LETTERS FROM A WAR ZONE
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The Night and Danger was written as a Take Back the Night speech. In New Haven, Connecticut, 2000 women marched. Street prostitutes joined the March and old women in old age homes came out on balconies with lit candles. In Old Dominion, Virginia, blacks and whites, women and men, gays and straights, in the hundreds, joined together in the first political march ever held in Old Dominion, an oligarchal, conservative stronghold, as the name suggests. People marched fourteen miles, as if they didn't want to miss a footpath, under threat of losing their jobs and with the threat of police violence. In Calgary, Canada, women were arrested for demonstrating without a permit, the irony that a March is the safest way (arrests notwithstanding) for women to go out at night lost on the police but not on the women. In Los Angeles, California, the tail end of a double line of 2000 women walking on sidewalks was attacked by men in cars. I don't know how many times I gave this speech, but in giving it I have seen North America and met some of the bravest people around. The Night and Danger has never been published before.
A Take Back the Night March goes right to our emotional core. We women are especially supposed to be afraid of the night. The night promises harm to women. For a woman to walk on the street at night is not only to risk abuse, but also--according to the values of male domination--to ask for it. The woman who transgresses the boundaries of night is an outlaw who breaks an elementary rule of civilized behavior: a decent woman does not go out--certainly not alone, certainly not only with other women--at night. A woman out in the night, not on a leash, is thought to be a slut or an uppity bitch who does not know her place. The policemen of the night--rapists and other prowling men--have the right to enforce the laws of the night: to stalk the female and to punish her. We have all been chased, and many of us have been caught. A woman who knows the rules of civilized society knows that she must hide from the night. But even when the woman, like a good girl, locks herself up and in, night threatens to intrude. Outside are the predators who will crawl in the windows, climb down drainpipes, pick the locks, descend from skylights, to bring the night with them. These predators are romanticized in, for instance, vampire movies. The predators become mist and curl through barely visible cracks. They bring with them sex and death. Their victims recoil, resist sex, resist death, until, overcome by the thrill of it all, they spread their legs and bare their necks and fall in love. Once the victim has fully submitted, the night holds no more terror, because the victim is dead. She is very lovely, very feminine, and very dead. This is the essence of so-called romance, which is rape embellished with meaningful looks.
Night is the time of romance. Men, like their adored vampires, go a-courting. Men, like vampires, hunt. Night licenses so-called romance and romance boils down to rape: forced entry into the domicile which is sometimes the home, always the body and what some call the soul. The female is solitary and/or sleeping. The male drinks from her until he is sated or until she is dead. The traditional flowers of courtship are the traditional flowers of the grave, delivered to the victim before the kill. The cadaver is dressed up and made up and laid down and ritually violated and consecrated to an eternity of being used. All distinctions of will and personality are obliterated and we are supposed to believe that the night, not the rapist, does the obliterating.
Men use the night to erase us. It was Casanova, whom men reckon an authority, who wrote that "when the lamp is taken away, all women are alike." 1 The annihilation of a woman's personality, individuality, will, character, is prerequisite to male sexuality, and so the night is the sacred time of male sexual celebration because it is dark and in the dark it is easier not to see: not to see who she is. Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life, but especially for women's lives, can run wild, hunt down random victims, use the dark for cover, find in the dark solace, sanction, and sanctuary.
Night is magical for men. They look for prostitutes and pick-ups at night. They do their so-called lovemaking at night. They get drunk and roam the streets in packs at night. They fuck their wives at night. They have their fraternity parties at night. They commit their so-called seductions at night. They dress up in white sheets and burn crosses at night. The infamous Crystal Night, when German Nazis firebombed and vandalized and broke the windows of Jewish shops and homes throughout Germany--the Crystal Night, named after the broken glass that covered Germany when the night had ended--the Crystal Night, when the Nazis beat up or killed all the Jews they could find, all the Jews who had not locked themselves in securely enough--the Crystal Night that foreshadowed the slaughter to come--is the emblematic night. The values of the day become the obsessions of the night. Any hated group fears the night, because in the night all the despised are treated as women are treated: as prey, targeted to be beaten or murdered or sexually violated. We fear the night because men become more dangerous in the night.
