Reclaim The Night North

// 2 March 2008

Sheffield Fems managed to survive a rather wet and windy Reclaim the Night march around Manchester last night! I’d estimate that there were probably around 300 people on the march, equally divided between the leading women only group and the mixed group following behind under the banner ‘These hands will not harm women’.

The march itself was quite short, I presume due to police restrictions (the attempt to get us to walk in regimented rows of five is testimony to how bloody ridiculous the restrictions on protest are), but we did march down the busy Oxford Road and got our message out to restaurants, bars and buses crammed with people. The public’s reaction was, as ever, a mix of support and surprise, along with the odd cry of ‘you’re all a bunch of lesbians’ from groups of homophobic gents outside McDonalds.

The post-march rally was interesting. We were unfortunately subject to a speech by member of the Labour party who is running for election. Rather than set out how she as a woman was going to try and increase concrete support for women’s rights within the party and the government, she instead tried to convince a skeptical audience of how much the government has done for women. Her failure to mention the lack of funding and support for rape crisis centres when sharing a platform with a woman who helped set up the first rape crisis centre in Brighton was actually quite offensive. Sheffield Fems all agreed that this kind of party politics really doesn’t have a place at a Reclaim The Night rally.

Fortunately, the other speakers were just wonderful. Disability rights campaigner and artist Ju Gosling highlighted the violence and discrimination that disabled people face and talked about her own fear of and inability to use public space at night as a disabled woman, due to both an attack she suffered eight years ago and the lack of services that exist to support disabled people outside their homes and workplaces. She spoke about disability rights activists’ ongoing fight to get attacks against and abuse of disabled people recognised as a hate crime – most cases are recorded as ‘motiveless’ by the police, see here – and compared this to the same refusal among politicians, the judiciary and the general public to view violence against women as a hate crime.

The third speaker was Julie Newman, who helped set up the first rape crisis centre in Brighton along with other members of her feminist collective. It was incredibly inspiring to hear how successful they were despite not having any experience or training when they initially decided to set up the centre, and in spite of all the challenges they faced, including Brighton police telling them that ‘there are no rapists in Brighton’ (!!). We really appreciated having an older feminist share her experiences with us – and calling us her sisters – and this highlighted the importance of rejecting division between younger and older feminists and working together in our fight for liberation.

The idea of sisterhood and female solidarity as opposed to mixed gender campaigning seems to be becoming quite an issue among younger feminists, the York Women’s Committee opening up to men being a case on point. This issue led to the decision to have a mixed march supporting the women’s only march in Manchester, and while organisers proclaimed this to be ‘radical’, I think it’s more complex than that.

As we congregated before the march and practiced our chants, I felt rather divided over the male presence. Hearing male voices drowning out women’s as we shouted ‘Women united will never be defeated’ was horribly ironic, and I didn’t feel the sense of female empowerment that I had done at previous marches. However, once we separated into the two groups this was no longer an issue, and I do think that it is important for men to step up and make a public commitment to both recognising and stopping male violence against women. The mixed march provided a place for that, and the turn out was impressive. I firmly believe that male involvement in feminism consists of supporting rather than leading, and the structure of the march made this clear.

Having said that, the number of women on the mixed march meant that the women-only presence on the street – the visual protest at women living in fear at night, at women being told to accept male escort or protection or not to go out at all – was reduced, which was a shame.

Perhaps the answer would be to organise separate women-only Reclaim The Night and Stop Violence Against Women marches, taking place on different days. This would mean that the visual impact and message of Reclaim The Night was not diluted, while providing a space for both women and men to unite to stop violence against women. But it’s hard enough organising one march, I know, and time spent discussing the make up of marches is time not spent fighting violence against women, so I’ll stop there.

All in all, it was a great night, and an inspiring call to arms in the fight against male violence and patriarchy. Congratulations to both NUS Women’s Officer Kat Stark and Manchester Students’ Union Women’s Officer Elizabeth Somerville for organising it, and here’s to a bigger and even better Reclaim The Night North next year!

Comments From You

Amelia // Posted 2 March 2008 at 3:56 pm

Laura, was the artist’s name Ju Gosling and the woman from the Rape Crisis centre Julie Newman? I don’t know spellings, but I think those were the names.

Laura // Posted 2 March 2008 at 4:15 pm

Yes! Thanks, I’ll add the names in now.

Jenny // Posted 2 March 2008 at 5:32 pm

Brilliant write up and what a wonderful night it was, despite the rain.

Just wanted to say that I totally concur re the Labour slant at the rally. Seemed highly inappropriate and I found myself quite irritated to be subjected to a brief party political broadcast when I was all fired up about the inadequacy of existing policy and provisions relating to violence against women. The other speakers were amazing though, definitely.

I saw your sheffield fems banner! Very nice!

Lucy // Posted 2 March 2008 at 7:23 pm

Good write up Laura. It was fantastic to have such an important event finally taking place in the north and great to see that it drew so many women from across the country. I will second your criticism of the ‘open gender’ section of the march, however. There is a time and a place for men’s participation and support in the women’s liberation movement, but a Reclaim the Night march is certainly not it. The symbolic image of hundreds of women walking together through the city at night is already sullied by the fact that we are flanked by male police officers, to be trailed by a group of men simply adds to it. All in all however, it is always energizing and inspiring to be with so many like-minded women. Thanks to all the people who organized the event. And damn the Manchester name for ruining our banner!

