Campus / News / May 20, 2009

Knox takes back the night

On Friday, May 15th, Knox women and men took back the night.

Take Back the Night was started in England in 1877 by women who grew tired of the fear and violence they experienced in the streets of London. Since then, the event has evolved into a phenomenon that encompasses issues ranging from GLBT rights to the awareness and prevention of sexual assault.

Feminist spoken-word poet Alix Olson performed in front of a poster that read “People Unite: Take Back the Night.” Bright colors filled the room, despite the grave topics that often come up when discussing the role of feminism in a patriarchal society. Members of Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) greeted students of all sexual orientations, inviting them to sit on blankets in Wallace Lounge, establishing a comfortable environment for all. Knox College SASS member Joey Firman said, “I came late to the performance, so seeing the people, the posters, Alix Olson, and the clothesline project made me feel like something was really happening.”

While feminism acted as the umbrella topic of the night, Knox’s Take Back the Night event made an effort to bring up multiple issues for discussion. Alongside posters created by SASS were copies of Alix Olson’s documentary and spoken word CD’s, which enhanced awareness about the different faces of sexism in society.

Take Back the Night was held together by three components: Alix Olson’s poetry, a march, and an open mic session. While all aspects of the event drew the audience’s attention, SASS President Amelia Garcia said, “Some people just came for Alix Olson because she is such an amazing spoken-word poet. The people that stayed for the march and the open mic components seemed to be especially interested in extending the central issues of Take Back the Night.”

Students seemed to agree with the Washington Post’s identification of Olson as an “anti-war, anti-gender oppression, and anti-intolerance folk poet and spoken-word artist” who “really isn’t the negative type.” Knox College freshman Raluca Oprinca described her as a, “great example of a feminist activist who has the power to change minds and convince people to speak up about feminist issues.”

While Take Back the Night raises issues having to do with women’s “fear of speaking up and being in specific places while walking alone at night,” as Garcia said, Olsen’s positive enthusiasm expressed the perfect balance of kindness and aggravation that enables people to make change in movements such as feminism. In fact, it is this balance that was expressed in one of her poems about a figurative relationship between kindness and rage, where kindness is the “nice girl with a rebel rising,” whereas rage “will remain a rebel [that will always have] a soft spot for kindness.”

Oprinca expressed her satisfaction with Olson’s speaking style by saying, “Besides the spoken-word poems, I liked the personal stories about people she knew and how she related to the audience.” While Olson played a major role in Knox’s Take Back the Night event, the two parts of Take Back the Night event following the speaker called for audience participation. Spectators became participants in a march and a dynamic open mic session. Although a rainy forecast persisted throughout the event, Take Back the Night participants brought their umbrellas as they marched across the Knox College campus, starting and ending in Wallace Lounge. A clear sense of unification was brought about by a series of chants, like “People Unite: Take Back the Night” and “Patriarchy has got to go.” Regarding the impact of the march, Firman said, “We really needed to yell together, walk together, and make something happen together.”

While the group marched along, it was faced with some dissenting words. “We were walking and had a megaphone, when someone said, ‘Shut the fuck up,’” said Garcia. Although the intentions of the individual were unknown, Garcia repeated, “We were unified, we had a megaphone, and our message was clear. People were still trying to silence us even though we were within our rights to march.” In response to this episode, Oprinca stated, “It takes confidence to be a feminist.”

Members of SASS and other attendees of Take Back the Night processed the events of the night at an open mic session. This portion of the event acted as a time to reflect on the extent to which feminism is a fight in our society, and the extent to which it is a way for society to come together to break down the boundaries of a patriarchal society that have been engrained in our minds for so long. While the twelve open mic participants expressed their ideas through a variety of modes of speech, whether they used poetry or personal anecdotes, their purpose of raising awareness about issues pertaining to feminism was clear.

One of the most important messages of Take Back the Night was that feminists come in many different forms, as evidenced by the variety of thoughts voiced by open mic participants. Even though Olson identified herself as a lesbian and an atheist over the course of her performance, she stressed the notion that anyone can be a feminist. “It often helps to validate feminism for yourself before you become part of the movement, but there is more than one type of feminist,” Garcia said.

Although more men than in the past are gaining the courage to identify themselves as feminists, many fear societal judgments that criticize male feminists. On the issue of male feminists, Firman said, “If you are not the prototypical member of a group, it is easy to be hesitant.” He went on to say that even if men do not label themselves as feminists, “There still needs to be more of an engagement among the male population with issues like gender.”

Despite the fact that men are starting to emerge as feminists on a larger scale in society, sexism continues to plague the minds of many individuals. While Garcia emphasized that “oppression is not necessarily overt regarding feminism in America,” Take Back the Night stayed goal-oriented in terms of carrying out its messages. All participants involved sought to peaceably raise awareness about feminist issues, in stressing the importance to the feminist movement of both speaking up for one’s rights and listening to the ideas of others. Perhaps Olson presented the grave issues underlying feminism in a positive light in order to bring society together in productive conversation, rather than allowing disagreement to keep it divided.

Elise Hyser

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