. That’s about all I can say. These men are obviously threatened by 2000 women who refuse to back down in the face of gender-based violence. The actions of these particular men only reinforce how important feminism and organisations like the White Ribbon Campaign are.