Reclaiming The Night

On Thursday, November 11, 2010, I took back the night. Joined by a small group of passionate college women, I marched across my campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to protest the perpetuation of sexual violence against women and to raise awareness regarding the rising seriousness of this issue on college campuses. Proudly walking down busy Franklin Street, we blew rape whistles, chanted verses that asserted our rights to safety at all times, and, most importantly, we walked into the night without fear. For the first time in a while, I wasn’t looking over my shoulder. I didn’t have to carry a can of pepper spray, get out my cell phone and pretend to be talking to my mom, or avoid streets on which I ordinarily would have chosen to walk. For the first time, I felt like an empowered human being walking the streets of Chapel Hill at night, as opposed to a potential sexual assault victim.

Two nights after the Take Back the Night rally, I went out for frozen yogurt with my friend Sheena at our favorite place on Franklin Street. As we were walking to catch the bus back to our dorms, we walked by a group of five or six men, all of whom yelled tauntingly in our direction, calling us “baby” and asking us to “come back and talk to them.” As usual, I quickened my pace and ignored them, but my heart sank as I remembered the pride and safety that I had felt walking down the same street just two nights before. Soon, we reached the bus stop. Just as I was shaking off the disgust of being verbally assaulted, two men walked by. Both looked older than fifty, and they stopped in front of Sheena and me. “You ladies need to come with us,” they insisted several times. “We won’t be doing that,” I sharply responded. By the time they walked away, my ears were burning with anger. “See?” I asked Sheena, “This is why we need more rallies like the one on Thursday.” She began to give assent, but, before all the words had even left her mouth, a third perpetrator interrupted. “Let me see it,” he said. “See what?” we both asked, confused as to what he meant. “You said guys like to look at your butt,” he directed at Sheena, “Let me see it.” By this point, I was livid. “SHE DID NOT SAY THAT AND YOU ARE BEING COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE,” I exploded, “YOU NEED TO LEAVE NOW.” As the man walked away and I looked around, I realized that the people around us were giving me critical and scrutinizing looks, as if to say, “Wow, she overreacted.” As if I was the person acting out of line.

Wake up, people! This is what feminism is about. It’s not about man bashing or not shaving your armpits. It’s about recognizing that there is nothing “normal” about the fact that women have to walk into the night with fear, just like there is nothing normal about the fact that 1 in 5 women suffer from an eating disorder or that women in the U.S. make 77 cents for each dollar that men make. It’s about asserting that there is something terribly wrong with a society in which women must be raised to protect themselves from the constant threat of sexual violence and in which women who stand up for themselves are mocked for “overreacting.” And if we want it to change, we’re going to have to do something about it. We, women and men alike, must take responsibility for this issue by asserting our own rights and advocating for the rights of others. This is the only way that we can hope to permanently reclaim the night for ourselves and for women around the world.

More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Education, Feminism, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexual harassment, Gender bias, Equal Pay, College



Emily S
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