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      Reclaiming the Night from Rapists and Woman-Beaters

      November 26, 2012

      By Erinn Dhesi, Photos by Valentina Quintano

      As much as it pains me to admit it, you can only sock it to the patriarchy with so many Pussy Riot Tumblr posts and dubious Bret Easton Ellis retweets before you start to wonder if anybody's really listening. I was getting bored of no one noticing my loud sighs whenever I walked past women’s glossies in the supermarket, so I decided to take action and join a whole bunch of feminists on a big walk. The walk in question is called Reclaim The Night, and marks the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

      Although I’m guessing you’ve never heard of it because you’re an uneducated slob, Reclaim The Night is kind of a big deal: Slut Walk is barely a glint in the lacquered or non-lacquered (it is your choice, by the way) eye of RTN, which has been attracting at least 2,000 women for the last nine years. The walk compromises of newcomers (hai), students and well-established feminist groups from across the country, including UK Feminista, Object and the NUS Women’s Campaign (try not to ask them about the NUS’s dire attempts at marches of late – bit awk). This is the mother of all feminist marches, and I was determined to walk the shit out of it.

      We started off at Whitehall Place, where volunteer stewards were handing out song sheets and placards. Hip flasks of whiskey weren’t in their remit, but that didn’t matter because I'd brought my own. If you're gonna be wandering through the rainy streets at night singing, why not be drunk?

      It wasn’t until 6.30PM that the roads were blocked off and we could start on the march, but when we got going we were led by this woman, whose warbles were on par with a 1994 Mariah Carey. Once we’d finished, I spotted her necking G&Ts at the bar. A woman after my own heart.

      As we marched on past Trafalgar Square chanting "Women united will never be divided!" I swear to Gloria Steinham I nearly cried, partly because of the empowering solidarity of the women around me and partly because my sign was so heavy I could practically feel my vertebrae getting more acquainted with each other with every step. Luckily I had conviction and determination on my side, as well as a friend, who I forced to lug my sign every few minutes. It's called solidarity; god, don't you know anything?

      The march was advertised as being "girls-only". But just because there were no boys present, doesn't mean the night reclaimers didn't have a variety of messages for them.

      The vibe was peaceful throughout. I guess that's what happens with a march like this; not wanting to get raped isn't exactly a controversial opinion to hold. But it was fun.

      At the back of the march were loads of little girls who had come with their mums. Those chicks were bad-ass, their parents didn’t even chastise them for screaming "FUCK THE PATRIARCHY" – a good sign for the future of feminism if there ever was one. And totally cute.

      From what I could see down in my crooked, sign-laden position, the public largely responded to us by pulling out their iPhones iPhones, taking the piss and acting bemused. Some lady flashed her boobs at us, earning a guttural cheer from us all, which I guess was a good sign. That’s feminism, right? Flashing your boobs at strangers? Uh. I think. Anyway the whole procession drew up to the front of the Camden Arts Centre opposite Kings Cross Station.

      What I thought at first was a club (there were bouncers outside! And a queue!) turned out to be a base for all the different rallying organisations. Inside were stalls for various groups, a space to speak and listen, and some other cool stuff.

      The most important discovery I made on my quick whip around the place was the presence of vodka. Good sign. The only elephant in the room was the lack of women of colour, which, given the recent media dialogue about the exclusivity and self-superiority of white feminists, was pretty disappointing.

      The ethnic women I encountered throughout the evening were few and far between, not present in the hordes I was expecting; it was quite telling that I could find and talk to all the women of colour in under 30 minutes, and I’m really not that quick, especially after all the vodka. I spoke to a woman who shared my concerns.

      “Inclusivity suits people with privilege, look at that panel earlier, only one black woman was on it and race wasn’t mentioned once. Look at the women around you,” she said, but by this point there were a lot of white women dancing to a dubstep version of "Like A Prayer" by Madonna, so to be honest, I didn’t really want to. But she was right. It was all white on the night.

      “Look at the bar staff, caterers and security guards – all people of colour. It’s all very well saying we’re all in this together but we’re not yet.” Although this really knocked my EQUALITY buzz, I decided to take my camera out to the masses and find out how they thought the walk had gone.

      VICE: How did you find the march?
      Lady Mary Poppins, 48 (might not be real name): It was really exciting. At first I lost my mates but that’s how things tend to go at these things. But the energy was beautiful.

      What inspiring feminists should young people be looking up to?
      bell hooks. I actually met her once.

      What was she like?
      I was in America at some talk back in the late 90s. I was sat next to her and I hadn’t realised she was the key note speaker, because she had used her given name instead of her pseudonym. I can account she gives a good firm hug and smelled like spiced apples.

      I’m so jel.

      VICE: So you guys are mother and daughter, right? Was it important for you to get your daughter involved in feminism early?
      Kay, 27: Oh definitely, I had her handing out pro-choice leaflets on Greenford High Street when she was six.
      Nina, 56: I loved it, the earlier you learn the less likely you are going to get caught up in that sexist media message.

      Everyone knows the Spice Girls were all for Girl Power, what Spice Girl are you?
      Oh god, the Spice Girls are awful.
      Kay: Anyone who genuinely thinks that the Spice Girls were a bunch of girls truly in it for the feminist message is kidding themselves. I mean, they dressed a grown woman up as a pre-pubescent child.

      Oh, yeah totally. I was, uh, kidding.

      Leanne, 16, Alisha, 16, caterers.

      VICE: Hey, nice trays, what's up?
      Leanne, 16: We’re here to serve the food, we’ve got some nice lamb curry with vegetable rice for £5.

      Yum, I'm so glad it's not vegan. What do you think is the most feminist food?
      Candy Floss.
      Alisha, 16: [Turns to Leanne] The fuck?
      Leanne: It’s delicate and no hassle.

      And delicious. Are you happy to be catering the event?
      Alisha:
      Totally, anything that tries to help vulnerable women is a good thing.
      Leanne: I wish I knew more about it in school so I could understand it all, you don’t get enough strong women talking about these issues.

      HEAR THAT GOVE.

      Overall, despite the back pain, I'd say this was a pretty successful foray into the world of feminist marches. Although it's clearly not a movement without its internal issues, there's definitely a strong voice weighing in on gender debate in the UK at the moment, and it's one we should all take time to support.

      Follow Erinn on Twitter: @erinndhesi

      You can see more of Valentina's work here.

      Read more girl stuff here:

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      Topics: feminism, Reclaim the Night, protest march, London, anti-rape

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