Take Back the Night is an organization that was formed in the 1960s in response to various victim-blaming strategies used to blame women for their sexual assaults; it is also focused on addressing women’s safety at night (Take Back the Night 2014). It is presumed that women are more suitable targets than men, therefore requiring them to take part in various precautions to avoid being attacked. If, for example, a women dresses provocatively or is out late at night, she will most likely not be taken seriously and blamed for any unwanted sexual encounter she experiences. Therefore, this movement seeks to end these stereotypes and instead focus on the males who commit these acts, not the actions of women and girls (Take Back the Night 2014).
Movements such as Take Back the Night and Slutwalk, tend not to generate a heavy police presence, however, their messages are viewed as somewhat controversial. Women taking the measures necessary in order to protect themselves are viewed as commonsensical and even beneficial. These discourses are so normalized in society that many people cannot grasp or understand the benefits of not doing so. However, what many fail to recognize is the power dynamics at work. Power in this sense does not take on a Marxian perspective, that is, top-down and used to maintain hegemony. Rather, power can be understood through a Foucauldian lens, which states that it is productive, fluid, and everywhere (Rose 2000:323). This is important in understanding why the Take Back the Night Movement came about. It recognizes that the State along with members of society, are all active agents in producing gendered discourses, and through these, docile bodies are created to engage in specific ways (Rose 2000:323). In other words, it is not only the State who is exerting power onto its citizens rather, we as a society internalize these discourses and apply them to each other; this process is known as disciplinary power (Rose 2000:323). As risk prevention and responsibilization tactics become more normalized, the State is succeeding in governing at a distance (Rose 2000:324). They no longer have to be the sole providers of security, because individuals are willfully taking it upon themselves to ensure their own safety.
Take Back the Night views these representations as highly problematic because of there ability to reproduce patriarchal, racialized and class relations. Due to the anxieties surrounding the sexuality of women, the police have always tried to act as a paternal figure to ensure that women are surveilled and act appropriately; this can be seen through the policing of sex-workers and the need to eliminate the work due to its ‘exploitation’ (Gordon 2006:49). However, with the rise of neoliberalism, it is now the citizen’s job to police women, thus still reinforcing a patriarchal gaze (Gordon 2006:49). During this process, women become excluded from certain social and public spaces, for example bars, clubs, and staying out late at night (Day 1994: 745). They are expected to purchase commodities such as home alarm systems, pepper spray and cell phones, to be considered prudent citizens. This has severe consequences however, because the women who cannot afford these commodities are targeted as being irresponsible and more often than not, these women are racialized and poor (Rose 2000:331). With that being said, the women who are unable to abide by these rules, or willingly choose to refuse them, are undermining discourses that seek to separate women from men, responsible from irresponsible, and most importantly citizen from non-citizen (Gordon 2006:33). Along with challenging these rules, disrupting the normalization of sexual violence against women is also extremely important. At the University of British Columbia, a string of sexual assaults occurred on campus fueling public outrage. While the University did attempt to increase safety measures around campus, they did not acknowledge the deep-rooted rape culture amongst some of their male students (Quan 2013). Students during frosh week screamed non-consensual sex chants proving that in many cases sexual violence is not taken seriously by society (Quan 2013). Thus, there does not need to be a heavy police presence at the Take Back the Night rallies in order to consider the movement as problematic. Through our everyday interactions and conversations surrounding women’s safety, it is clear that these societal rules continue to oppress women and that rape and sexual violence are issues that continue to be ignored.
Although it may seem as though these power dynamics can never be disrupted, resistance is always a powerful tool in doing so. This is especially evident through the Take Back the Night movement as they continually try to fight back. Not only are they fighting the social rules and regulations enacted onto women, they are also trying to redirect the attention back to those in power, whether it is the state or men (Dempsey 2012). This group recognizes that risk and responsibilization discourses affect the lives of many women on a daily basis. They continue to limit and exclude women for reasons that continue to uphold a patriarchal system. By forming this organization, members are allowing the voices of individual women to be heard and ultimately breaking down systems of oppression based on gender, class and race. Women who become aware of Take Back the Night, might become influenced in joining or even further, stop upholding certain norms. The more women who become aware of invisible power structures, the more likely other more will be freed from exclusionary practices. It is Take Back the Nights mission to free women and girls, and by becoming aware of their mandate, society might be able to further progress and close the divide between included and excluded.
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
Gordon, T. (2006). “Producing Capitalist Order: Police, Class, Race and Gender.” pp. 29-51. In Cops, Crime, and Capitalism Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.
Quan, D. (2013, September 14). Campuses struggle with pervasive ‘rape culture’. Postmedia Breaking News. Retrieved December 8, 2014 from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=141835730935502062789503442456
Rose, N. (2000). “Government and Control.” British Journal of Criminology, 40, 321-339.
Take Back the Night. 2014. “Take Back the Night” Retrieved from http://takebackthenight.org