Just to clarify, there were certain other Qs I asked and had answered in these emails that aren’t relevant to the point we’re making, so I’ve cut them out.

Email 1, from me:

Hi there, I am hoping to bring a group of students from — University to the London Reclaim the Night, and wondered – are men allowed to the march also? Am I correct in believing it is only the first part of the march that is women-only?

Email 2, from the London Feminist Network (LFN):

Hello,

Brilliant that — University will be represented on the march! Do bring a banner from your group so that people can see where you have travelled from.
The whole march is women-only, this is historical and also is to make the point that women usually feel unsafe if they are on their own or with another female friend, and as the old saying goes we are told to get a man to walk us home to protect us etc. So the point of the march is to highlight that women should not be seen as ‘fair game’ for harassment and abuse just because they are on their own or with female friends and that they should still have every right to feel safe. So to raise awareness and make the point the march is women only. Then there is a mixed rally and disco at the Camden Centre to which men are welcome. We were working with White Ribbon Campaign on organising a men’s vigil again like we had last year, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to organise this in time now.
But if men are coming with your group they would be more than welcome to volunteer at the rally venue at the Camden Centre, where people are setting up stalls and stage gear etc! While the women go on the march.

Email 3, from me:

Hi there,

Such a shame that men aren’t allowed to march – I fully understand the reasoning, but loved the fact that the Bristol reclaim the night had a mixed section at the back of their march. It managed to include the men without denying the point of the march. I think we can all agree that it’s an issue that everyone should be involved in changing. I would normally be offended if someone spoke about street safety for women as a ‘women’s problem’, as though it’s only up to women to deal with it, so men showing support is important too! Perhaps it’s something that can change in later years, as the argument that it’s ‘historical’ seems to sound like saying ‘it’s tradition, so why change it?’. Anyway, that’s just my thoughts on the matter. We’ll hopefully encourage some of the guys to come along…what exactly takes place at the rally afterwards?

Email 4, from LFN:

Hello,

It is not simply tradition that the march is women-only. Male sexual violence against women does not affect men in the street, it affects women. Men are not raped in the same numbers as women are. All the British Crime Surveys and Fear of Crime Surveys show that men do not fear sexual violence from other men, whereas women’s greatest and most commonly reported fear is the fear of being raped. From very young girls to pensioners, women say their biggest fear is rape. Whereas fear of crime surveys commonly show that men’s most reported fear of crime occuring to them is car crime. Strange – because young men under 25 are actually more at risk of violence than any other group, they are of course at risk from other young men, not women.

But this march is not a general people’s march for peace on the streets for all. It is a distinct political march with a distinct political angle. We don’t insist that the marches around Gaza also protested about the Congo, Sudan, Tamils etc etc. Groups are allowed to have their own marches about their own political issue, and I don’t understand why this right is often so denied to women.

This is a women’s march about male sexual violence against women – sexual harassment, taunts, propositions, assaults and rapes etc as well as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, child sexual abuse, prostitution, trafficking, honour killings, etc etc. These things simply do not affect men in the same way, that is a fact.

The rally after the march has speakers, stalls of a variety of organisations, not just women’s organisations. Then speakers from different groups and then a big disco with both male and female DJ’s playing retro and poppy tunes until 2am.

Email 5, from me:

Hi there,

I’m assuming this is Finn by the way – if it is, then I just wanted to express my admiration after hearing you speak yesterday. It made getting a coach at 2am worthwhile, as did the event generally. If this is not Finn, please pass on the sentiment!

The rally sounds like good fun, and I assume the stalls will be similar to those at Feminism in London event which I found really inspiring. The parties also sound brilliant!

I agree with all of your points about women and safety on the streets. I would never claim that violence against women, be it genital mutilation, rape or otherwise (of course the list is long – there’s a reason marches like this need to exist), affects men in the same way. I fear you got the wrong message from me if you think that I disagree with you, or the message that this march holds. However, I’m not sure it’s right to discuss this as a ‘women’s right to a women-only march’ – rather, it is a march to express the view that violence against women is wrong. Any men who wished to attend it would not do so in order to say ‘don’t forget about me, I was hit by a girl once, poor me etc etc’, but rather to show their support and awareness of an issue that should be acknowledged and fought by all. By denying men access to a march like this, it surely discourages the (few) men who are passionate about women’s rights for the sole reason that women should have these rights from being involved, from identifying as pro-feminist/feminist (depending on your view of men and feminism, a discussion for another time!), and from being vocal about these issues.

