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Take Back The Night 2014: Rape Culture Is Not Some Buzzword

Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night is an annual campus event that provides a voice against local domestic violence and sexual assault. Taylor Grasdalen attended Thursday’s march and rally.

It would be entirely too easy to call Take Back the Night “moving,” or to call it by any related synonym, with as much stress as there has been this year on the terminology and language and circumstance surrounding issues of “gender-based misconduct and sexual assault.” Rather, I’ve never seen so much feeling; considering this event in the context of this word instead, this noun, seems to make far more sense than any descriptor. That there was feeling suggests a much greater thing.

And indeed, Take Back the Night really is about a greater thing, something big, something loud and important, a group rallying. This is exactly as it’s been for years’ events past, I know, but considering the modern energy of these issues makes that feeling stronger.

Take Back the Night began just before eight, with announcements and introductions. I was immediately regarded as “press” and could not speak to any other marcher or participant. Our key speaker–Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood (CC’14)–began the actual rally itself, by briefly discussing her own experiences and then for some time considering the University’s place in this cause. Her speech really clarified the purpose I’d hoped for this event: she gave more than just statistics, she gave thorough definition to “rape culture.” It’s any form of non-consent, anything without decision. She brought up Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, where, too, students are not being heard. As she put it, “Rape culture is not some buzzword.” In a year of Town Halls and constant emails, administrators deflecting blame and students becoming restless, her concentration on language here felt incredibly timely.

She went on to name and address President Bollinger then, and his calling these concerns “unfortunate”–these concerns, these matters of sexual assault on campus. Rather, they are not unfortunate, but disgraceful. Calling what has, in turn, been lightly termed “misconduct” as “unfortunate” is incorrect, and it is distancing and insensitive of the administration to step back in this way. A chant later raised by the crowd when marching, “Rape is a felony even with CU ID!” hones this point. For the administration, the issue of sexual assault on campus is yet just one to be promised commitment. That Columbia calls sexual assault not a “crime,” but “misconduct” for the sake of protecting potential criminals is not true commitment, it’s disgraceful.

The march itself was some two hours long, loud and winding through Morningside Heights. I was not allowed to march within the group necessarily, but to watch the bold mass felt regardless a privilege. A crowd composed most prominently of individuals identifying female, there were many men, too, even amongst the volunteers (several of whom later told me that they were involved with the Men’s Peer Education group on campus)–all encircled by a force of NYPD as we crossed streets, crossed College Walk. Though I might pick out individual comments I heard from the crowd (if only to include one man’s rhetorical “Why do I feel like a dirtbag?”), the group’s continuous, agitated chanting was of course louder.

This, I think, is where the event comes together. Whether watching the crowd or part of it, it is so clearly a mass of people saying something. Illuminated by the NYPD cars at front and back of the marchers, the lights flashing seemed to compose and complete the group, already one in their chants. This is the most memorable picture.

The march ended where it began, at Barnard, and participants ended up in the Diana Center for coffee and bagels. I met the coordinator of our Take Back the Night event here at Columbia, Zelda Wanstok (BC’15), and asked whether the recent months’ attention to heightened concerns of misconduct on campus had at all informed this year’s Night; she told me no, not really, which I cannot entirely understand, however relevant their chosen speaker’s comments had been. I learned, too, that this year’s Take Back the Night crowd was in no way significantly larger than those in previous years. It came time for the “speakout” portion of the evening, then, where survivors would share their stories; as a “mandatory reporter,” I did not feel comfortable attending.  I think, though, it is important to note again the imperative that students become involved and vocal in these things; unless you do, you might never realize the impact you have. Only attendance can facilitate response and promote feeling.

Image via Take Back the Night CU

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  • lol says:

    @lol i thought the people yelling on the streets were doing some late sorority rush thing…

  • BC 15 says:

    @BC 15 I know this will get down-voted, but frankly the hostility of the participants of TBTN towards those not participating has been very discouraging and alarming. Take Back the Night is an extremely overwhelming experience– triggering stories, screaming, crowd hysteria (yes I used the word hysteria to describe women, it’s a practical application and there are no better words to describe it as frenzy, mania, etc don’t quite capture what I’m going for) and accidentally encountering the March as I did last night was terrifying.

    Sorry, I know it makes you all feel like you’re doing something productive, but having a parade once a year doesn’t make any practical difference.

    Screaming and marching down the street really doesn’t change anything. I’m someone who came to Barnard already very well read and active in feminism, but the anger, negativity, and hurtfulness that I have experienced from the “feminist” community here has turned me off from joining in with a cause that I truly believe in.

