Women unite for Take Back the Night

An interview with OU Student Senate Women’s Affairs Commissioner Linsey Pecikonis

By Damon Krane
May 1, 2005
The InterActivist Magazine (Athens, Ohio)

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In American society, where men dominate positions of economic and political power, roughly one in four college age women is a survivor of sexual assault. Held in communities all over the world since 1976, Take Back the Night is a women’s march for healing and empowerment; a public act of defiance to a system of violently enforced patriarchy. This year’s TBTN march in Athens anchors a week-long series of workshops, presentations and documentary screenings related to women’s empowerment, sexual assault prevention and survivor support. TBTN Week begins Monday, May 2 and ends on Mother’s Day: Sunday, May 8. (For a full schedule of events, turn to page 17) TBTN organizer and Women’s Affairs Commissioner for OU undergraduate Student Senate Linsey Pecikonis recently discussed the week’s objectives with The InterActivist.

What exactly is Take Back the Night? What is its purpose?

Take Back the Night is a week sponsored by the Women’s Affairs Commission of Student Senate and cosponsored by various other organizations to educate and raise awareness about gender and women’s issues. The principal moment for Take Back the
Night is a march and rally that happens on Thursday where women empower themselves by taking to the streets and men support the women in this empowerment.

Take Back the Night represents more than just a stand against sexual assault. The week is devoted to women’s empowerment by involving all people in pursuit of equality in their lives, homes, workplaces, country and the world. By having women’s voices heard, we hope to bring specific attention to the apathy demonstrated by the Athens and OU community leaders. That apathy is shown in the lack of adequate campus safety, the lack of a Women’s Studies or a Gender Studies major, the lack of a women’s center on campus and the continued sexism experienced by women every day.

How long have Take Back the Night marches been held in Athens?

This is Take Back the Night’s 26th year. The movement in Athens originally started out the same time as other movements in the U.S. – particularly the March in San Francisco. It was originally sponsored by some local women’s groups, but was brought to Student Senate in l99l to make the event more sustainable.

Do you know if the marches have always been accompanied by workshops and other events, or is that a more recent occurrence?

I believe the workshops are more of a recent occurrence. One of the main ideas behind extending the idea of women’s empowerment from just a single march into a week-long event is the idea of education. Educating the students, faculty, staff and community members about women’s issues on personal, local, national and global levels is very important. Without ongoing education on the concepts and ideas of women’s empowerment, the movement and desire for change could stagnate.

What do you see as the most significant problems facing women today? What about female OU students, in particular?

It seems that there have been significant changes and ideas expressed by the Bush Administration to remove or limit the rights of women. Whether it be reproductively or just a basic freedom of choice, the current policies that have been enacted are beginning to infringe on some of our basic inalienable rights as citizens.

During the past election “family values” were a main campaigning point, but without adequate communication of what “family values” should truly entail. Just because someone believes in the right to choose what’s best for their personal bodies, does not mean that they are lacking in family values.

Internationally, it is important that the U.S. allow for women’s economic prosperity through education. It has been proven that there is a reduction in poverty levels when women become educated and involved in the economic process.

In regards to the campus, I feel that safety has become more and more of an issue. We all seemingly feel safe here – but with the continued rising statistics on sexual assaults and other acts of violence, not just on women, but other students – students of color, LGBT students and even men – I think it is time that the university administration begins to take steps to see why the numbers keep rising. The university has yet to take a strong stance on the safety of its students and that should be the number one priority to them. The administration is always talking about enrollment numbers and how to improve, but if the administration does not address these safety issues, the numbers will be in a slow decline.

With the lack of a university infrastructure that supports women’s issues on campus, no current body is large enough or has the longevity to give rise to a greater awareness of gender and women’s issues on this campus. With the creation of a commission on women in higher education at OU (which will hopefully be unveiled this spring), these issues can begin to be addressed. But without a Women’s Studies major to make a much stronger program, as well as a center that deals with gender and women’s issues, the fight will continue – and in a repetitive fashion because no one will be able to carry out the fight for more than a couple of years. Until the infrastructure at the university level is changed to make women’s issues an integral part of the university, we will continue to fight the same biases and stereotypes and gender norms the feminist movement was originally created to change.

Will TBTN Week be addressing these problems? If so, how?

Last year’s event brought about the idea for change and the concept of a women’s center. It was a long process that has taken a couple years, but last year, participants were surveyed and the results were imparted to the president, provost, and Student senate for the passing of a resolution. We will continue to address the issue of infrastructure at the university, but there will also be workshops that discuss campus climate and safety, self defense classes will be offered, as well as a Planned Parenthood event. The national issues will be addressed through a few events and some possible documentaries, as well as the global issues discussed by the speaker for the march, Mia Herndon. A full schedule of events as well as ways to get involved is available at http://www.mystudentsenate.com/tbtn.

Many female students at OU have never participated in a march or week of events like this. What would you say to them about why they should participate?

Take Back the Night can often be seen by someone who has never participated as an event that is kind of, to put it nicely, scary. Women and men are often afraid of something that they have never experienced, especially something as vocal as Take Back the Night. I feel that all students should participate in the week’s events because these are all issues that will, if they do not already, affect each of us.

If you are a male student soon to enter the workforce and someday want to start a family, the issue willarise of which parent will take time off to help raise the child. What happens when the child gets sick?

What about your mothers, sisters and other women in your life? How would you feel if one of them were sexually assaulted? We should all be concerned about what can be done decrease the numbers of assaults against women and others.

As for women, these issues that the March and week are designed to address, will be re-occurring throughout our entire lives. The glass ceiling is real, the patriarchy is alive and thriving, we will not be able to go anywhere or do anything without addressing stereotypes, gender norms and the like. We can only raise awareness on campus by speaking out together with one voice, saying we want to be heard. If we speak loud enough, we can all make changes – maybe not changes that we’ll see during our time at OU, but changes to make this a better campus and a better community. All women need our help, and it’s not until everyone addresses the issues of women’s equality and empowerment that each woman will have a better life and each person who comes after us will have a better future.

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