Posted by: PharaohKatt | 29-10-2011

Reclaim The Night: Open To ALL Women?

UPDATE: Reclaim The Night Perth is no longer organised by ROAR, which kinda makes this post invalid. See comments for more information.

 

NOTE: I am a cis woman, and as such not personally familiar with trans oppression. If I have made an error or hurt/offended you, please let me know and I will correct it.

Reclaim the Night organising meetings and protest are open to

all women and children.

This is the first line under the How to get involved sections on the Reclaim The Night post on CHOGM Protest.org. but how accurate is it really?

Reclaim The Night marches have rightly come under fire for being transphobic and openly hostile to trans women. “Women Only” often means “cis women only” when used in feminist spaces.

This is something many activists have been working to challenge, with positive results. This year, Reclaim The Night Melbourne has explicitly stated that trans women and gender queer people are welcome:

As such, it is completely autonomous (women identified or bodied or socialised – it is important to note that this is deliberately inclusive of our trans community).

Their language is a little bulky (“It is asked that people who are not female identified/bodied/socialised or trans or gender variant self-exclude from the event this year.”) but the intent is there.
Reclaim The Night London has also decided to become explicitly trans inclusive, stating on their website:

All women are welcome at Reclaim the Night, including: women of all colours and cultures, of all religions or none, women of any age, disabled women, able-bodied women, heterosexual women, lesbians, trans women, bisexual women, refugee and asylum-seeking women and any other women you can think of!

This is fantastic news and should be celebrated! But the fight is not yet over. Unfortunately, Reclaim The Night, Perth – run by the ROAR Feminist Collective – is still not welcoming of trans people.

In case you are unaware, ROAR Feminist Collective is a women-only radical feminist group in Perth that are mostly inactive now (as far as I can tell), but meet fortnightly to organise RTN. They were responsible for a horrible piece of transphobic bile (Link to PDF) last year, which stated (among other things):

It has been strongly argued by feminists, Aboriginal rights activists and other groups who experience
subordination, that who gets the right to determine (for example) who is a woman and who is
Aboriginal, is very important. And ROAR argues that it is very important that those who do get to
make that determination are the people who have lived their whole lives, through absolutely no
fault of their own, in a body, in a culture (or descended from a culture) and / or in a group who are
subordinate. In this case, that means women who have been assigned female at birth

(Emphasis mine)

Given the history of this group, I have always been wary of attending events run by them, including RTN. This year is no exception.

On the Facebook page for the event, this conversation occurred:

Claire Litton asked: “hey there, are transwomen welcome at this event?”
Kat Pinder replied: “The organisers have not developed a particular position, other than the event is for women and children. Analysis’s of trans politics can be divisive, time consuming and often unlikely to reach consensus, so it is not something that we have even attempted to reach a decision about this year. I know some womyn who are attending who would not welcome male to trans people and differing perspectives on female to trans people. I am aware that trans identified people, who were raised as males, have attended the event last year and the previous year.”

Let’s break that down. First, the idea that trans politics are divisive. Sure, when you go about claiming that trans women aren’t real women, that’s pretty divisive. It’s also pretty fucking dangerous. Transphobia kills hundreds of trans people every year! But let’s not talk about that. Some cis people might get their feelings hurt and we don’t want to be divisive now do we!

The second aspect I’s like to discuss is the othering and third-gendering language used here. “Male to trans”, “female to trans”. Trans is not a gender. Trans is a definition used for people who are not the gender they were assigned at birth.

And hey, while we’re talking about inclusivity, you might notice that RTN Perth now explicitly allows male carers of disabled women to attend:

Women whose attendance is dependent upon a male carer are welcome to bring them along.

Inclusive, right?

Not exactly. Look where they’re holding their meetings:

A photograph of a coffee shop "Exomod Coffee". The entrance to the coffee shop has stairs.

H/T to Lauredhel.


Responses

  1. To be honest, I think this is a major problem with trying to make events that are exclusive to any one gender. It’s just not possible to do so without being a douche to someone. It’s for that reason that I just don’t think these types of events are productive.

    Having said that, it’s not just trans people who are excluded from ROAR’s events. They *say* they’re open to women with disabilities and women with children but it doesn’t generally work that way in practice. You already showed us how accessible their meeting place is. I heard from women who tried to attend last year’s event that it was decidedly *not* accessible to either PWD or women with children. Apparently there was also sneering towards a woman who spoke up about the marital rape she endured. It makes me sick.

  2. Well, it’s not as though women with disabilities are more likely to be targeted by rapists, after all.

    OH WAIT.

    And it’s not like WWD have more difficulty than most when it comes to escaping a violent situation?

    OH WAIT.

    And it’s not like WWD can’t then readily report sexual assault and get justice, right? They’ve got just as much access to post-victimisation services as anyone else?

