I think that Take Back the Night marches are great, irrespective of who gets to attend, and I don't for a minute want to criticise the organisers of the Auckland event to be held on November 1st. But a reader states, 'I think men should be allowed to march', and I feel sympathetic. This reader hasn't got the pip just because men have been excluded - he sees men as also being affected by violence.
Is there a place for men at events like Take Back the Night? It's a controversial question, and a good one for feminists to thrash out from time to time. I'm inclined to think yes, but I absolutely welcome disagreement and debate! At different times in the feminist movement, women-only environments have been crucial to women's ability to feel safe, engage in consciousness raising and plan collectively. Of course, there are still some events - domestic and sexual violence support groups, for example - where having men present is likely to be detrimental to women.
But should men be excluded from Take Back the Night? From my point of view, there are two good reasons to exclude men from events like this one. The first is to do with women's autonomy. There's nothing more annoying than having men tell you how best to run your own liberation movement, or try to take ownership of a women's issue. Secondly, there's the important issue of safety. Those who have been victims of violence may feel intimidated by the presence of men. An environment where they can express their feelings about violence without men present can be a chance for victims of violence to heal.
Balanced against these reasons for are, I think, some good reasons to include men. Males may more commonly be perpetrators of violence, but they are also victims. All three of my brothers, my father and my partner have been assaulted at different times. Of course, they've got a right to be safe, and I've got a right not to have to worry about them. (I'm not suggesting here that violence against men is the same as violence against women, or even as common - just emphasising the point that men, too, can experience fear and lack of safety. In the case of my male family members, each attack happened on the street - a form of violence with different characteristics than the kind that happens in the home, although likewise serious.) Changing a cultural view which equates masculinity with violence is a key task for feminists and our sympathisers - and you can only go so far in this task without the help of men. For this reason, I think it's valuable to have men speak out against violence, promoting a version of masculinity which rejects violence.
I personally feel comfortable with men attending events like Take Back the Night so long as they acknowledge that violence is a gendered phenomenon. That doesn't mean that violence doesn't happen to men, or that women aren't violent at times - but it does mean admitting the sad reality that some groups, including women, are more at risk of violence than others. Safety is a kind of wealth shared unequally amongst different groups in our society. Recognising this is, for me, the bottom line.
What do you lovely readers think?
I wish the organisers of the Auckland event good luck!