Marching to draw attention to and ﬁght oppression has been a popular form of protest for centuries. But can we say, in 2016, that activist marches are always the best way to achieve our goals in changing societal outlooks? Reclaim the Night is a march protesting sexual violence and “all forms of male violence against women”, and the event will be returning to Exeter on December 8 2016. It’s undeniable that Reclaim the Night marches have a large presence and are widely publicised, drawing attention to an extremely important cause and opening up discussions across communities, but looking closer at the organising bodies, how far is Reclaim the Night truly “feminist”?
London Reclaim The Night, in its current incarnation, has been run by the London Feminist Network for over ten years, with thousands of women marching through London calling to end sexual violence.
there have been accusations that the Reclaim The Night is far from a safe space for all
However, there have been accusations that the Reclaim The Night is far from a safe space for all; sex workers and trans women have felt excluded from the events by speakers and attendees, despite recent statements that the march is inclusive towards women of all races, sexualities, and abilities.
In 2014, the Sex Worker Open University criticised Reclaim The Night for inviting a speaker from Object, a campaigning organisation which SWOU claimed oppresses sex workers through picketing their workplaces and attempting to put them out of work. The SWOU also alleged distribution of transphobic leaﬂets by some attendees of the march, conﬁrmed by an attending group of “radical feminists” who admitted to carrying a banner stating “Reclaim the Night is for WOMEN” and handing out leaﬂets “raising awareness of violence perpetrated by male transgenders”
This same group reprimanded Reclaim The Night organisers for stating that trans women are welcome on the march. However, many women at RTN London each year speak out against these transphobic slogans used by a minority of attendees, and march in solidarity with trans women and sex workers, carrying banners and chanting messages of inclusion. Consider this fairly questionable slogan, used at RTN London 2013. “Women’s bodies must not be sold!” Well. Whilst this is true if we are considering it in the context of human trafﬁcking and women being forced into the sex trade, surely we must respect a woman’s right to sell her own body? To use it as much as a labourer or an ofﬁce worker would use their body or mind? And regardless of how someone
enters the sex industry, once they are part of it, they face prejudice and the constant threat of violence, and therefore must be protected by the law and by society.
In excluding some of the most marginalised women in society, they go directly against the notions of equality they supposedly support
Toni Mac from SWOU has spoken out about how previous marchers have behaved violently towards sex workers, passing by strip clubs to protest sex work, and even spitting on the sex workers who attempt to join the march. Sex workers are subject to an enormous amount of gender-based violence, not only from clients but from police harassment, raids, and street violence. And yet, they are still often painted as perpetrators of patriarchy and contributors to a misogynistic system rather than victims of it. Some feminist organisations, in their refusal to broaden their activism, seem to place more obstacles on the road to equality than they break down.
In excluding some of the most marginalised women in society, they go directly against the notions of equality they supposedly support. Trans women and sex workers should, in my opinion and that of many others, be leading these marches; the intersecting oppressions they face must not be brushed under the carpet and buried beneath a “white feminist” ideology. Those feminists who hold more societal privilege must know when to step
back and allow the voices of those who are most often marginalised, to be heard. The dedication of society to the binaries of gender and sexuality leaves little space for those who do not conform, but successful and safe feminist spaces should be ones where there is no room for these destructive divisions. And of course, gendered violence towards sex workers is devastatingly common, and so who better to speak out on this subject; sex work cannot be regulated without input from those involved in it.
All feminists, and activists of every kind, have good intentions, but these often become obscured through internalised prejudice. Clearly, there is still a long way to go before these “feminist” marches are accessible to all those most affected by the issues being protested. I’ll leave you with this statement from the Sex Worker Open University. “There can be no liberation based on supporting and perpetrating increased violence against some women.”