On Friday evening the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre in my community will be holding its annual “Take Back the Night” march designed to bring attention to the issue of violence against women, and to loudly make the statement that women should be able to walk safely – anywhere and anytime!
But I will not be walking with them. Men are not invited to march. And some men (and some women) have a problem with this. But I don’t.
Over the years I have lived in many communities that have these marches. Sometimes men are invited to march, and sometimes we are not. It depends on the philosophy of the organization that is sponsoring the march. And as a male ally working to end violence against women, I respond to these invitations (and noninvitations) in the way that best supports my sisters who are organizing the event. If they say “Please march,” I march. If they say “Please don’t march,” then I don’t march. I am there to support these women in ways that feel supportive to them. And we men who do this work need to listen to the women who are doing this work.
Even though I am not marching, I will in fact still be there on Friday, hosting an educational session for men who are interested in working against sexual assault. As the women walk, we men will meet with each other, talk about sexual assault, share information, and cheer for our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our partners, our colleagues, our classmates, and our friends who are out there marching – taking back the night.
As we men talk, I do expect that “the conversation” might come up. “The conversation” about why we men are not invited to march. I so wish that any man who is fretting about this issue would, instead of complaining, choose to focus his energies on cheering for the women tonight. That he could sit back and enjoy his “night off” before he begins to work actively to stop rape on each and every day of the next 364 days until the next march!
However, I do think any concerns that arise will have to be addressed. So, it is that time of year again to dust off my thoughts about why men are not invited to march – and why that is perfectly okay:
*Because women should be able walk down the street by themselves – without having to be escorted by men.
*Because sexual assault is rooted in women’s oppression by men, and the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by men against women.
*Because the march is designed to be an empowering event for women.
*Because women must have opportunities to claim their rights and to exert their power.
* Because most men can walk down the street by ourselves almost any time we want to.
* Because men need to learn how to be supportive from the sidelines without taking over.
*Because the idea that not being allowed to march prevents men from getting involved in this work is, in my opinion, a myth. There are plenty of other opportunities for men to become involved. For many men, I believe that what actually prevents us from becoming involved in feminist-based activities is our attachment to our unearned sexist power and privilege, and often a desire to continue to enjoy misogynist films, music, pornography, and video games without having to think about their impact on women.
* Because men who are concerned about sexual assault can create our own events to raise awareness and reduce rape.
* Because a group of feminist women thought deeply about this issue, and this was their decision. It must be respected.
*Because when a woman says “No,” we need to listen.
This last point is especially critical. It bears repeating: When a woman says “No,” we need to listen!
Last year, here in genteel Maritime Canada, I saw two men who, despite being told that men were not invited to march, decided to go ahead and march anyway. They followed a little bit behind the women, repeating the chants the women were singing out. I would like to address these last remarks to those two men:
You wanted to do something. A woman said “No.” You went ahead and did it anyway.
That is an accurate description of what you did.
Can you please tell me how that is any different from: He wanted to do something. A woman said ”No.” He went ahead and did it anyway.
Because that scene is an accurate description of a rape.
You may think that I am over-reacting. Making too big a deal of it all. And that’s okay with me. But what is absolutely not okay with me is that a woman set a limit with you, and you chose to ignore it.
That’s bad in any context. But at an anti-rape rally? Really? Are you kidding me?
So how about this year, if you do come to show your support, why not think about really showing some support? Join with us other men who will be there learning about sexual assault. Cheering for the women as they march. And respecting their wishes.
I went to an open-to-all-people Take Back the Night rally at the campus where I was student. I did so because I wanted to show my support for a campus/city/world where all people should feel safe to walk at night. It angers me that there are people who would attack others and saddens me that these people have the power to frighten an entire community. I wanted to lend my voice to say to those would-be attackers that their behavior is not acceptable and I am here with these other women and men to stand against them.
At the rally, a speaker told the crowd that they should see all men as rapists. The crowd -- a vast majority of women -- cheered. What I thought was an important call for safety, became instead demagoguery. I left. I would not lend my voice to such stereotyping and hatred.
When a friend needs it, I will walk with her or him. But, you need not worry, I too won't be attending any Take Back the Night walk or rally. I listened.