‘The fervour and righteous anger that propel feminism are very much alive and kicking, banners and all’
Saskia Bamber shares her experience of Reclaim the Night
Until recently I thought that marches and protests like Reclaim the Night were consigned to the 1970s and the era of second wave feminism. Naturally I was rather excited to discover that I was wrong; that the fervour and righteous anger that propel feminism are very much alive and kicking, banners and all.
The wet and dreary November weather didn’t give a promising start to an event that involves walking around Bristol shouting. Then I realised that this was exactly the kind of night that we were seeking to reclaim. The ordinary, damp and boring evening that women walk through every night, with arms crossed and the sense that there might be something or someone out there cloaked by darkness, harbouring ill intent. Women are taught from the cradle to the grave to fear the night, to fear the bogeyman.
Therefore, when everyone came to congregate in the centre of Queen Square, there was a sense of solidarity and strength as we stared the night right in the face. People had come with cardboard banners, with titles such as “end the violence”, “cape culture not rape culture”, “my body, my rules” and, my personal favourite, a hand flipping the bird with a red tipped middle finger. They may have brought a much needed sense of humour and lightheartedness (huge shout out to ‘tampon tits’ and ‘princess pad’ who were wearing a bra made of tampons and crown of sanitary towels respectively) but the reason that we were there was to protest against violence, particularly sexual violence and harassment perpetrated against women, non-binary and transgender people. Thus, we stood for a moment in a silent vigil to remember both those who have survived such attacks and those who have not.
The route of the march began by exiting Queen Square, walking around Harbourside and up Park Street, through the Triangle and finally up to the Union. The march itself involved mostly chanting phrases such as “Bristol unite! Reclaim the night!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho! This sexist shit has got to go!” and holding up the aforementioned signs demanding an end to sexual violence and harassment.
Overall, the response to the marchers was positive, there was a sense of support and approval from members of the public, although at one point someone did attempt to ‘borrow’ the megaphone (fortunately it was almost immediately reclaimed). By the time the march got to the Students’ Union the enthusiasm was still palpable, a whoop went up as we entered the building as people filed into the Anson Rooms for the second part of the evening.
The tone became rather more pensive as the atmosphere settled and people took their seats to listen to poetry regarding such as topics rape, the tampon tax and everyday sexism. We heard the testimonies of women whose stories were both inspiring and harrowing. One woman, who was living in a safe house for survivors of domestic violence spoke, encouraging us to sign her petition to the council to change the social housing banding rules for those who have suffered domestic abuse, while several others recounted their experiences of sexual exploitation and rape.
Each speaker received an encore, foot stamping, cheering: the works. I have never seen anything like the solidarity palpable in that room. There was a unifying effect in marching together, sharing experiences and listening to other people’s stories that will stay with me. In my humble opinion the night was reclaimed, if only for an evening; bring on next year!
Image: Jamie Corbin