    OH WAIT.

    Yeah, no, it’s totally cool for a violence-against-women event to be centred on nondisabled women and for them to erect barriers to participation for WWD. Makes perfect sense.

  3. Hi – I’m an organiser from this year’s Reclaim the Night event, and I’d like to express my extreme disappointment at this level of unconstructive non-engagement (that is, criticising from a distance rather than getting in touch with the organisers to make positive suggestions for inclusivity).

    I *am* a woman with a disability, and part of the reason for holding the meetings at Exomod was that it was particularly accessible to me. Of course, those with disability have different needs with access, and had anyone contacted us and let us know they’d like to be involved but would need a different venue, we’d have been able to consider our options. Unfortunately, no-one did so.

    I am also very disappointed that this article states as fact that this year’s RTN event was organised by ROAR, making it sound as though the author must have had actual knowledge of this. However, it was not organised by ROAR, but by an ad hoc organising committee (one which came together for the sole purpose of organising this event and has now disbanded).

    There were never any claims on any of the publicity material that it was organised by ROAR.

    Nor was there an exclusion policy towards trans women. It is dismaying that this can be twisted to appear to represent trans women being excluded, even after it’s explicitly explained that they’re not. I know a few of us have been concerned to explain that we can’t guarantee the reaction of all present to trans women (as I wouldn’t like anyone to feel blindsided by any particular responses), but that isn’t the same as excluding trans women.

    Reclaim the Night in Perth has been organised by quite a few groups over the years, and trans women have sometimes felt welcome in the organising collectives, and sometimes not. I believe the march has included trans women for the last few years.

    As was explained in that quote, the collective *did* feel that adopting an explicit policy on this matter would be time-consuming and perhaps wouldn’t result in anything useful at all, owing to a diversity of views on this matter amongst the collective (so the language used by collective members to discuss trans politics will vary).

    I *would* like to say that I don’t think it’s helpful to use characterisations like “when you go about claiming that trans women aren’t real women” to ascribe some kind of essentialism to the views of the organisers which I don’t believe is there. I am wary in saying this that this might lead us into a debate about the views of some of the organisers, and hence help justify the decision to boycott RTN when those views aren’t included in the event itself anyway. But the notion that someone can be a “real woman” seems to occur amongst those with conservative views on gender (who equate it with biological sex) and those who say people can be “born into the wrong body” but have a non-congruent (individual) gender. Neither of these views are the same as viewing gender as a social construct, which I believe all the RTN organisers do (i.e. as far as I know, they don’t believe there’s any such thing as a “real woman”).

    Polemics against the actual views of any feminists in Perth are one thing, but mischaracterising not only the organising committee but also the views of some of its individual members, and publishing these mischaracterisations, does not seem congruent with feminist solidarity at all.

    I really wish anyone with any concerns had contacted the organisers in the lead-up to the event. It surely can’t have escaped the attention of someone blogging on feminist issues that a major part of women’s oppression is the suppression and marginalisation of the contribution women have to make to society. What we do tends to be rendered worthless by being ignored and undermined.
    By pursuing this path away from constructive engagement, and undermining the event behind the backs of the organisers, this blog has really bought into that.

    And I can’t help but find the unverified criticisms of lack of access for disabled women rather tokenistic since those encouraging a boycott of this year’s RTN don’t seem to have minded making the very difficult organising work of not just the other organisers, but also me (someone whose disability is exacerbated by activity) rather redundant.

    _____________________________

    I also want to comment on the post by ausmerican which pertains to the previous year’s event, which I participated in, although I wasn’t one of the organisers.

    Because they had a tiny organising committee, there was a lack of communication on the day when the march headed into the venue with the speakers. There was a bouncer checking IDs of young people in case they were heading in to the bar section. (The speaking section of the protest was not at the bar section.) Unfortunately, a few women with children didn’t realise that this was no problem for them and felt they’d suddenly been hit with an exclusion. If they’d asked one of the other marchers entering to get word to one of the organisers to confirm this, we’d have been able to clear this up, but I guess they assumed there was no point.

    It was very unfortunate, but an issue of insufficient people to help out on the day – and I don’t believe these online inaccurate claims are likely to encourage more people to get involved.

    The fact that this criticism was repeated uncritically, and the organisers’ subsequent attempts to apologise and explain, not repeated here, does make me sceptical about the claim that a woman who had experienced marital rape was sneered at. Knowing many of the organisers, I can fully believe they would have sneered at the rapist (especially since many are highly critical of heterosexual relationships), but I don’t believe at all they would have sneered at the victim.

    I would also prefer clarification that there were definitely no lifts in the building before we assume that an inaccessible venue was definitely chosen.

