"Babes against Bigots": Reclaim the Night 2017

On Saturday the 25th of November hundreds of  Bristol residents marched from Queens Square to the SU with the purpose of ‘Reclaiming the Night': fighting back against the sexual violence towards women which is happening every second of every day somewhere in the world. Reclaim the Night came to Britain in 1977 and remains as significant a movement in taking back our streets today as it was 40 years ago. Drawing women (and men) from different backgrounds, living in all areas of Bristol, Saturday was an evening of immense passion and poignance.

An atmosphere of absolute unity, which underpinned the march, made for a heartwarming experience. It’s a terrible cliche but, combining your voice with others in order to shout louder and fight back harder is a feeling which is comparable to very little. Our eclectic mix of signs caught the eye of many a passerby who then decided to join us. While chants such as, “Whatever we do, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”, ensured that we had the undivided attention of onlookers. We all wore badges which read ‘hands off’ to reiterate that our bodies are not for anyone to touch without permission. As a marshal, I helped to keep the march safe by stopping cars and directing the marchers in the right direction. As I was sporting a wonderfully flattering high-vis jacket, and looking quite official, many onlookers stopped to ask me why we were marching. One particularly disgruntled lady on a held up bus declared ‘oh that’s alright then’ and smiled when I told her that we were marching against gendered violence. Lots of cars honked their horns in support and one man leant out of his window on Park Street to cheer us on. Onlookers filmed us for their snapchat stories, smiled to themselves or exchanged encouraging words with their friends.

However, despite the extensive support we received, others were not so nice. Ironically, it was the men who failed to understand why we were marching, making comments such as “they need to get a life”, who embodied why reclaiming the night remains so important. The faces of many men watching were akin to the amused-bewildered expression that they adopt when you tell them you are a feminist. Unfortunately, so many still fail to grasp why the Reclaim the Night movement is so necessary or even at all relevant. It is these men who fail to see the sexual violence happening around them every day: a grope here, an inappropriate comment there. Another problem marches like these face is the popular attitudes towards protesting. There is a tendency to lump all marchers together into a category of people who will take any opportunity to complain about the status quo. I even heard one man turn to his family and say "what are they moaning about now". The full impact of marches will not be achieved until we are able to reverse the trend of unfavourable opinions built up due to decades of unruly protests.

My favourite sign at the march read “my mum walked a reclaim march, I’m walking so that my daughter won’t have to”. I believe that, although we have made so much progress, generations to come will be following in our footsteps and walking, the already well worn path, of Reclaim the Night.