So I was thinking about why I’m not going to Reclaim the Night tonight.
And there’s a bunch of fairly decent reasons: I’ve never been clear on the purpose of the event, more so than for other actions because there’s no policy goal. If the goal is to raise awareness of violence against women, I think it achieves that — within a small community perhaps, but deeply if temporarily. If the goal is to lessen such violence, the impact would be indirect and impossible to measure. If the goal is to strengthen women and feminist sisterhood, I think it succeeds there also. And maybe the answer is all those things, but I’m frustrated with purposes that allow no measure of failure or success.
I would like to know what I’m asking for, and from whom. I would like to imagine and articulate how feminism could engage with known perpetrators of violence, and I’d like to acknowledge that we all have the capacity for violence, while remaining conscious of its gendered dynamics.
I think the name “Reclaim the Night” recalls a tradition I want to respect and uphold on one hand (just because feminist history is precious to me) and radically renew on the other. Here I share a friend’s anxiety at whether it’s ever appropriate for non-Aboriginal Australians to claim space in this manner. I remembering hearing a young non-Indigenous activist calmly disregard an Indigenous activist’s dissent at an RTS during G20 2006 and continue ‘reclaiming’ the streets.
Reclaim the Night has also been anti-trans, and anti-sex worker, in a violent manner. Also I think the name places improper emphasis on violence in the streets, reinforcing the myth that women are most at risk in public space with mysterious strangers, not in their homes, or on the streets but at the hands of police, or in a detention centre, or a psychiatry ward …
I wonder if focusing on sexual violence helps to reveal the gendered aspects, or individualises experiences of violence and obscures intersections. Current definitions of intimate partner violence now incorporate many forms of abuse beside the physical and sexual, such as financial abuse — would broadening the understanding of violence complicate the issues in a way that is necessary or unproductive? If a definition of violence becomes so general as to refer simply to domination, does that just collapse the conversation? Or is consideration of a wider context of power relations inevitable, and integral to a better understanding of what sustains violence?
I want to think outside feminist tradition to explore whether different forms of violence can be thought of together, fought together, or if we need to suffer again through being torn apart. But I don’t want to abstract concepts beyond what is possible either — even if I have already. It does matter that I want what is immediately enact-able, even if I dream on.
But really I’m not sure why I feel compelled to defend my absence, especially given that I think it would be more a show for my friends and “community” than anything with wider impact. More than anything else my absence is because I’m lazy, and because I’m in imminent-academic-doom mode, where I can’t seem to do anything except sitting around in my pyjamas worrying about overdue essays, least of all write them.
Loki reminded me that I’m not an activist anymore, and haven’t been for a while. I seem to have trouble letting go of the label, as much as I started to hate it as soon as I won it. There’s just nothing to replace it though, nothing that says “these things concern me”, without the awful arrogance of -conscious or -aware. But I’m really not an activist, now, certainly not as an occupation, not even as an identity if it means sustaining genuine hope in the future. It didn’t used to matter, really, to fail. Now I’m not sure it matters to try. Burn-out is a kinder term for it, but really it’s just faithlessness, a lack of stamina coupled with the most caustic pessimism, parading as apathy. Between drinks, these things still concern me. But I can’t separate this anxiety from a more general one, and I can’t have my politics pathologised. They’re still precious, I guess. But maybe something like a memory.