Lately, ‘Reclaim the Night’ has become a complicated event for me. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s an important one. I love seeing women all over the country demanding safe access to their cities and neighbourhoods, both during the night and the day. The solidarity among all the women taking part is particularly heartening, but, for me, therein lies a potential problem. ‘Reclaim the Night’ highlights that all self-defining women and all groups that face structural misogyny are less safe than men are when walking their streets at night. This is what draws us together. It’s why we march alongside each other. But, at the risk of raining on our parade, I have to bring in a dose of intersectionality. I’ll do so with an anecdote:
I’m walking back to my college accommodation late at night. The badly-lit road is empty, but for the occasional speeding car. I come across a white woman who is very, very drunk. She’s crouched on the ground, on her own, swaying slightly, very vulnerable. I stop and, without touching her and while maintaining my distance, ask if she needs help. If she lives near here and if her friends know where she is. She’s unresponsive until I offer out my hand for her to hold on to so I can pull her up and we can try and find where she lives. She then begins to laugh and repeat over and over “You’re not allowed to do that. You’re not allowed to do that to me.” While I’m trying to figure out how to help her a car suddenly drives off the road beside us. It stops and a white man comes running towards us. He stops, and, ignoring me completely, asks the woman “Is everything OK here?” As she doesn’t respond I ignore the fact that the question wasn’t directed at me and explain the situation. He walks straight up to the woman and asks again if she’s alright, at which point she raises up both of her arms in a pleading fashion and says, desperately, “Help me.”
I left him to it. Neither bitter nor angry, not even surprised. Because it’s happened before. In fact it happens quite often. The occasional woman (or man) who views me with fear on the street, be it night or day. Those who give me a wide berth or clutch their purses and children closer to them when I walk past. There is no solidarity for me with all women when I walk the streets at night, because I know that, to some of them, I am one of the threats that they have to navigate while trying to get home.
Never mind that I too live with their fear. Like all women I struggle to know how to react when catcalled in the middle of the night. A nervous (terrified) smile might be interpreted as an invitation. Ignoring it may incur their wrath. The freedom to roam without the fear of attack is also withheld from me. I need ‘Reclaim the Night’ just as much as any other woman.
The world being what it is, I understand where the fear of some of these women is coming from. Why it’s so easy for them to divorce my womanhood from my blackness, and focus on what, to them, is a threat. I get that simply writing about it won’t change these irrational and deeply hurtful perceptions. I also understand that ‘Reclaim the Night’ isn’t purely about our safety at night, and that my focusing on this one issue alone may seem to evince a confused, over-simplified interpretation of the event’s purpose. But I just wanted to get that story out there. To ensure that when we talk about solidarity among all women tonight that we really mean all women. My experiences are different to that of women of other races, and I have to live with the contradiction of being both threat and threatened. I think we need to start talking more about intersectionality in this context. Today is as good a day as any.