    In a place where tolerance is allegedly paramount, many of these women seem to think that their opinions and beliefs are the only “right” ones.

    Feminism means you believe in equality for EVERYONE no matter what gender, sex, religion or color they identify as.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous It’s funny that “liberals,” who acquired that title by being tolerant of new ideas, have now come full circle and are actually intolerant of everything except a limited dogma.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Just because someone is mad that another person didn’t join their action doesn’t mean that that someone isn’t tolerant of their dogma.

        Also, in this circumstance, I believe that it is silly for TBTN to be hostile (if this is indeed true). But I’d say in general it isn’t as simple as being tolerant or intolerant, rather there’s a judgement call to be made when you’re tolerant of a view that is harmful to you (for example, being tolerant of Neo-nazis).

        And if we’re talking about being intolerant, I seem to remember a large amount of intolerance of others’ dogmas coming from America’s conservatives (namely other religions, sexual orientations, etc.)

        1. BC 15 says:

          @BC 15 You’re right, moral relativism is dangerous, so I will be explicit in the intolerance I have experienced– I have been called naive, stupid, and a “bad feminist” for being Catholic. For not wanting “abortions on demand”and believing that “sexual liberation” is not so much of a liberation as an objectification of women’s bodies and oppression of women.

          I am not trying to control anyone else’s bodies, but I wish none of my friends had to experience the emotional and psychological long term scarring which I have witnessed coming from meaningless sex and abortions.

          Since we live in a world where it’s weird to not be having casual sex, no form of birth control is 100% accurate, and rape is normalized through media and “jokes” it seems to be that maybe there are alternate ways to empower women other than things like “sex positive” feminism and “slut walks.” I think all humans are born with integrity and its preservation is the basest human right. You can do whatever you want with your body, I don’t really care, but I would like to live in a world that is safe for women and I don’t think that “sex positive” feminism is the way that we will achieve equality.

          Maybe people can define themselves through things other than their sexual preferences and practices, but instead on the merit of the work that they do for the community, themselves, their friends, their hobbies, I don’t know.

          Also I acknowledge that this and my original post are unfocused and rambling, I just wanted to put this out there I guess.

          1. Agreed says:

            @Agreed Wow, BC’15, you’ve perfectly articulated everything I’ve been saying to my friends since I first came to Columbia. I agree with you completely and totally. I know us, “sex negative?” feminists are rare, but please keep up the good fight.

          2. ugh says:

            @ugh Feminism isn’t a monolith, though. Obviously, you’re going to find a wide range of differentiating opinions in any ideologue or movement. Not even the “sex-positive movement” is going to have a consensus. It feels basic to even have to explain that plenty of feminists, particularly POC feminists, for instance, disagree with the concept “slut walks.” And there are plenty of healthy spaces on campus in which you can express these opinions in a safe, productive manner–don’t dismiss the existence of a conversation just because you had some bad experiences with some friends.

            (FYI, there are plenty of misconceptions about what “sex-positivity” means–there is no general consensus but many do agree that it’s not about having as much casual sex as possible anymore than being pro-choice is about obtaining as many abortions as possible. It’s about finding your own definition of what sex means to you, what kind of role it plays in your life, and being open to understanding the choices of others. To me, “Sex positivity” is more or less the same as anti-slut-shaming. But the amount of sex you have does not have to factor into your sex-positivity. You could be asexual, paradoxically, and still label yourself sex-positive.)

      2. lol says:

        @lol this is like calling out “feminists who hate men” or “blacks who are racist towards whites,” which 99% of the time just aren’t real things. Anger is not the same as intolerance. Refusal to accept oppression or the status quo is not the same as oppression. And btw, I’m a senior haven’t participated in Take Back the Night in my entire time here and no one has ever given me shit for it.

    2. this says:

      @this is exactly my sentiment after encountering TBTN last night. walking to a friend’s place, i ran into the march. in fact, i had no idea it was TBTN, because for some reason i had assumed that TBTN was something more than your run-of-the-mill, angry protest march.

      when i got to my friend’s place, i mentioned that i’d walked by students protesting the administration’s response to rape. she was the one who informed me it was TBTN. i was a little shocked, a little unsettled, and frankly, disappointed.

      while i entirely support the end goal of TBTN, what i saw felt way too confrontational and alienating to encourage participation by a larger audience. again this really surprised me, because i considered TBTN to be the exact event which, for this particular issue, is supposed to draw the widest base of support and participation. personally, i would not have felt comfortable participating – at least in the march portion – given what i saw

    3. Agreed says:


  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I disagree with her definition of rape-culture (“any form of non-consent, anything without decision”). It’s much too broad and that’s exactly what made it a buzzword and lose its potency to begin with.

