A photo-essay by Nick Eastlake
The wind whistles, dogs howl. This might all be in your head but when you’re heading out on a windswept autumn evening it does not take much to get you scared. Especially if you see a shadow in the opposite entrance of the park you need to cross to get to your tube station. Still, lurking, male.
Spot the Danger
To combat that fear of dark streets and some of the dangers they contain a legion of women heeds the call of the London Feminist Network (LFN) and comes out one late November night in London’s West End for the 5th incarnation of the Reclaim the Night march. The event’s history goes back to 1977 when the Yorkshire Ripper was terrorising the north of England and the police were advising that, to avoid attack, women should stay inside after dark.
What do we want? – Safe streets! When do we want them? – Now! Such a curfew was contested then and is contested now. Many of the protestors feel that an unholy alliance of inconsiderate policing, laissez-faire laws, and the media from lad’s mags to women’s glossies conspires to turn them into sexual objects only asking to be hunted down on a Saturday night such as this. They will have none of that.
Why we are marching Tourists with digital cameras take snaps of the marchers with their hundreds of placards reading ‘End Violence Against Women’. Locals use their mobile phones. Some lager lads think it is a carnival, put on their empty takeaway boxes as silly hats, and hoot and holler. The manager of a famous lap dancing venue en route parks his beamer on the other side of the road and keeps a close eye on this precious money-spinner as the women march by. He needn’t have worried. The police are en garde.
Hey hey – Ho ho Sexual violence got to go Many organizations involved in managing the fallout from assorted forms of male sexual aggression join the rally at Friend’s House following the march. Aravinda Kosaraju from the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (CROP) speaks out against sophisticated networks grooming girls as young as 11 and calls for a change of law similar to that recently introduced in Norway. Jane Gregory from Bradford Rape Crisis Centre looks across the border to Scotland where these important refuges for women are annually corefunded with £50k each. The decline of funding is a constant theme, not least in Imkaan’s Gita Patel’s moving fairy tale that asks the audience to make a Happy End possible by signing a petition on their website. There are many others organizations who send a speaker or set up information stands to rally support for the women in their care.
See you in the frontline A standing ovation is reserved for Finn Mackay, the LFN’s founder. In her speech she truly rallies the audience against our society’s sexualization of the young, objectification of women in magazines, ads and TV shows, all of which combine into one big brainwash: according to her, women currently spend more than £1 billion every year on plastic surgery and more teens would like to become glamour girls than doctors. She notes that an interest in pole dancing would at least get them into P.E. In the past, she reminds her audience, women had to fight for everything, be it the right to vote or equal pay: she promises to keep on fighting. At stake is the mindset of both men and women.
Zorro will steal your heart
One young marcher I talk to is not comfortable with the policing of the march. ‘How are women in charge of the street chaperoned like this?’ Of course, the statistics are shocking: each day there are more than 100 rapes, the same amount of attempted rapes, and nearly 1,000 sexual assaults. Yet the conviction rate is only 5.3%. (British Crime Survey, 2001). But, she suggests, women shouldn’t become counted victims in the first place. Women have to learn to defend themselves and each other.
I feel more threatened by police than men Martial arts might be a better bet than pole dancing. To quote Finn Mackay one more time: ‘We know it’s always safer to resist.’ For a karate black belt, even that lurking figure in the park on the way home seems less of a threat. On close inspection, this time, it is made of metal and advertises a Trim Trail. ‘Exercise is good for your general health…’ … But it might have been different.
Make my day