Warning: This piece contains a discussion of sexual violence
Manchester’s long-running connection to women’s rights is a large part of what drew me to study here. Manchester is proudly the home of one of the most iconic feminists of all time, Emmeline Pankhurst. Every time I walk past her statue in St Peter’s Square I feel reinvigorated to continue the fight towards a future where women’s bodies and voices are treated respectfully and above all else, safely.
Reclaim the Night, taking place at 6.30 pm on the November 30 2022, represents the ongoing struggle to ensure the end of sexual and gender-based violence. The lead-up, and the march itself, should be a moment of solidarity where we all feel supported and heard. So, why do I feel disheartened when the SU windows start to be adorned with “Reclaim” posters?
Firstly, I would like to explicitly write that I wholeheartedly support the movement and will of course be walking at the march. However, I would be denying my own experience if I failed to acknowledge the knot in my stomach that forms when slogans like “Sex without consent is rape” start to bombard me on the way to lectures on Oxford Road.
This slogan is, of course, targeting perpetrators, but we need to be mindful of the language used when raising awareness for sexual violence and how it could be difficult for survivors. The wording achieves its objective of releasing anger in myself and my peers at the injustice of gender-based violence and sexual assault, but we then feel like there is no outlet. There is not enough information about where to get, or give, support and thus, we are left deflated.
This year’s goals are to raise awareness of sexual violence on campus, build a speak-up culture, and encourage calling it by its name. Thus, the posters will of course be targeting these issues in particular. However, I think that if we are going to discuss these intensely personal and emotive issues then we need to offer guidance on how to utilise the feelings that will be stirred up. I don’t feel like at this point there is anywhere for me to make use of this deep-seated rage, and thus it turns into dejection and leaves me disheartened. I want to propel this annual event and use it to get help to the people who need it, right now.
I particularly want to focus on the language that is used around this time. Some of the language surrounding the march feels aggressive and not necessarily encouraging. Alongside the current posters, we should have phone numbers for places like Manchester Rape Crisis or St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre. I know that it is necessary for these types of events to be somewhat attention-grabbing to garner student participation, but, there must be a midway point. Surely we can find a way to keep the march a positive, empowering, collective, experience whilst also using all of the awareness garnered to support the people who need it the most.
Although the university does offer some practical support during this time, for example running free self defence classes, I feel like there should be more. I am not in any way berating the work that has already been done through Reclaim the Night, but I think that we, as a student community, should strive to bring more progress and support than just the walk itself.
When I was a fresher, there was a severe increase in spiking and particularly the use of injections. Therefore, last year’s Girls Night In felt somewhat apt and supportive. It was a call for women to boycott institutions that were doing nothing to stop the spiking epidemic and also encouraged discussions relating to spiking and violence against women in general. For me, at this point in my life, Reclaim does not offer the same solace.
In March 2022, I did not feel supported by Reclaim and guiltily felt slightly relieved when the whole thing was over – which of course made me feel like a bad feminist. At a time when I and many of my fellow students needed help with the issues for which the movement is raising awareness, it was frustrating to feel left on the sidelines. Aspects of the movement brought up really distressing and complicated feelings and then did not provide information on how to get help, leaving me with a reopened wound.
Since the last Reclaim, I am fortunate to say I have received support and have an amazing system in place to continue healing but last March would have been an optimal time for that kind of support. I wish that I could go back to myself and show her all of the places where she can find people to talk to and places where practical advice could be given. Although for some people Reclaim might be the first time they are hearing phrases like “Consent is reversible“, for most it is not. This will be the 46th year of the march and I think it is time to move it forward. The awareness has been raised and now we need practical help for victims and education for all.
I vehemently do not want this article to be read as a criticism of Reclaim. I will be marching with you all and encouraging everybody in my life to do the same. However, I do want to open up a conversation about how we can use the unique and amazing community that is Manchester’s students to truly help survivors.
By the next Reclaim event, I hope we can give practical advice and spend more of our budget on the counselling service, and educational talks. I would love to see November become a time for seriously discussing these issues. We could invite guest speakers to share their experiences and give advice, we could hold talking therapy sessions, or at least spread the word on how students can find such resources. We need to take the agony and anguish and use it to make the future better. To paraphrase Maya Angelou: Do the best you can until you know better and once you know better, do better.
If any part of this article has been difficult for you to read, please get the support that you deserve. Don’t suffer in silence. There are people who can help: