How Taking Back the Night Made Me a Better Ally
My relationship with Organized Feminism is still new. I am 20 years old and the well-documented “War on Women” of 2012 is what made me put on my armor and pick up my sword (or rather, pen, which is far mightier). Since then, I’ve read, ranted, joined Feminist Organizations and mailing lists by the dozens, and really examined my life, the lives of women I care about, and the lives of women I’ll never meet in light of the oppression, violence, and unequal legal protections that affect each and every one of us.
I am not just an “Armchair Activist” either (though I believe reading, writing, and communicating on the Internet or anywhere else is a critical component of any movement). I have strutted in Slutwalk Detroit (the heels were an amateur mistake for a five mile walk, but I stand by the corset), I’ve risen up and danced for the 1 in 3 women who will face physical or sexual violence in two One Billion Rising events, and just last night I attended my first Take Back the Night.
All of these events affected me in profound ways. Before Slutwalk Detroit, I did not fully grasp the absurdity and cruelty of slut shaming and victim blaming in spite of the many well-written articles and blog posts I had read about it. Before One Billion Rising, I did not understand how or why those who suffered domestic violence stayed with their abusers, and I did not understand how asking that question (often with a tinge of disgusted pity in my voice) devalued the immense suffering and impossible situations faced by so many women.
Participating in these movements helped me acquire true empathy and a hands on understanding of the cold statistics, analysis, and theories I learned on my own that would have been impossible for me to grasp without that more visceral involvement. In talking to women who had been there, in hearing their stories, I stepped out of the academic side of Feminism and into the applied celebration of women who survived the worst things the patriarchy had thrown at them.
Take Back the Night was different. I did not have an epiphany this time, since being more heavily involved in various organizations had allowed me to work within my community and better understand on an emotional level the horrors women here (as well as everywhere) faced. Instead, Take Back the Night was an encompassment of every lesson I have learned and emotion I have felt since I first started shrieking about certain politicians’ attitudes and false claims about birth control, sexual education, abortion, rape, and women’s issues.
I arrived at the UAW center where the event was being held and was struck immediately by just how many people were there. The first hour involved a resource fair. The aisles between and around the booths were filled with women (and some men) of all ages, races, sizes, and (judging from the clothing worn) wealth levels. I spent most of my time reading the T-shirts (made by survivors of violence or rape as well as people who cared about them) from the Clothesline Project, the bandanas made by women farm workers who had been sexually harassed and exploited, and the plaques on life sized cutouts describing the stories of the Silent Witnesses (women who were killed by their significant or ex-significant others). Soon enough, it was time for the hour-long pre-protest march presentation.
The presenters were clearly both prepared and experienced, in that they did not have one person speaking the whole time nor did they speak very long without more entertaining breaks and activities to engage the audience. In between information about Take Back the Night (both in Toledo and nationwide, most of which can be found here), we sang songs, practiced chants, laughed and nodded at a skit about how politics were deeply personal (it concluded that we’ve won many battles and will continue to win more), and got fired up for our 1.1 mile march through the streets.
The march itself was electric. As we walked (escorted every step by police who nicely pointed out the most dangerous thing involved, which just so happened to be potholes) and chanted our slogans (“What do we want? SAFE STREETS! When do we want them? NOW!” “Hey, MISTER, keep your hands off my SISTER!” and various others), I felt the particular rush of adrenaline that only comes from protesting. I felt more alive and connected to the women around me than I had in over a year, and it was invigorating. I was still buzzing when we got back for the final event: Women’s Speak Out.
Women’s Speak Out really made this event for me. The room was dimly lit. Advocates stood in the corners to help any women who grew distressed or needed it as a result of speaking out or listening to others. Women told their stories of domestic violence, molestation, and rape and the anger, sadness, and guilt that followed. Mothers spoke about their daughters, two university students when they died, who had been murdered by ex boyfriends. Every one of them ended with an entreaty: tell someone, get out, get help, do not judge what is sometimes impossible to understand.
The hour I spent in that room was one of the hardest and most inspiring of my life. Watching those survivors speak out, collect flowers, collect hugs and reassurances was tragic and beautiful all at once. On the way home, I wept. My mother, concerned, asked me why—and it took me a few minutes to really explain it. It was more than just empathy, or knowing I could have been one of them, could still become one of them, or even that I knew survivors of those horrors and had come close myself.
What made me sob was the pure power of every woman who spoke. They were truly indestructible. These women-warriors had defied every effort to keep them silent and broken. And that’s what made Take Back the Night different from the events I had attended before it; the effect it had was far more profound than merely gaining a new understanding. What going there did was solidify the fact that while Feminism is new to me, I will be an Active Feminist, Activist, and Advocate until I breathe my dying breath. Just as those women were not silenced in spite of every effort to make them quiet, neither will I be, for I owe my voice to every girl and woman whose words and life has been taken.