Take Back the Men?

This past weekend, over one hundred proud women from the Kingston and Queen's communities, marched through Kingston's streets chanting "no more patriarchy, no more shit." Despite the harsh rhetoric, the Take Back the Night march is an important international event that began in Germany twenty-six years ago. Starting as a "plea for the recognition of women's need for protection against rape and violence," most marches—as the one in Kingston does—prohibit men from joining, asserting that it is for women only (although men are encouraged to participate in the reception and rally). Some people have argued that this is unfair.

A significant part of addressing that question involves defining the purpose of the march. Some may feel that it is for everyone who feels unsafe walking at night, while others might argue that it is for awareness of violence and sexual assault, which transcends gender. To understand the event, however, one must look to its origins in Germany, as well as its contemporary meaning. It began as a movement for the recognition of the horrific problem of violence and sexual assault against women. It has evolved to be a means of addressing and raising awareness about women being sexually and violently assaulted in public at night. Still one could argue that there is power in numbers, especially if you are trying to raise awareness, or bring about social change. Excluding men, therefore, is detrimental and contradictory to the purpose of the event. This argument, however, suffers from a few oversights. Sure there is power in numbers, but this argument applies more to attempts to change laws or organize politically, and less to events designed to help individuals and empower women. The organizers of the event would surely welcome more women, but the inclusion of men simply for numbers’ sake defeats a higher purpose.

Arguing that men should be allowed to participate in the march comes into direct conflict with the one of the main intentions of the event—to make women feel empowered and safe at night in public. If men were allowed to march with the women, this would contradict the meaning and symbolic nature of the event; of course women would feel safe, they would be walking in a mob. How empowered would they feel? Men cannot empower women.

Some may argue that having men marching would demonstrate their support for women and encourage a change in social attitudes. There can be little doubt that having men supporting this cause is a fantastic and important step, but this event is simply not for them. Men should be encouraged to participate in other campaigns and events that oppose violence and support the march's cause, but not this one. Participate in the white ribbon campaign, attend the rally and reception, get involved in other groups or begin a march for men, but do not spout claims of gender discrimination at an international event designed by and intended for women. Granted, one can make a well-grounded argument that men suffer from many of the same threats and fears. Violent assaults against men are an equally important and pressing issue. This summer there were multiple cases of homosexual men being attacked in public at night in Kingston. But these are separate issues, and even more reason to organize or attend events meant to address those problems. The Take Back the Night march is not, however, intended to address those issues.

If the march is going to allow women to take the night back, they must be the ones marching proudly through Kingston's dark streets. Attempting to widen the scope of this event by arguing that men should be allowed to march, not only defeats the march's purpose, but removes the powerful symbolism the event relies on. While arguments that men suffer from the same threats are valid, this event is simply not designed to address them, because it centers on women taking the night back for themselves.

And to those men who wish to support this cause, we applaud you, but encourage you to find another means of expressing your support. Men cannot help with what women must do alone.

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