I actually can’t believe I’m still writing articles about women’s safety on the streets as if it isn’t a given in 2022. Nevertheless, here we go again …
Reclaim the Night began as a movement in Leeds in 1977 (big up the North) by the Women’s Liberation Movement. It was initially a response to the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ and the police force’s advice that women simply stay out of public spaces after dark. Advice almost as helpful as the Met’s to “hail a bus” if we feel under threat when out and about.
This movement, that took inspiration from women’s marches against male violence in Brussels in 1976, addresses the issue that even once women have fought their way from out of the domestic sphere and into the public, that our fight for gender equality is not yet won.
Statistically the biggest threat of violence a woman faces is at the hands of her partner. However, not only do we have to deal with that harrowing fact about our nearest and dearest, but we’re vulnerable to male violence on the streets as well.
In the last year alone, we have all seen women like Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Julia James, the list goes on and on and on, fall victim to male violence when out living their lives. And they’re just the ones who’s experience was so horrific as to result in their death … AND even then they’re just the ones who’ve been reported.
I’m not sure, at 21 years old, that I can confidently say that I have any female friends who haven’t experienced some form of sexual harassment, be it cat-calling to being groped in a club.
Tragically, this isn’t surprising when you consider that 9 out of 10 female students have experienced groping on a night out. In fact, a conversation I had with one of my housemates this morning, that she’d had such a “great night” because it was the first time she’d been out and “wasn’t even groped or anything!” is so depressing you’ve got to laugh or you’d cry.
On the one hand, we could treat it like a fun game of who can avoid unwanted physical contact when just trying to have fun with your friends. It’s like dodgeball, except alcohol is often involved and the balls are connected to an ignorant oaf of a man. Or alternatively, just maybe people who think it’s ok to harass women could just, you know, not do that. A girl can certainly dream …
I’d also like to note that, whilst going out clubbing with male friends does add a degree of security, it’s difficult to articulate how degrading it can feel that a man is less likely to harass me not out of respect for me but out of respect for the man I’m with.
Unfortunately, although I can (and often do) complain to said friends loudly in the taxi on the way home, these men aren’t the problem. And they know that I’d absolutely bollock them if they were.
That being said, if getting through to purveyors of sexual harassment is only possible through another man, then so be it. We need to realise that this is a feminist issue which encompasses all genders. We can’t make something stop happening that we have no control over in the first place. What we can do is assert ourselves in the spaces we have every right to be in as well, namely the streets that we walk up and down every day.
Sexual harassment is something I do find myself and female friends laughing about (maybe she was born with it … maybe it’s it’s internalised misogyny), but that doesn’t mean I don’t resent the people who make me feel vulnerable when I’m walking on my own somewhere. Hence the reason for Reclaim the Night.
The worst part is, whilst sure the darkness adds another level of vulnerability, (moving on to pro-level now here ladies, not quite the type of ‘levelling up’ the UK government is obsessed with at the minute), walking down a street by myself I feel only marginally safer in the daytime.
Even the phrase “what was she wearing?” loses it’s victim-blaming status, rendered redundant by layers of clothing (exposing my secret Southern tendencies … I am always cold) which still don’t seem to deter unwanted comments.
Whilst any sane person surely recognises that the problem here is not the women, but the men who are assaulting them, that didn’t stop victim blaming after Everard’s death, that women should be more ‘streetwise’. Which is funny really, if you think about it, because when I’ve had men shouting sexual comments or obscenities at me when I’ve been walking on my own somewhere, my first thought has never been “wow they seem so intelligent”. In fact, and I don’t consider myself a betting woman, but if I had to put money on it, I’m fairly confident in my higher IQ score.
In the last year alone, we’ve also seen an increase in drink spiking, enough that The Mancunion could make a whole issue out of it. Alcohol is unpredictable enough as it is. The last thing anyone needs is for some dickhead to put something in their drink and try and rape them.
You don’t need to employ Satre’s absurdism to realise that to be honest, it’s just not on. If you need a shag that bad get yourself on Tinder and find someone a) consensual and b) your own age.
My point is, women’s safety has and continues to be a very serious problem. We do not feel safe. And, not to cast gender stereotypes but, if women doing something about it was all it took, it’d be fucking sorted out by now. So please, if you’re reading this and thinking “well obviously I’m not gonna sexually harass someone, what the hell?!”, please call out others who do. Them being your ‘mate’ is not a good enough reason for them to ruin someone’s sense of safety when they’re out just trying to have a nice time and go about their business.
As part of Reclaim The Night at Manchester University, we are of course taking part in the March on 22nd March (from Unsworth down Curry Mile – one of my most favourite places to be objectified! – to the university). The way I see it, it is basically our duty at this point to have a night out, for feminism and that.
We are also doing a ‘Reclaim Run’ the week before on 16th March at 7:30pm. There is a T-Shirt social beforehand, starting at 6:00pm, where everyone can bring a white T-shirt and we’re going to write things that have been catcalled at us and then wear the T-shirts to run the reclaim route. It’s open to all levels, the route is only 5k and yes, we can walk parts of it if people need! Afterwards we will of course be going to the bar so people can drink wine with one hand and reclaim the night with the other. We’re all about a balanced lifestyle here at The Mancunion.