Tomorrow night, Barnard/Columbia’s annual Take Back the Night march will take place, providing a public show of support for rape survivors and inviting both rape survivors and allies in the community to call for an end to sexual violence.
This year, TBTN decided to implement several fundamental changes in the way the march is managed—in particular, allowing the front of the march to be gender-neutral. In the past, the front of the march was women-only. In a press release published on Spectrum (“Take back the night announces changes to march,” March 28), Take Back the Night representatives stated that “The women’s space was created to ensure that female survivors, co-survivors, and allies could participate without feeling afraid, intimidated, or triggered in a co-gendered environment.” In short, the presence of men at the front could possibly be traumatic and be a barrier in creating a safe space for the rape survivors.
We understand the reasoning behind this approach. As TBTN’s recent press release stated, a significantly higher percentage of perpetrators of sexual assault are male. Having women at the front of the march can be a visual symbol for rape’s gendered status. Moreover, while we cannot claim to fully grasp the psychology of rape, we understand that the trauma of some female rape survivors with male perpetrators—who constitute the majority of rape victims—can lead them to feeling threatened and emotionally unsafe in the presence of men.
At the same time, sexual assault is not just a women’s issue. Gender identity does not define who rapes or is raped. Men can be rape survivors, women can be perpetrators—and wherever oppression exists, sexual or otherwise, it is everyone’s issue. Having men at the front of the march can help illustrate that this issue transcends gender. Additionally, when some of the students who will be a valuable part of the march identify as transgender or reject gender identifications, it can become problematic to enforce a rule among gender lines. A gender-neutral approach is the only way for the march to be all-inclusive. By including more than just women at the front, TBTN is showing the many faces of rape survivors and allies in the community. As a show of inclusivity and solidarity, it can only strengthen the cause.
This year, the change is somewhat of a pilot run. After the march occurs, TBTN will solicit feedback from the community about the use of a gender-neutral front, which the members will consider when deciding whether to make it a permanent change. We hope Take Back the Night continues this gender-neutral, inclusive approach. At its base, rape has no gender, and we must acknowledge that before we can take back the night.