I do not argue that the march should be completely mixed. I appreciate that there will be women who have experienced violence, that there will be women who do not want to march alongside men. I simply suggest that there be a separate section at the end of the march (in Bristol it was separated by a marching band, which did the trick without too much policing!) which is mixed. That way the majority of the march will retain the status of women-only, but it would not prevent men from being involved in such an important political issue.

I hate to be the one who is always bewailing ‘but what about the men?’ – really, I get sick of hearing this question when discussing violence, sexism in the workplace, abortion, etcetera etcetera, but I do believe that when it comes to political campaigning, actively seeking change, especially change around the sexism that is so embedded in our society, to be sexist against men seems hypocritical. We cannot tar them all with the same brush, and there are men who want to support feminism and what it stands for. As for marches about Gaza – was it said that only those from Gaza, only those directly affected by the issue, could march? Would straight people be turned away from a gay rights march? Are/were white people turned away from marches for racial equality? What makes this an issue that we have to fight on our own? It’s a heavy enough burden to bear, and one that, I agree, men cannot fully understand. They are not affected by it on a day to day basis. But they can help tackle it, they can show their support, and to turn our backs on that is to turn our backs on a changing society, one in which men are becoming aware of their privilege, and of women’s suffering, and wishing to speak out too.

I really don’t want to come across as confrontational, as this march is something that I feel is so valuable, so important. The fact that the London Feminist Network has revived Reclaim the Night is inspirational (in fact, it’s provided me with the groundwork for potentially holding one in Exeter, for which I am very grateful) and I do not seek to undermine this achievement. All I want to do is say how I feel, and put across the feelings of the men I know who were interested in the march. I run a Gender Equality Society at my university, which attracts men and women who are keen to discuss gender and society, as well as get involved politically. In the majority of our discussions, we get a mix of opinions, but one thing that everyone unites on is the issue of violence against women. The men in our group, as with the women, were excited by the idea of a Reclaim the Night march, to bring this issue into the public arena and start a dialogue about it. They were saddened to know that they couldn’t be a part of it. I will still encourage them to come for the rally and the parties, but they have expressed concern, feeling unwelcome, feeling dismissed and judged purely on their gender. Yes, this is something women have to face on a regular basis and it’s all to easy to say ‘see how we feel, now’, but as feminists we have to be bigger than that. We are fighting for equality, we have to set the precedent. Just as we argue that it is wrong for women to be judged purely on gender, to not be seen as individuals, we must argue that men should not be judged in the same way.

Out of interest, would you be campaigning as actively if this were an issue affecting men, if they were the ones suffering from regular violence? I would hope so, as it is a human rights violation that must be stopped regardless of whether women or men are affected by it. Yet, if that were the case, how would you feel to be told that actually, you don’t get a voice in this? Even if people of your gender were the main cause of the issue and you wanted to speak out against that, even if you were not violent towards men and sought to discourage fellow women from being violent (in this alternative universe, of course), even if you committed much of your time and energy to fighting said violence – if even then, you were told that you were not welcome at marches against this issue because you didn’t experience it first-hand, how would you feel?

It just seems wrong to me, I don’t know how else to put it to explain my point of view. I agree entirely with what the march stands for. I am a feminist, I set up and run a Gender Equality Society that is currently campaigning for a Rape Crisis Centre in Devon, I am the Gender Equality representative for our Union and the student rep for our Women’s Network. I am trying, with all of my might (and much of the time I should perhaps spend on my degree) to be heard in this town, and to get people involved. I am trying to fight feminist fights in the university, on a local basis, and I try to get to as many events elsewhere as possible. But if even the feminist events are exclusive, if they do not allow me to involve the men that I have got on side, how can I explain that? How can I respond discouragingly to ‘oh feminism, that’s just man-hating’, when I know that the majority of feminist marches do not allow men? That certainly sends out the message that men are not allowed to be involved with this, that feminism is a women-only arena, even an anti-men ideology, loud and clear.

I will still be attending the march in November, hopefully with a good number of us to represent Exeter. But I know that the experience, however empowering and significant it will be, will be marred by the knowledge that the men I have brought with me have had to be left behind, setting up the rally, behind the scenes, not allowed to join us.

So thank you, thank you whole-heartedly for holding this march. Thank you for being there, for providing women with this network and for fighting for something that is so incredibly important. I just hope that, if not in this year, then in future years, I will also be able to thank you for your inclusiveness, and your understanding.

With the greatest respect,

What are your thoughts? This seems straight-forward for me, but is clearly not a black&white issue, as the LFN have been quick to point out…