In the United States, with its distinctly racist character, the very fear of the dark is manipulated, often subliminally, into fear of black, of black men in particular, so that the traditional association between rape and black men that is our national heritage is fortified. In this context, the imagery of black night suggests that black is inherently dangerous. In this context, the association of night, black men, and rape becomes an article of faith. Night, the time of sex, becomes also the time of race--racial fear and racial hatred. The black male, in the South hunted at night to be castrated and/or lynched, becomes in the racist United States the carrier of danger, the carrier of rape. The use of a racially despised type of male as a scapegoat, a symbolic figure embodying the sexuality of all men, is a common male-supremacist strategy. Hitler did the same to the Jewish male. In the urban United States, the prostitute population is disproportionately made up of black women, streetwalkers who inhabit the night, prototypical female figures, again scapegoats, symbols carrying the burden of male-defined female sexuality, of woman as commodity. And so, among the women, night is the time of sex and also of race: racial exploitation and sexual exploitation are fused, indivisible. Night and black: sex and race: the black men are blamed for what all men do; the black women are used as all women are used, but they are singularly and intensely punished by law and social mores; and to untangle this cruel knot, so much a part of each and every night, we will have to take back the night so that it cannot be used to destroy us by race or by sex.
Night means, for all women, a choice: danger or confinement. Confinement is most often dangerous too--battered women are confined, a woman raped in marriage is likely to be raped in her own home. But in confinement, we are promised a lessening of danger, and in confinement we try to avoid danger. The herstory of women has been one of confinement: physical limitation, binding, movement forbidden, action punished. Now, again, everywhere we turn, the feet of women are bound. A woman tied up is the literal emblem of our condition, and everywhere we turn, we see our condition celebrated: women in bondage, tied and bound. Actor George Hamilton, one of the new Count Draculae, asserts that "[e]very woman fantasizes about a dark stranger who manacles her. Women don't have fantasies about marching with Vanessa Redgrave." 2 He doesn't seem to realize that we do have fantasies about Vanessa Redgrave marching with us. The erotic celebration of women in bondage is the religion of our time; and sacred literature and devotional films, like the bound foot, are everywhere. The significance of bondage is that it forbids freedom of movement. Hannah Arendt wrote that "[o]f all the specific liberties which may come into our minds when we hear the word 'freedom,' freedom of movement is historically the oldest and also the most elementary. Being able to depart for where we will is the prototypal gesture of being free, as limitation of freedom of movement has from time immemorial been the precondition for enslavement. Freedom of movement is also the indispensable condition for action, and it is in action that men primarily experience freedom in the world." 3 The truth is that men do experience freedom of movement and freedom in action and that women do not. We must recognize that freedom of movement is a precondition for freedom of anything else. It comes before freedom of speech in importance because without it freedom of speech cannot in fact exist. So when we women struggle for freedom, we must begin at the beginning and fight for freedom of movement, which we have not had and do not now have. In reality, we are not allowed out after dark. In some parts of the world, women are not allowed out at all but we, in this exemplary democracy, are permitted to totter around, half crippled, during the day, and for this, of course, we must be grateful. Especially we must be grateful because jobs and safety depend on the expression of gratitude through cheerful conformity, sweet passivity, and submission artfully designed to meet the particular tastes of the males we must please. We must be grateful--unless we are prepared to resist confinement--to resist being locked in and tied up--to resist being bound and gagged and used and kept and kept in and pinned down and conquered and taken and possessed and decked out like toy dolls that have to be wound up to move at all. We must be grateful--unless we are prepared to resist the images of women tied and bound and humiliated and used. We must be grateful unless we are prepared to demand--no, to take--freedom of movement for ourselves because we know it to be a precondition for every other freedom that we must want if we want freedom at all. We must be grateful--unless we are willing to say with the Three Marias of Portugal: "Enough./It is time to cry: Enough. And to form a barricade with our bodies." 4
I think that we have been grateful for the small favors of men long enough. I think that we are sick to death of being grateful. lt is as if we are forced to play Russian roulette; each night, a gun is placed against our temples. Each day, we are strangely grateful to be alive. Each day we forget that one night it will be our turn, the random will no longer be random but specific and personal, it will be me or it will be you or it will be someone that we love perhaps more than we love ourselves. Each day we forget that we barter everything we have and get next to nothing in return. Each day we make do, and each night we become captive or outlaw--likely to be hurt either way. It is time to cry "Enough," but it is not enough to cry "Enough." We must use our bodies to say "Enough"--we must form a barricade with our bodies, but the barricade must move as the ocean moves and be formidable as the ocean is formidable. We must use our collective strength and passion and endurance to take back this night and every night so that life will be worth living and so that human dignity will be a reality. What we do here tonight is that simple, that difficult, and that important.
"The Night and Danger," copyright © 1979 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.
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