Joanna Boon explains
Reclaim the Night is a national campaign that has been running since the 1970s all over the country. The campaign stands for the simple ideal that all people deserve to be safe on a night out and that the violation of this safety should face serious consequences. All genders experience sexual assault and harrasment, making Reclaim the Night an opportunity for people to stand together and protest the negative side of drinking and club culture. One of the anthems often chanted during these rallies is, ‘whatever we wear, wherever we go; yes means yes and no means no.’ It is a tragedy that many people still think ‘what was she wearing’ is an appropriate response to the news that someone has been raped; this question, and the larger misconceptions that go with it, evidence the fact that we must stop telling people what to wear and start telling people not to rape.
Furthermore, why is this question always directed at women? Sadly, men are also raped. This does not negate their masculinity or their value as human beings, and we need to start listening to the stories of men who have been raped. Many people still believe that men cannot be raped because they are simply so sexual that they could never not enjoy it. This kind of sexism, which is as pernicious as it is pointless, threatens to close off people’s stories. If we can create an environment where people feel free and safe to speak out without being ignored or facing further violence, then people will speak out and we can end sexual assault. This is what Reclaim the Night aims to achieve: an end to all forms of sexual violence.
The Feminist Society of St Andrews is an active supporter of these campaigns and visited Edinburgh’s event last year. This year we decided to move even closer to home in Dundee, where many students enjoy nights out. As a society we aim to make a difference as close to home as possible; to do so we lead campaigns in St Andrews and donate to Fife Women’s Aid, amongst many other activities. This year, we had a group of around twenty people attend the rally and go out for a meal to celebrate the successes of the campaign afterwards.
I campaign because if I go out dancing or drinking or dating I want to be safe. I don’t want to have to worry about my drink being spiked, being groped in a club, or facing sexual violence. On a relatively small scale, I don’t know any woman around my age who has not been wolf whistled at. Suffice to say that it is not a compliment. A teacher once joked to me that ‘the only thing worse than being wolf whistled at, is when your friend is and you aren’t.’ When someone in a position of authority thinks this is acceptable, then something has gone seriously wrong. I do not wish to be treated like an animal and degraded to the level of objectification.
On a broader scale, the facts are absolutely terrifying. According to the British Crime Survey there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes, and over 300,000 sexual assaults. Despite this, our conviction rate is the lowest it has ever been—one of the lowest in Europe—at only 5.3%. This means that more rapists were convicted in the 1970s, when Reclaim the Night marches first started, than they are now. We march to demand justice for survivors of rape.
Sexual violence is often gender violence in many different forms. More women suffer sexual harassment than men in the UK, which is often seen as a component of a wider pattern of violence against women, including issues like rape during war. Our society expects violence from men, particularly in war time, which may help to justify the belief that a man taking control through violence is acceptable. These gender stereotypes feed into sexual violence because we label men as sexual and aggressive, while we pigeonhole women as sexualised and passive.
Sexual violence is sometimes a way of attacking gender, and, as such, it is something that transgender people fall victim to. The NSVCR have estimated that almost half of all people who are transgender have been sexually victimized. This figure is far higher than the corresponding data for other members of society, suggesting that transgender individuals are being targeted, which may in part be because people are uncomfortable with those who do not conform to gender stereotypes. I think it is very important that the feminist movement works with the LGBTQ+ movement because we are not just campaigning for gender equality – we’re ultimately fighting for people’s ability to safely and freely express their sexual identity.
Reclaim the Night is an important show of strength that brings people together to reaffirm that they are not standing alone. I hope it will show all those who have experienced sexual assault that they are surrounded by a community that empathises with their experiences and wants to help wherever possible. It is extremely difficult to share your story, and I admire all the survivors of sexual assault who are brave enough to come forward. Until we take these stories seriously, we will never live in a safe society.
I hate that there is still a dire need for these campaigns and for feminism as a movement more generally. However, until Reclaim the Night is fully successful in its greater aims, I know that I personally will remain a feminist and I will keep campaigning.
This is the work that the Feminist Society plans to keep on doing. To find out more about what we have been up to and what we have planned, head over to our Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your ideas about what more we can do to work towards gender equality and hope to see you at Reclaim the Night next year!
*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*