    If we begin defining things like “the administration made an expansion without a student referendum” into rape culture, then what is rape culture really defined as? In the Manhattanville example, this is definitely undemocratic, but not “rape culture”. Is rape culture now defined as any decision that isn’t mutually agreed upon by a large group? If we keep the definition of rape culture as “attitudes and behaviors in a culture that condone, normalize, or excuse rape” then it could be taken more seriously, and reflected upon more specifically.

    1. mmm says:

      @mmm Manhattanville is more than “undemocratic”. it also isn’t merely a “decision that wasn’t mutually agreed upon by a large group”. It’s a violent, racist and frankly illegal displacement of Manhattanville residents— I fear that somehow these comments are painting Manhattanville as a “less serious issue”; as students at this university, we have an obligation to take both these forms of violence seriously- as well as draw any connections between the two of them.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous No one (or at least I don’t) think Manhattanville is a less serious issue. Get off your high horse. I’m just saying that calling Manhattanville “rape” makes no goddamn sense. Jeez people, pick your battles.

  • Yeah says:

    @Yeah Manhattanville =/= rape culture

    At all. That comparison is wrong and counterproductive and makes a serious issue hard to take seriously.

  • Mary says:

    @Mary Would any of the so-called “sex-negative” feminists who commented above (especially “BC ’15” and “Agreed”) be willing to give their input to a fellow student with sympathetic views hoping to write something contributing to the campus conversation? I realize bwog comments are not the most dependable places to get sources from, but it’s also hard to find people on campus with your opinions.

    (I welcome any other input too! Real, uncomfortable diversity is what makes this campus awesome.)


  • triggered says:

    @triggered I have to say that I think TBNT is extremely problematic; they bother me for a few reasons.

    1. They handed out rape whistles a few days ago. I thought the point of calling out “rape culture” was to dismantle the idea that rape frequently happens in a situation where blowing a whistle would summon help. Would blowing a whistle in my empty house when I was fourteen have done any good when I was being sexually abused by a boyfriend? Would blowing a whistle earlier this semester when I was raped in my single in Barnard housing behind closed doors on a Friday night have summoned any kind of attention other than “it’s college, someone is probably just messing around”? Probably not. Rape, statistically, doesn’t happen all that often in a park or in a public place where blowing a whistle would actually do anything. Rape frequently is committed by someone you know, in a place that is familiar to you, and often without any kind of witness.

    2. They perpetuate cookie cutter scripts of what a rape is and isn’t. Last year, I remember seeing one that said something along the lines of “all rapes are hate crimes.” But let’s think about that for a bit. A hate crime is a a crime that is motivated by prejudice due to race, gender, sexual orientation, or affiliation with any other group. The common narrative of rape is that a rapist (usually a male) rapes so he can exercise power over his victim (usually a female) because he does not see them as human and that rape is purely violence. In my experience, it is rarely that “cut and dry”. Yes, a large part of the motives behind rape are power, but this strict narrative leaves very little room for the legitimization of rapes that do not follow this script. My rapist wasn’t seeking power over me because he did not view women as human; he was so insecure in his own masculinity and his own sense of self that he viewed the word no as a direct affront to his worth as a human, which definitely comes from a place of needing power, but not in the sense of the traditional narrative of a violent rapist who hates women needing power.

    3. The posters they put all over campus are triggering. As a survivor, I would really like to not have to be faced with rape statistics when I am in my dorm or walking to class or am anywhere else on campus; I want to feel safe when I am doing these things. I get the point of them, but it would be more helpful for me, as a survivor, to not have to see these.

    4. The posters also really don’t talk about the issues in a new or constructive way and the statistics cited are usually completely decontextualized. A lot of the statistics say important things, like there’s one that says something like “86% of adolescent rapes go unreported”, which is SO IMPORTANT, but then it doesn’t address WHY so many go unreported. Let’s address the fucked up system of rape reporting and of covering things up and of not listening to victims! Let’s address victim blaming! Let’s address all of these things, but just saying that most adolescent rapes go unreported puts the onus of reporting the rapes on the adolescents, instead of putting the onus of fixing the system on policy makers and society in general.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous holy moly i want to hug you and then print this and shove it at people who get this discussion so horribly wrong. thank you for your spot on, excellent post.

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