The 38th annual Take Back the Night event will be without one of its most ardent supporters due to a discussion over including a fitness company with a contentious regimen.
The London Abused Women’s Centre says it will not support this year’s Take Back the Night event over concerns that a pole-fitness group could be invited and the conversation surrounding it.
A post on Monday on the Take Back the Night Facebook page asked for discussion, feedback, and concerns about possibly including a pole-fitness group to do demonstrations and “showcase women participating in exercise that is empowering, fulfilling and healthy for them.”
Soon after, the London Abused Women’s Centre pulled its support and issued a statement saying that the discussion was too close to the event and hosting pole-fitness at the event would be “antithetical” to its purpose due to the connotations with strip clubs and the sex trade.
“The Women’s Events Committee made a decision to consult the public through Facebook… but didn’t do so until this morning (Monday) on Facebook, four days before the event, and did so in a way that presented the issue very positively without presenting the alternative viewpoint,” said LAWC Program Manager Heather Wharram.
“It takes a lot of courage to say I don’t agree. First of all, women are socialized not to do that. Secondly, often when you do that on social media, you are attacked. So presenting it like that, as opposed to having two points of view about this concern or suggestion, what do you think, that would be a very different way of presenting the information.”
— Megan Walker (@meggiewalk) September 12, 2016
Take Back the Night is a march and rally that is held in communities all over the world to bring attention to the issue of violence against women.
The Women’s Events Committee maintains that no decision has been made on whether or not to invite the pole-fitness demonstration and everyone is still welcome to participate in Thursday’s event.
Still, Wharram said it is unlikely they will rejoin.
WEC Committee Member Jess Rueger explained that the rationale behind the post was to start a discussion.
“We were excited to engage in a dialogue with the entire community because dialogue is really important. Dialogue is what keeps us from getting dogmatic. It keeps us from shutting down voices that need to be heard when making important decisions like this.”
Another member of the Women’s Events Committee representing the Sexual Assault Centre of London, Allison Preyde, argued that both sides were represented in the discussion.
“What was put out on Facebook was a fair representation of one side and it asked what people’s thoughts were on the matter, and we’ve heard many different sides now,” she said. “To think that it was completely one-sided and no one on the opposing side had a say, I don’t think is fair, because they have had a say on the comments section which is what we were aiming for.”
Thursday’s event will take place at Victoria Park from 5:30-8:30.
The full post from the Women’s Events Committee can be read below:
We need you respectful and thoughtful input on this matter. How would you feel about inviting The Pole House to TBTN 2016 to do an athletic pole fitness demonstration and booth during the gathering (5:30-6:45pm) before the rally? The intention is to showcase women participating in exercise that is empowering, fulfilling and healthy for them.
Many other demos and booths will be happening during the gathering, and you can choose to engage with and enjoy any of them, or look away. The reason WEC would like to invite this alternative form of fitness to be present is that it is body-positive, sex-positive, active, fun, and carries the benefits of any form of exercise, which is a great way for women to reclaim their bodies and stay healthy and fit.
We understand that the presence of a pole fitness demonstration may make some people uncomfortable, and like many things at the event, could even be potentially triggering for some people. WEC has discussed this thoughtfully as a committee with members from all sectors of VAW (violence against women) prevention across the city. We are would still like to ask you to consider this is for the following reasons:
(1) Pole-dancing-for-fitness is NOT a form of VAW, it is a form of exercise, even though some might associate it with its origin, exotic dancing. It is a healthy and fun way to build strength and flexibility, and have a positive relationship with one’s body. The Pole House instructors would be fully clothed in athletic wear appropriate for any gym. There are no stripper shoes. Their demonstrations are technical, gymnastic, graceful, athletic, strong, and fun to watch or try. It is body-positive and sex-positive, like many of the great feminists we know on the WEC committee and feminists who attend our events.
(2) There are so many potential triggers already present at TBTN and we try to be sensitive to all of them, but alas we can’t have a march in a bubble. We trust women to know their triggers and how to manage and mitigate things that might bother them, and to not expose themselves to things they can avoid by engaging in other areas of the very large gathering space (Pole House can be out of the way, easily).
(3) For those women who do not yet know how to manage their triggers and deal with crisis, WEC and the Supportive Listeners are readily available to help.
(4) Overall this organization should add value to TBTN’s 5:30-6:45 pre-party. It will not take away from the rally, speakers, cause or march.
The Women’s Events Committee strives to stay relevant to recent developments in feminist movements while honouring our origins and past feminist work. WEC and our members have supported other more radical and sex-positive groups/organizations/events in the city such as the Slut Walk Solidarity March, V-DAY Western, SafeSpace London, Open Closet, PRIDE, One Billion Rising, and more. We feel that if this new addition to one TBTN could be inspiring and engaging for an hour before the rally, then those who choose to watch, enjoy, participate would find it entertaining, inspiring, and empowering if it is appropriate for them.
What we need from you now: your questions, comments, objections, support, concerns, alternatives, your honest and constructive feedback. Your experiential knowledge and your lived experience is valuable and will help inform us on how to proceed. Any emotional and intellectual reactions you may have to this idea are completely valid and we respect your right to hold and share these. If there is overwhelming objection against this one-hour optional booth, then we will not proceed with them this year (maybe next year, or at a different WEC event?). If a majority feels it would be a value-add and have an overall positive effect on the 5:30-6:45 gathering, then we would like to have them. Please remember that this is proposed just for the gathering, which is our new “pre-party” (the more accessible alternative to an after-party for the last few years). It is not a part of the rally or the march. It will not detract from the rally or the march. Thank you all who attend to support Take Back the Night. We look forward to your comments here in the facebook group. You are also welcome to private message us, email us at email@example.com, and to participate on the WEC Committee. We meet monthly and would look forward to your help at future events.
Jess Rueger, WEC Committee Member
– Photo via Take Back the Night Facebook page