For years, women in society have been given rules to abide by, and are reprimanded if they do not follow them. Some of these rules include: dressing respectably; and avoiding unsafe areas at night, unless in the presence of a male. In response to these unwritten rules, a group of European women came together in the late 1960s to form the Take Back the Night organization (Take Back the Night 2014). Their interests were specifically rooted within sexual assault, and women’s safety at night. The organization and protests were later brought to the United States, in light of the issues surrounding pornography in San Francisco, and a number of serial murders of women in Los Angeles (Take Back the Night 2014). The very first protest in Canada was held on September 1st, 1980 in Vancouver, British Columbia. One year later, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers came to recognize the third Friday of every September to be the designated date for the Take Back the Night Annual Protest (Take Back the Night 2014).
Although women have overcome many barriers throughout the past century, social rules still work to deny them access to certain public spaces; something that the protests seek to resist (Day 1994: 745). Women who stay out late at bars, for example, are the immediate targets of public scrutiny. Taking part in these activities threatens the perception of women as ‘matronly’ and ‘responsible.’ There is a clear divide between public and private spaces, and women are theoretically supposed to be confined to the private realm (Day 1994: 745). The backlash women receive when entering the public sphere works to promote certain normative patterns, and results in other women attempting to conform to constraints brought upon them by society; perpetuating this vicious cycle (Day 1994: 746). Women may fear walking alone at night, because they are normalized as being constant victims, and also due to the judgment of taking part in non-feminine activities. The name of the organization alone single-handedly sends the message that women should be free to take part in any activity she wishes, and be able to walk alone at night without being victimized.
What also lies at the heart of the organization is its commitment to ending victim blaming. If a woman does not conform to the rules given to her, and finds herself in a dangerous situation, or worse, sexually assaulted, she is often viewed as being responsible for the events, or ‘asking for it’ (Day 1994: 743). To challenge these discourses, Take Back the Night wants to direct the attention at the males who actually commit the crimes, rather than focus on what the woman did or did not do (Dempsey 2012). Many of the people who take part in the protests carry signs that read: “Blame rapists for rape,” or “A woman alone is not an invitation” (Dempsey 2012). The protest wants bring attention the ideals of risk and responsibilization, and highlight their ability to oppress certain people, especially women.
Take Back the Night is a way to allow the voices of women to be heard. On their website, they even include stories of women who have been sexually abused, as a means to “shatter the silence” and “end the violence” (Take Back the Night 2014). Sexual assault is not something to ignore, it is a real phenomenon that affects at least one in three woman worldwide, while only fifty percent ends up being reported to the police (Take Back the Night 2014). Change is what the organization is hoping to achieve, and this change can be accomplished through active acts of resistance.
With that being said, the focus of my topic will be centered upon the 2013 march in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia. The 2013 march had one of the biggest turns outs, and therefore drew a vast amount of media attention. This could be attributed to the increased awareness of the issue, and also, alternate organizations such as SlutWalk, which also seeks to eradicate victim-blaming and sexual assault.
Day, K. (1994). “Conceptualizing Women’s Fear of Sexual Assault on Campus: A Review of
Causes and Recommendations for Change.” Environment and Behaviour, 26, 742-65.
Dempsey, A. (2012, Sept 16). “Toronto women Take Back the Night in march against sexual violence.” Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/09/15/toronto_women_take_back_the_night_in_march_against_sexual_violence.html
Take Back the Night. 2014. “Take Back the Night” Retrieved from http://takebackthenight.org