About 40 years ago, the Take Back the Night movement was born in the United States when women began marching on college campuses, especially at night, in response to violent crimes against women, including sexual and domestic violence.
Women are told they shouldn’t walk home alone at night. Go with a buddy. Carry pepper spray, or even a gun. Danger lurks around every corner. Women are told they take their lives into their hands if they dare to walk around after the sun sets. It was this way in the 1970s, when second-wave feminists started gathering at night with candles to take back the night in protest of that idea. In 2017, my mother still frets when I call her after dark and she can tell I’m on foot.
Take Back the Night has morphed into a worldwide movement that involves an annual march in communities all around the globe. I encountered my first when I was in college, leaving the library alone late one night, when a group of women marched past chanting and waving lanterns and flashlights. My walk home seemed a little safer that night.
This past Friday, in downtown Carbondale, about 30 women, a couple of men, and two dogs, gathered outside Gaia House and marched north up South Illinois Avenue for our own Take Back the Night.
It was still brilliantly bright outside at 5 p.m when we began our trek. Autumn made a late arrival this year, but on Friday evening, it felt more like early winter. We were bundled in layers and winter coats, hats and gloves. Even one of our canine companions wore a sweater.
As we walked through the sunny and relatively quiet Strip on Friday evening, chanting things like “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no,” a friend quipped, “I thought this was supposed to be take back the night. What is this? Take back the day? Take back dinnertime?”
I chuckled, but thought, yeah, why not? The streets may still feel especially unsafe for women at night, but sexual harassment and assault don't just live in the dark.
Since the proliferation of the MeToo hashtag, I have had conversation after conversation with friends about sexual assault and harassment. Sure, we’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault at night, but an equal amount happens in the light of day; under the glare of fluorescent schoolroom lights; in board rooms; or in crowded, well-lit restaurants and stores.
As I considered this, we walked past Traxx, where a few college-aged men stood outside with beers in their hands.
“Who’s single?” one of them shouted across the street at us.
“Who’s predictable?” my friend shouted back, as most of us rolled our eyes and continued on.
So, yes, I thought, it is take back the day, after all. Because it doesn’t seem to matter what time it is — men seem to constantly be reminding women, in one way or another, that this world is not for us to walk through peacefully. No matter what.
Our march ended at Town Square Pavilion, where local activist Cathy Field spoke to the crowd.
She seemed to read my mind.
“There’s nothing there in the dark that isn’t also there in the daytime,” she said.
She said she noticed more and more people speaking up and sharing their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment in the wake of the MeToo hashtag and the Harvey Weinstein revelations — and the mountain of sexual assault allegations against many more powerful men that have followed.
The Weinstein revelations have cast a pallor over my mind these past few weeks, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve huddled up with many women — and men — and talked ad nauseam about our experiences, the stories we’re hearing, the things we did and were done to us. I’ve been feeling hopeless.
Field’s parting words stuck with me, though I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with them in practice, thinking of the men who had shouted at us moments earlier from across the street, and how we had just passed them by.
“This is your moment to hold, yes, all men accountable,” she said.
ALEE QUICK is digital editor of The Southern. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. She can be reached at email@example.com or 618-351-5807. Follow her on Twitter: @the_quickness