Lynne Miles // Posted 2 March 2008 at 7:55 pm

Sounds fantastic – wish I could have been there!

Sophia // Posted 2 March 2008 at 9:57 pm

Hi Laura, I’ve really enjoyed reading your write up- I wish I could have been there! I was just wondering what the Labour party member’s name was?

Lucy // Posted 3 March 2008 at 12:05 am

I meant Manchester rain, not Manchester name! Apologies. And I call myself a Mancunian…

Laura // Posted 3 March 2008 at 9:44 am

Just had a search – it was Lucy Powell. I should make it clear that I don’t have anything against her; it just wasn’t appropriate for her to be speaking as a government spokesperson at the rally.

Michelle // Posted 3 March 2008 at 10:52 am

Thanks for the report & for raising the matter of whether RTN should also include men, even on a separate march. While I think it’s undoubtedly important for men to be involved in tackling VAW (otherwise how will it end?) there’s other ways for them to do that I think, without taking part in RTN’s. I really think RTN’s should maintain their women-only ethos, and while a separate march may seem to be an adequate compromise, I understand what you say when you mention that it doesn’t feel the same as it would if it were women-only, and doesn’t have the same impact.

Jessica // Posted 4 March 2008 at 2:36 am

Fantastic write-up; I agree, the speakers were (mainly) fantastic. The speaker from Manchester University, in particular, was inspirational.

Before I continue I’d like to briefly disclaim myself as a mere student, and relatively new to feminist activism. So I therefore apologise if I’m treading familiar ground, but I stand firmly by my views.

I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed by Laura’s remark that “the number of women on the mixed march meant that the women-only presence on the street – the visual protest at women living in fear at night, at women being told to accept male escort or protection or not to go out at all – was reduced, which was a shame”, simply because of the enthusiasm with which I’d entered the march, and the lengths my group of friends had gone to to support a cause we consider to be of vital importance. Reading about the detrimental effect our presence had, therefore, is incredibly upsetting, as it certainly didn’t occur to us at the time; only that we wanted to make a difference, and hoped that marching together would help achieve this.

I hope I can see both sides of the “male presence” debate: while I understand the important symbolism of a sisterhood of women together, literally Reclaiming the Night, I genuinely believe there is still a place for men in the campaign. The spirit and energy in the open-gender march was amazing, and I found it inspiring to be amongst so many people so dedicated to putting their voice to such an important cause.

The safety and well-being of women is a right we should not have to fight for, but until our battle is over I stand in favour of receiving help from men. “Help” being the important word – not leadership, but support. The night belongs to us all; personally, I see no harm in the presence of men who believe in the cause just as much as every other feminist to offer their support.

(That said, I am fully in favour of the mixed-gender march following behind the all-women march…”help”, not leadership!)

Reclaim the Night North marked my first act of “real” feminist activism, and I found it a fantastic, eye-opening and incredibly inspiring event. It was wonderful sharing the night with you all.

Phoebe // Posted 4 March 2008 at 5:22 pm

Having a women only RTN march escorted by male cops makes the symbolism of the event utterly meaningless.

Rach // Posted 4 March 2008 at 6:42 pm

Were the police not there to ensure our safety – guiding traffic, and such? Not arguing, just wondering.

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 6 March 2008 at 2:55 pm

“were the police there to ensure our safety? …”

And there’s the irony! If it had been all female police officers then no problem.

Lotte Holmes // Posted 7 March 2008 at 9:08 am

I’m a member of the Riveters (the Manchester University women’s group) and although I missed most of the march due to getting my times wrong, I made it to the rally. Ju and Julie were amazing – as Laura says, it was great to have older feminists there. Julie’s speech was particularly inspirational, given the circumstances in which the rape crisis centre was set up. I agree about the Labour woman, though – not only was she a poor speaker, but she seemed more concerned about garnering votes.

I have mixed feelings about the inclusion of men. Elizabeth has done a wonderful job as Women’s Officer, but one decision of hers that I am very against is allowing men into the women’s group. I have been at Manchester for 5 years and none of the previous Women’s Officers ever allowed men in. While I appreciate that there are a lot of good men out there, I still value women only spaces, and when men are in Riveters meetings it does make me feel pretty uncomfortable. It just seems like male entitlement to me.

Good point about RTN and anti-violence marches being held on separate days – by all means the men should show their support, but RTN was for women only, it is supposed to be about empowering women and giving us the confidence to walk the streets of Manchester at night, and having men there (and police, noch!) missed the point.

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 8 March 2008 at 11:33 am

Hey Lotte,

I didn’t realise the group was open to men: the fact that you, as a female member, feel uncomfortable with this should be enough 1) to make the group women only again and 2) for any men who are truly pro-feminist to respect your feelings and not attend the group. Those who do not are indeed displaying some serious male entitlement.

Loved your banner btw!

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