“Were you out running at this hour?”
“It’s so dark out there. Were you alone?”
“You know, I’d really feel much better if you ran before it got dark. Is there a gym somewhere nearby that you could go to instead?”
I was asked these questions one evening in March, just after sunset, when I had returned home from my best training run yet. I was high on endorphins and proud of myself. Although the joy in my accomplishment was certainly shared, I left this conversation feeling frustrated and angry.
Yes, it’s true, I was alone and I hadn’t felt entirely safe. However, my frustration was not directed toward the person asking me these questions, but at the reality that simply because of my gender, it’s an automatic risk when I choose to be on the streets, alone, after dark.
I was angry because we often blame women that have experienced violence, for what has happened to them. It’s all too common to hear people blaming survivors of violence for their choices of clothing or the areas they were walking in. If something had happened to me that night, I would be at least partially to blame because I should know better, right?
A recent survey published by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, Men’s Attitudes and Behaviours Towards Violence Against Women, demonstrates that we have a long way to go to shift attitudes in Alberta. According to the survey, an astounding forty per cent of men polled believe that “if a woman wears provocative clothing, she’s putting herself at risk for rape.”
To raise awareness about the realities of violence against women, a group of committed volunteers has organized Calgary’s 30th annual Take Back the Night march and rally on Friday, September 21. This international event specifically addresses the fact that women have the right to walk safely at night, and that we need to change attitudes and end gendered violence. In order to help create this shift, we are sending new messages: Consent is necessary. Consent is sexy. Assault is never justified. No means no. Women have the right to wear whatever they choose. Clothing does not provide consent.
If you would like to attend this event, please meet us at Connaught Park (11 street & 14 avenue SW) on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 8:00pm. I’ll be there with a group of women, holding the Women’s Centre’s banner. The event will start with a few speeches and then women will march on a pre-determined route, chanting phrases such as, “Women, unite! Take back the night!” The march circles back to Connaught Park and will be followed by a rally and speak-out session, where women will be given the opportunity to share their own stories and experiences, if they choose to do so.
I go to Take Back the Night every year because I believe we all deserve to have futures without violence. While I choose to run at night, many women travel outside after dark because of necessity and lack of choice. All women deserve to be safe regardless of individual circumstance.
We will also be hosting a small sign-making event at the Women’s Centre between 10:00 and 11:30am, Friday, September 21, 2012. We will provide sign making materials; women will be responsible for transporting themselves and their signs to the event that evening.
-Leah Kelley, Social Issues Coordinator