    • Hi liberationislife, thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I wanted first to apologise for associating RTN with ROAR – the only place I was able to find ANY information on RTN Organising Committee was on the ROAR Yahoo Group site, which led me to believe that ROAR was again organising it. I will amend my post to reflect this.

      I’d like to express my extreme disappointment at this level of unconstructive non-engagement (that is, criticising from a distance rather than getting in touch with the organisers to make positive suggestions for inclusivity).

      I’m sorry you find this post unconstructive, but I have no way of getting in contact with the organisers. As I said before, the only information I found on the RTN Organising Committee was on the ROAR website. As I do not have a Facebook account I cannot see the event page or the organising page.

      Of course, those with disability have different needs with access, and had anyone contacted us and let us know they’d like to be involved but would need a different venue, we’d have been able to consider our options. Unfortunately, no-one did so.

      I would have contacted if I had been able to do so. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any contact information.

      I *would* like to say that I don’t think it’s helpful to use characterisations like “when you go about claiming that trans women aren’t real women” to ascribe some kind of essentialism to the views of the organisers which I don’t believe is there.

      I am truly sorry for that comment. I wrote that under the assumption that ROAR was again organising the event.

      I am sorry for any hurt I have caused you, and will update my post to reflect this new information.

  4. Update:

    I have gone back to the Facebook event page for the 2010 Reclaim the Night protest (which is where some women had, appropriately, raised their concerns in a place where the organisers were able to respond and everyone knew what the criticisms were). I found this clarification by an organiser about access issues:

    “The route march, as per previous years was tested for accessibility. The plan was to meet outside the state library, for some reason some women (though not all ) gathererd on the stairs, but the top part where the march started from did not need stair access, but also there is a ramp if it needed to be used by prams or wheelchairs or people with difficulty walking if they decided to be at the bottom when the march started. One of the organisers has worked for years in the disability sector so access was very much on our minds. The streets were all flat. The march was supposed to end at the venue and the detour onto the stage near the end was exactly that, a detour. This was done spontaneously in anger as the City of Perth were supposed to be screening a video that organisers had spent a long time putting together, whiich they didn’t do (they had double booked the venue) and had to be rung urgently at the last minute. Sorry this part wasn’t accessbile, but as I said it wasn’t planned and done in spontaneous protest.

    “The venue was FULLY accessible, this was one of the key things that we (the organisers) checked out before we organised the event. We were thinking of using Kurb gallery at one point but rejected this venue because of lack of accessiblity (i.e. wheelchairs and prams could not have got in the door and there was no accessibility at the back). There was a large elevator in the venue which went up to the area where speeches were being held as well as an accessible toilet. Of course most people went up the stairs but that was not to stop those that needed to using the lift and if either the venue staff or organisers had been asked if there was a life, women would have been advised as such.

    “Women with childen, women with disabilities and most certainly women under the age of 18 were fully considered, as they were previous years. One of the organisers was a 15 year old high schools student. You can read my comments above regarding under age women attending (i.e. you only need to show ID to get a wrist band if you intended drinking). I hope that this clears up the issues that you percieved.

    “As always, this event was organised by countless hours of volunteer time by women passionate about women’s rights. Constructive critique is welcome, but it would also be appreciated if you could acknowledge the hours of work that went into this event. If you would like to help improve it next year, can I suggest that you get involved by joining the organising committee.”

    ________________________________________________

    As to my concern that there have been an increasing number of people writing off RTN with the explanation “it has a transphobic history” that has become actually flippant:

    I have been thinking about what I know about Reclaim the Night in Perth, and since I became associated with it around 1995/6, I have not heard of specific complaints of transphobia at any of its events. Now, with the caveats that I was out of the state for a few years and reasonably couldn’t claim to know all trans women attending nor whether they had raised complaints with the organising collective in the years when I knew none of the organisers, I admit there’s still a lot there that I don’t know.

    I have been pretty acquainted with the organisers of the RTN events from 2000 onwards, and I’m not aware of any feedback to them about anyone encountering transphobia on the night during that time.

    Which does make the flippant line that “Reclaim the Night has a transphobic history” seem casual to say the least.

    My view is that – while of course it’s not up to trans women to assess transphobia and it’s everyone’s responsibility – there is an element of people casually using this excuse to avoid attending – and they usually don’t seem involved in trying to build another event around similar issues. (I say this as someone who, at Pride Fair, encountered someone who airily said that precisely, and wasn’t at all interested in finding out what our positions actually were. Didn’t even make a token acknowledgement of the importance of demonstrating against misogynist violence or make a pretence at polite discussion.)

    This way, their feminist credentials seem undisturbed and there is little attention to their inactivity since the focus has been drawn to the RTN organisers. Moreover, they appear as militant trans supporters and while I am not disputing that some may indeed be active in campaigning against trans oppression, there is also, again, an element of incorporating feminist-bashing as a means of proving one’s support for trans rights (or as proving general broad-mindedness).

