The first time I experienced sexism was when my female teacher told me I should not wear a tank top because that would get me into trouble. I was only 10 at the time, and while I knew something wasn’t quite right, I didn’t understand until much later that this was a blatant demonstration of victim blaming. We all have experienced something similar. Be it someone telling you not to wear a miniskirt, or travel alone, because you’re ‘asking for it’ or be it physical or verbal assault, being followed on the street, or even enduring an abusive relationship. Or, perhaps like too many of my fellow Manchester students, you were dragged into a back alley in Fallowfield and sexually abused against your will.
Unfortunately, such things happen everywhere, as I am writing this and as you are reading it. In 2012, the world lost its voice in disbelief after hearing what had happened to a young woman in India who was attacked, gang-raped and killed. A couple of weeks ago, I lost my voice again, and so did many like me, in the wake of the murder of Özgecan Aslan, a Turkish woman who tried to resist the man who was trying to rape her. The men of Turkey ensured that their voices were heard, however, organising national demonstrations and donning skirts, and telling the world that what she wore did not dictate her fate.
On Thursday night, I also lost my voice, not from shock, but from marching the cold streets of Manchester, screaming in an expression of discontent at the current situation. I and those with me were there to make it very clear that ‘wherever we go, whatever we wear, yes means yes and no means no’. We reclaimed the night, asking for safe streets for all, for the end of patriarchy, and claiming the right to being respected. Violence against women, against anyone in fact, is unacceptable, and we should not even have to go out on the street to make such an obvious statement. Unfortunately, it is not obvious for everyone, and until things change for real, we will have to keep fighting.
I participated in the Reclaim the Night march two years ago, and this year’s was even bigger and even louder. More people showed up, thanks to Women’s Officer Jess Lishak, her team, and everyone who helped out: they did an excellent job of organising and advertising the event. I was also very happy to see that the crowd was almost equally made up of men and women. This outlines the inclusive character of such event, as well as showing that the issue is everyone’s. The march stretched from Owens Park, not too far from where a string of students were recently raped, to the Student’s Union, where an after party took place. Speakers, singers and poets took part in a fantastic show, taking the stage one after the other to share their experiences. This was a great night, and I hope even more people will unite and fight for safer streets in the years to come.
And a final word to…
– the guy who grabbed my butt in Sankeys during Fresher’s and cowardly disappeared into the crowd,
– the guy who crudely said what he’d do to me, as I was wearing a short skirt,
– the guy who thought it was appropriate to stroke my hand and hair the first time we met, although I had made it clear I was not interested,
– all those who think lad culture is fun and perpetuate it,
– those who won’t take no for an answer,
– and to everyone who practices victim blaming in a way or another,
… I know you are all better than that, so please show it and start acting responsibly.