Thursday, June 18, 2009

Women Unite: Take Back the Night!

(originally posted 9/07 at wordpress)


by Natalie Ullman

“Women unite take back the night!” were the chants heard from every dorm room surrounding the Portland State Campus the evening of May 24, 2007.

After a candle light vigil commemorating women that have died from sexual violence, students from Portland State University literally took to the streets. Energized by a full day of sexual assault awareness, these women took back the night from the violence of male predators. The march was the cumulating activity of the Tack Back the Night event that was hosted by Portland State University’s Women’s Resource Center, the Queer Resource Center and Men Against Rape.


According to staff, Thursday’s event was the best attended in the event’s eight year history. Tack Back the Night is a day for women to speak out about sexual violence and undo the shame that is associated with that violence. This year PSU revolutionized the event by including men in the survivor speak out panel. Another new feature to the event was collaboration between male volunteers of the newly formed group Men Against Rape. Established in spring of 2007 by senior Chris Wilson, Men Against Rape is said to have been a group long needed on campus. Wilson was inspired by courses in the Women’s Studies program and the essential role men must take in the anti-violence movement.

The Men Against Rape group shared the morning portion of the day entitled “Give Back the Night.” The group spent the majority of their time asking male students on campus if they would register their penises. The registration would require men to fill out a quiz and make a pledge that they “will not be pricks with their penises.” Senior Tash Shatz, a volunteer with Men Against Rape and the mind behind the quiz says that he adapted the quiz from a University of Southern California study about what education men need to prevent sexual assault. “One in ten men are likely to commit sexual assault and one reason for these high numbers is the lack of education surrounding these issues.” Shatz said. “This quiz is designed to bring attention to the cultural norms associated with penises and masculinity. Sexual assault affects everyone, so we encourage students to take this quiz and learn how not to be a prick with your penises.”


The penis registration had resounding success with over hundred quizzes collected and a hundred male students better educated. Even the local mailman on his delivery route stopped to take the fourteen-question quiz!


From 2pm on students on their way to class stopped and picked up informational brochures from advocacy groups such as the Portland Women’s Crisis Line and the PSU counseling clinic and from social groups such as Stitch ‘n’ Bitch. Students also perused clotheslines filled with shirts from the Clothesline Project. Each shirt carried a message about women survivors and sexual assault. “The shirts are women’s expression of the pain they have gone through,” Yvonne Simmons of the Clothesline Project said. Isaac Watson a sophomore at PSU sat down at a table to paint the message “Speak out and let your voice be heard” on a red cotton shirt to be a part of the hundreds of shirts displayed. “I feel like these voices need to be heard, there are too many that are silent…so I just want encourage everyone to speak up,” said Watson.


Tack Back the Night hosted a series of talented acts, starting with a consolidated band of students and teacher that have played previously at PSU. Arne of the Men Against Rape caroled Ani Difranco songs on acoustic guitar, Tash of MAR belted out spoken word with phrases such as “see whether we’re f@#*ing or making love or anything in between we have to assess the instruments before we play the symphony.” The female rap group The Alphabetics wore leotards and leg warmers rapping like the Beastie Girls. They had synchronized hip swinging and sang of big pizza pies and dating boys with asthma.

Music and spoken word filled the remaining hours before the day switched over to the volunteers of the Women’s Resource Center who started their activities at 7pm. “Take Back the Night has inspired both women and men to confront a myriad of social ills including rape, domestic violence, violence against children, and violence against women.” MC Kayla Tort announces to audience members. “The unifying theme throughout these diverse topics is the assertion that all human beings have the right to be free from violence and the right to reclaim those rights if they are violated.” Some of the main themes that were discussed in keynote speakers and small panel discussions were ways to prevent sexual assault by stressing consent and dating etiquette.


Volunteer Coordinator Bridge Gorrow from the Women’s Resource Center concluded that Tack Back the Night has historically been a separatist movement. The event is a chance for women to break the silence of violence. “We get to experience and witness the broadening of the feminist movement to be more inclusive towards men, because we can’t end rape without including men, we can’t do this movement alone.” Kelsey Pine, the lead organizer from the Women’s Resource Center, hopes that there will continue to be more collaboration with men’s groups on campus.


All in all, the event was a success for participants and producers alike. Everyone who missed out this year can look forward to the event next year. And who knows, maybe the planners will top themselves and have an even bigger event next year! It is hard to imagine, because this year was so great!

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