Last night I put on an extra layer of clothing, made a banner and took to the street like thousands of women do at this time of year. Between V-day (ending violence against women day, also known as 1 Billion Rising, 14th February), and International Women’s Day, (8th March), many women join together for a combination of protest, re-connection, catharsis, anger, or to gain the energy from other women to continue to build a fairer world.
Reclaim the Night and such protests are really important to bring us together, but now, after years of participating in such marches, I am often left with a creeping, uncomfortable feeling.
The women and the connections we make are truly inspiring, but those connections have been forged not so much on a protest march, as in our day-to-day lives; in the work that we do, in the choices of socialising that we make; and in a commitment to spend our ‘free’ time developing alternatives and challenges to a society tipped in favour of men and masculinity.
We spend large parts of our lives educating each other and other women; supporting women who have been abused or limited through sexism; as well as raising awareness of feminism and how to challenge it. For me, this is part of what a ‘Reclaim the Night’ can’t do, but what we can and must go away and do… which is to not focus of the things we are against, but to look to what we are for. Debi-Rah Withers put it well in her speech ‘What Can Feminists Say Yes To’: She asks, what does this fairer world look like that we are running to? And argues that our destination points should be our focus, rather than concentrating on the old world we are running from.
Words create the images in our mind, they shape how we understand ourselves and affect then how we behave. Instead of raging against the language of violence, objectification, commodification and oppression, we need to be using a different vocabulary and creating a new language that liberates women. After all, as Audre Lorde put it: ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’. So what I look towards is a world where people are thoughtful in what they say and honour the people they talk to and about, and never hide behind ‘jokes’ or ‘banter’ as an excuse to add to the oppression of others. This is the bedrock of change: our words, our minds and our voices.
With refuges and women’s groups closing across the breadth of the country, while male white-collar job are protected, Reclaim the Night is perhaps a little too tame for our current times. I will not ask for permission for women’s services, women’s equal opportunities or women’s freedoms to walk the streets, as these are our rights: self-evident; universal; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated rights.
If our structures support inequality and reinforce oppression of women, who are also black, Asian, disabled, lesbian, bisexual, pregnant, or poor (economically and culturally), then it is the structures, not the women, that must change.
So what I look towards is every area having women’s services for health and wellbeing, and these always economically prioritised above creating weapons of war. I look towards a culture where the family you are from does not define your destiny. There is no economic inheritance. The notion of family is about the people who help raise and support you and not about blood ties. There is a maximum wage. Rape is exceptionally uncommon and responsively dealt with in a way which never diminishes the reputation of the survivor, and ensures the perpetrator never rapes again. I see women’s webs: meetings and forums of support, discussion and ideas, which are more common to participate in than sitting at home and watching TV.
So let’s shout and march, but when the next day comes, let’s create action, engage with power structures, take on the patriarchy and create our feminist futures.