Last night I joined hundreds of others marching up Sydney Road in Brunswick for Reclaim the Night 2014.
Reclaim the Night is a movement that calls for an end to violence against women, in all its forms.
As I set off to join the crowds at Brunswick Town Hall, I did wonder if I had the right to be there. I’m lucky, I thought. I’ve not had to deal with much in the way of harassment. I don’t know many people that have. I live in an inner north, middle class bubble where everyone votes left, supports asylum seekers and treats each other with respect. Don’t I? A woman at Reclaim the Night actually thanked my husband for turning up (he was one of many men there). The Silver Fox just shrugged his shoulders. Of course he was going to be there. It was the right thing to do.
Sure, when I was at college, there was the student party when, a little worse for wear, I just managed to push a man away as he kissed me, despite my obvious preference – at that precise moment – for going to sleep or throwing up, whichever happened first.
Then there was the time my friend and I were walking home in Perth one evening and a man shouted “Sluts!” at us as he drove past.
And in Melbourne too – Brunswick, in fact – there was the time I was waiting for the Silver Fox to pick me up, after I’d been out with girlfriends, and two men drove past yelling a graphic description of what they would like to do to me out of the window. (Can you imagine how they even planned that little excursion? ‘Hey bro, d’you wanna go out for a beer?’ ‘Nah, mate – let’s just drive round and shout rude stuff at some chicks instead.’)
But I do feel lucky.
I’ve never stayed with a controlling, abusive boyfriend because he convinced me his behaviour was all my fault, like one woman I know.
I’ve never been in the situation of the transgender teacher that my news editor wanted me to write about as if it were a great scandal, rather than a private matter for the woman involved.
And I’ve never told a pal, after going home with a man I met on a night out, that “it wasn’t rape, but…”
And that’s all just within my immediate circle.
Outside of that, the stories are endless, from the “she asked for it” line still so often trotted out about rape victims, to the Courier Mail’s shameful coverage of the murder of Mayang Prasetyo last week, which quite rightly has been slammed by other media. The Everyday Sexism Project website makes for depressing reading.
Something has gone horribly wrong in our society. How did we get to the stage where it is so normal, so acceptable, to disrespect those we share the earth with in such a horrific way? I wasn’t brought up that way, and I would wager that the men driving round Brunswick shouting abuse at middle-aged women waiting on their husbands weren’t either.
I don’t have the answer, but I do know that awareness is the first step in making a change. We all have a responsibility to watch our own behaviour and language, and ask if what we do is in any way contributing to this culture of hate. We all have a responsibility to call out bad behaviour when we see it. And we all have a responsibility to support those affected who, for whatever reason, do not have or cannot find a voice.
That’s why Reclaim the Night matters, and why I was proud to be part of it.