Why We Need To Reclaim The Night

Ahead of next week’s planned ‘Reclaim The Night’ event, Elaine Crory outlines why the event is important and needs to be supported.

When #metoo began to spread, I admit I was wary. I have spent years working on this kind of thing, and I’ve seen the same situation play out time and time again; survivors share their stories, at times reliving deep trauma to do so, and society collectively shrugs its shoulders, makes excuses for perpetrators, and moves on. When the next story of sexual harassment appears, it’s as though the previous discussions never happened and we have to do it all again; no, it doesn’t matter what she wore; no, it doesn’t matter what she drank; no, it doesn’t matter whether she had consensual sex with one of his friends; and on and on forever.

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I thought #metoo would be more of the same, but it would seem that I’ve been proven wrong. Yes, it is exhausting and tough, but it seems like it might have a positive outcome when all is said and done. I don’t just mean the apparent end of the careers of some of the worst offenders such as Kevin Spacey and Louis CK, or the very welcome approach of outfits such as Netflix and others who have axed shows and A list actors without hesitation. I refer rather to the depth and breadth of the revelations and associated questioning, the way that people are beginning to see the connections between so-called “harmless banter” and more obviously criminal and predatory behaviour, and the ways that culture allows and even encourages sexual harassment. This is what they call a teachable moment; an opportunity to sweep our arms wide and say “this, all of this, is rape culture”.

This month, on November 25th, Reclaim the Night takes place in Belfast. It’s the fourth consecutive year we have organised it, although it had earlier incarnations; our artwork this year is an updated version of the original art made for a 1987 Women’s March Against Male Violence by the artist Louise Walsh, who was also good enough to make the updated image for us. The lineage speaks for itself; these issues persist and, despite what some may say when their wrongdoing is exposed, sexual harassment isn’t a new phenomenon and wasn’t okay ten or fifteen years ago. We’ve been fighting this battle for decades, for centuries, for as long as patriarchy has existed.

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Reclaim the Night focuses on the reclamation of public space from the reality and the fear of sexual harassment. We are acutely aware that the worst of all these crimes, rape, rarely happens as people picture it; a stranger dragging someone down a dark alley. Rather it tends to be committed by a person the victim knows, even trusts. This is a vitally important piece of information to communicate, as it does a lot of work in dispelling the myths that allow rape culture to survive, namely the ease with which people can fool themselves into believing that these acts are rare and perpetrated by monsters, not by people we know, work with, even love.

The reality is that all sexual harassment exists on a continuum, and when we shrug off catcalls, unsolicited comments and persistent sexual advances it creates a space for unwanted groping, public masturbation, following people and all the other forms of street harassment. This is why we see speculation about the clothing choices, inebriation levels and sexual history of rape victims. The lines of acceptable behaviour are blurred because rape culture allows them to be blurred, it provides endless excuses and what ifs. Our aim is to put things into focus; all of it is unacceptable. All of it must stop.

Consistent with our broad approach, we see it as vitally important to share our platform with other marginalised groups who often experience more sexual and gender based violence than the larger demographic of women generally. We are mindful of the additional dangers faced by the LGBTQ community, particularly trans people, and of sex workers, who are further endangered by their precarious position with regards to police and other authorities. If we want to truly eradicate gender based violence, we must endeavour to centre their voices and to use our voices to amplify theirs.

Let us use the momentum created by #metoo to build on our numbers and keep his conversation in the public sphere. We ask for a show of numbers on the streets of Belfast, an unavoidable spectacle of resistance. Bring lights, bring chants, bring anger and bring pride. On Saturday 25th November, we Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night Belfast 2017 begins at Buoy Park at 7pm on 25th November. Everyone is welcome, but we ask that women and members of the LGBTQ community lead.

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