To the editors:
Let us take a moment to mourn the passing of Take Back the Night. Of course there were some compelling arguments for ending this institution. There were always individual and groups who openly participated in TBTN but throughout the rest of the year did little to contribute to ending gender violence. But I think it is a mistake to celebrate the cancellation of TBTN as some kind of feminist victory in solidarity with survivors.
I first became active in TBTN when I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia in the 1980s. TBTN had emerged as a national movement that spoke out against rape culture and institutionalized misogyny. It shamed rapists and abusers and supported women who spoke out against them. I watched survivors of rape and abuse use the platform of TBTN to tell their stories, bravely speaking out against a patriarchal system that wanted to silence them. In doing so, many of them recovered a sense of agency others had tried to steal from them. They shined a light on rape culture and “the boys will be boys” attitude that supported it. TBTN was a launching pad for countless other actions and organizations that have worked tirelessly against gender violence.
I do not mean to minimize the reality of PTSD among survivors. But to argue, as some have, that public action against gender violence is unacceptable because it triggers survivors is deeply problematic. It unfortunately promotes the kind of silence in the face of oppression that facilitates rape culture. It is a well-meaning argument that privileges the personal over the political and silences those women, many of them survivors, who desperately wish tell their stories. How far should we follow this logic? Should we end Black Lives Matter protests because they trigger responses in those who experience racism? Should we end protests against homophobia, anti-semitism or Islamophobia for similar reasons? In the struggle for justice and equality, silence is not golden — it is capitulation.
TBTN helped break that silence. Its passing is sad.
Vernon James Schubel
Professor of Religious Studies