Sunday 23 November 2008

Tales from Turnpike Lane Station 2: the trouble with Reclaim the Night

Last night, on the platform at Camden Town, I gave the friend I'd been out with a big hug and saw her onto her train before settling down to wait for the last tube home to Wood Green. Just then, I heard a voice behind me.

'Do I get a hug too?'

Two lads, about my age, maybe a little older, looking like something out of Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere', and grinning. I stiffened, smiled and said, 'no, you don't', not wanting to seem what I was. Which was scared, and angry.

Suddenly, I was a small, skinny young woman in London on her own, and here were some blokes who might or might not be about to give me some trouble. Defence mechanism one: Blunt and Rude hadn't worked, because they were now laughing and looking mock-hurt. So I opted for Defence Mechanism Two: bore them away.

I shook hands, introduced myself, started asking interminable questions about where they were born, what jobs they did, giving monosyllabic answers. The train rolled in and I still couldn't shake them off: we were apparently going to the same stop. And not for the first time, I found myself thinking: if I'd gone to Reclaim The Night like a good little feminist, this wouldn't be happening.

If I hadn't refused to march through another biting November night, shouting
'Men Off The Streets!', I'd be surrounded by sisters with placards and bovver boots rather than having to negotiate the potential danger posed by two men decidedly *on* the streets.

As we rattled past Caledonian road, one of the lads went quiet. And then he started telling me how, about a month ago, he and his father were attacked by a group of guys at Cally Road station. He came out with a few scratches. His father was still in hospital, having suffered potentially catastrophic brain damage. The other man was his cousin, who had come down from Liverpool to help the family out.

I listened. And then I explained how, about a year ago, I was nearly raped outside the same tube station. I explained about the calculations women make when faced with a lone man, or a group of men - and they nodded, and talked about very similar calculations that men make when they're out after dark. We talked about male violence against women, and male violence against men. I told them about Reclaim The Night, and why I wasn't there.

Because violence in the streets is something that affects all genders. Because as much as I want to support my sisters in their anger and their defiance, I have too many brothers who have been mentally and spiritually broken by beatings, who have had legs, fingers and self-confidence shattered by laughing strangers, who have not yet recovered - who may never recover - from living saturated in a sick culture of masculised violence.

Brutality is bred in the bone in this country, in playgrounds, in the streets, and at home. It runs even deeper than a simple insult to women perpetrated by patriarchy. We are not as civilised as we like to think. Sooner or later, we all learn to fight, or we learn to run, or we learn to lie down and take the kicks and learn to hate. Sooner or later, we all learn to be afraid to walk the streets after dark.

Would I like to live in a world where all women felt safe at night? Damn straight. And all men, too. And all boys, all girls, all transpeople, bankers and shopkeepers and streetwalkers: none of us should have to steel ourselves for a beating when we pop to the shops for milk. This is something that needs to be addressed urgently in our culture. It's not just a feminist problem; it's a gendered crisis that makes new demands of feminism, and I will not be Reclaiming any Night until the men and transpeople whom I love are allowed to march beside me.


  1. Hey, I've just found your blog for the first time (via Chris Dillow). Thanks for this great, thoughtful and incisive post.

  2. none of us should have to steel ourselves for a beating when we pop to the shops for milk


  3. But, transpeople are invited to RTN.


  4. Yes, but
    a)they're not made welcome
    b)allowing them on the march has caused fuss in the past
    c)a lot feel excluded from the rallies and general sentiment

  5. Are you making a general argument against ciswomen-only spaces, or just saying that RTN specifically would benefit from not being women-only? Because, I think that there is a need for ciswoman-only spaces (and you can imagine what it takes for me of all people to say that!). I don't know enough about RTN specifically, though.

  6. foolsjourney - the latter. I think gender-exclusive spaces have their place; I think they are more useful on the internet, and my qualifying condition is: any space which has a more than tiny amount of political, social or cultural agency needs to be open to all genders. Any political space needs to be open to all genders; that includes RTN, and it includes feminist groups.

    I also think that a lot needs to be done within specifically dedicated feminist groups to ensure that men, when they do join, understand that they are there to learn, to listen and to contribute - but NOT to lead.

  7. I also think that a lot needs to be done within specifically dedicated feminist groups to ensure that men, when they do join, understand that they are there to learn, to listen and to contribute - but NOT to lead.


    (Struggles with self at the keyboard, fingers itching)

    Oh, sod it: Much as I agree with your view of RTN (one echoed by Jill Tweedie in the Guardian back at the time of the original marches), the notion that the men should in general not get in the way and merely be helpful in feminist groups is scarcely an encouragement to getting them to join (and men certainly aren't going to join RTN if it's just a front for the usual rad.fem. anti-porn suspects, no matter how much they disapprove of violence against women).


  8. Wow, what a story. It's very telling that your first reaction to being approached by men was an anxious one, and fascinating what you learned of them.

    It's disturbing that we live in a world where our first reactions to people we know nothing about is a negative one. Disturbing that there's a reason for it.

    Glad it ended all right.

  9. re: your last comment, Penny: this is a v sensible rationale of the relationship between segregated/mixed spaces and I agree (with the exception of education - I think non-boarding education often benefits from being single-sex for a lot of students) wholeheartedly. Thanks for clarifying my thoughts.

  10. Do RTN actually shout 'Men off the streets'? Actually those words, or merely implications to the same effect? Is this part of the general ethos of RTN?

  11. Agree with Anonymous #2 although I undoubtedly do this article is an encapsulation of everything I find wrong with the movement. Excluding men is the most absurdly counter-productive thing imaginable, and would be laughable if it did not exclude half of the potential supporters.

  12. The problem is the market theory of rights- we can't talk about male-male violence without taking away focus from the original problem (male-female violence.) I think the problem will solve itself if the streets become safer for women.

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