Take Your and Night and...

Take Back the Night Does Little Good and Much Harm

Leave it to the self-proclaimed "umbrella organization of women's concerns" to turn so sourly partisan an issue like violence against women.

If you remember, two months ago we were assured by Megan Lewis and Anne Guiney--who, in case you weren't among the 20 women present during their election, are the co-presidents of Radcliffe Union of Students and in charge of its $14,0000 budget and its, 3,200 or so members--that RUS would no longer be some feminist front group for the less stable of our Radcliffe sisters. Among other things, Lewis and Guiney's election suggested that Take Back the Night--the annual recipient of $3,000 from RUS' budget--would have to find another students population to rob in order to fund its heidley-heidleyho's and patriachal bellyaching.

Well, perhaps No doesn't mean No after all. Not to RUS anyway. This year, as usual, RUS is the primary funder of Take Back the Night--and, as the newly-named "clearinghouse for women's concerns," the striptease act it does not with recently-acquired and shantily-worn principles will be the real sham on display in the MAC Quadrange and throughout the streets of the campus this evening. Supposedly redressing its political shallowness, RUS has decided to continue to treat Take Back the Night as anon-partisan event; for those of us not blinded by the klieg lights, however, another picture is more accurate.

Former RUS President Brenda Coughlin has called Take Back the Night a turning point in the lives of its participants, signaling their first step towards feminism. Rally and march chants in the Quad and throughout the streets support the evening's tales of victimization, and consider the problem of violence against women lodged in the institution of patriarchy and, for some, just men in general.

Then there are the personal stories of abuse told at the rally's open micro phone. While the experience is undoubtedly cathartic, the "sea of nodding, approving faces" speakers describes makes us suspicious that this preaching-to-the-choir approach encourages more to seek catharsis than should. No need to wonder too hard.

From all points on the political spectrum, and from various campuses across the country, Take Back the Night has been described as more "poignant" when it follows recent instances of campus women failing to convict their alleged rapists. The audience becomes it own self-empowered judge and jury, supporting the words of whomever is brave enough to take, enforcing what ever conviction it see fit.

Since its anger is directed toward an entire, yet subtle societal system that perpetuates violence against women, any tribunal that fails to convict alleged rapists is further evidence of such a system.

As Coughlin describes the virtue of Take Back the Night: "Freshman and sophomore women hear these stories [at the open mike], and think, 'Oh my God! I've been sleeping with guys for years, and sometimes when I didn't want to.' And it is at this point that they "discover" they have been raped.

Because the circumstances surrounding sexual relations are complex--evoking strong emotions of love, passion and sometimes jealously and selfishness--rape cannot be defined as someone realizing she shouldn't have slept with someone after the fact, or even realizing she didn't encourage her partner with Yes's all the way through. If No truly means No, then the lack of No's and not the lack of Yes's are what tell a partner that what's happening is not rape.

Rape is not one person feeling victimized after not choosing to say No--that's not rape, that's the consequence of having sex outside the boundaries of a permanent committment to the other person. Sexual freedom is the right to sleep with another consenting adult, not the right to make him (or her) love you during or afterwards, or to attach the same meaning to sex that you do.

This is not to say that rape doesn't happen, or even that the majority of those speaking at Take Back the Night are lying about what happened to them (I don't know). Furthermore, this is not to say that those who mistakenly think they are raped do not need our compassion and support. But however helpful and self empowering a rally and march may appear, Take Back the Night is not the occasion on which to deal with these issues.

Rape victims--and even those who have been hurt while purportedly enjoying the so-called freedoms of the sexual revolution--need help. What they do not need is the chance to further demonstrate their victimhood by blaming what happened on a thing called Patriarchy, or an entity called Man.

Indeed, it would appear that those waging the ideological war against patriarchy, phallocentricism and other things that start with P are merely using those who are already emotionally unstable, due to individual circumstances between two people, not societal conspiracies, to their own political end.

To those who have seen this "militant feminist yahoo festival," the Night is contention loses its worth. Besides ruining the evening, however, the event makes a mockery of the issue it is purportedly educating others about; it pretends to offer women control, but teaches them instead on whom to blame their problems.

A real solution to violence against women would attempt to forge some compassion between the sexes, rather than demonstrate how women can abuse men when the Night is finally theirs.