    I *am* concerned at people buying into the sexist stereotyping of feminists as extreme or wannabe oppressors and seeing themselves as more broad-minded. Especially when those supporting men marching in the event see this as an issue of rights towards men (to respond to an earlier comment opposing “gendered” events), rather than enquiring into the purpose of it.
    [Women’s only organising has a role in enabling women to escape the dynamics of most of society, where women and men are both socialised to listen to and act more respectfully towards men. Hence women-only organising has historically played an important role in allowing the development of the women’s liberation movement, including allowing women to appreciate their own and each other’s potential more. The women-and-children only type of march at RTN has traditionally been about those who’ve been brought up being told that girls and women mustn’t occupy public space, and that if they’re assaulted it’s partly their fault, asserting their right to occupy that space and not be blamed for simply being there.]
    Personally I see the value of both women-only and mixed organising for strengthening the feminist movement, and both mixed and women-only events. I tend to support mixed events, but don’t see the value of insisting on them if it would push out most of the active organisers. I *do* think our tactics have to be determined by considerations of what is best for building the feminist movement at that point in time, and that women have to be able to organise as we like, since our activity is already so curtailed in this society. So when I’ve supported men’s involvement, it has been because I thought that was best at that time for the cause of women’s rights, not because I thought men had a right to be involved in women’s organising regardless of the wishes of women. Men already receive social endorsement for occupying most space and attention. Women should never feel selfish or anti-men for wanting some women-only time and space for the purpose of feminist organising.

  5. An amendment to my previous comments:

    I was reminded when looking at an article on a debate on trans-inclusion in the NOWSA ’99 conference in Melbourne (I was part of those arguing against an exclusionary policy) that the exclusionary decision was copied by the Perth RTN Collective of the time (that would have been in 1998, since organising for NOWSA conferences begins in the previous year).
    I didn’t remember this since I was living in Melbourne at the time.

    I don’t know what the ’99 event was like, since I didn’t move back to Perth till 2000. I have had some awareness of most of the RTN organising bodies since then.

  6. Hi and thanks :-)

    I am a bit confused as to how I apparently managed to post publicity for RTN on the old ROAR FB page without including contact info – it seems a fairly elementary thing for me to have left off :-/ I’m glad I remembered to post the info there, but actually had trouble finding the page as it hadn’t been used for a while. Most of the info was posted in other places on FB, including the event page. It certainly is true that as we had a very small organising committee (several of the initial members moved away from Perth, which is a bit hard to predict), we didn’t get the word out nearly as well as we’d have liked.

    Unfortunately, boycotting RTN wasn’t just a matter of crossed wires. There’s a group, Socialist Alternative, that was encouraging boycotting on the dual basis that (i) men can’t march, and (ii) ‘men who identify as women are excluded’ (lol). [I tried to tactfully explain that trans women don’t usually like to be referred to that way but it didn’t seem to go down well.]

    I discovered this at Pride FairDay, only because I gave two of its new members leaflets. So I was a bit annoyed to discover the boycott this way, and even after I contact them a few days later to explain that there was no exclusionary policy and I thought it was important to support this issue despite one’s tactical disagreements with how it is organised, they didn’t attempt to correct their members’ understanding of the policy and on the morning of RTN itself, at the United March on CHOGM, they were again encouraging people to boycott on those bases. So to some extent there *has* been a generalised problem of people establishing themselves as being quite ‘militant’ with positions that criticise others unfairly (I wasn’t saying this because of your blog, it was already very much on my mind).

    So I have been rather frustrated at the lack of constructive discussion and debate here. And I’m someone who’s really in favour of debate too (and as I say, I am not always in favour of women-only events, to me it’s a matter of weighing up a variety of factors – I think both ‘mixed’ and ‘women-only’ formats have strong benefits, so to me it depends on the circumstance).

    Anyway, thanks again. And I should comment that I don’t think the ROAR members I know believe in gender essentialism, but really can only comment on those members (or former members) I know. (ROAR itself hasn’t met for quite a while, I think.)

    in solidarity

    • Not the Facebook page, the Yahoo group. I don’t have a Facebook account and so don’t have access to any of the Facebook information.

  7. Oh, ok. I posted it to quite a few yahoo groups (as far as I know, all the feminist yahoo groups I posted it to are no longer attached to active groups) and just hoped a few recipients would still check those email addresses. One of the groups I posted it to was the old rtn_perth address, so I suppose it could also have been assumed it was organised by that group.

    Anyway, perhaps in future I should try to say something like “Reclaim the Night Collective contact email/ph” rather than just giving a name (which is what I did most of the time) just to make it doubly clear.


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