Ladyfest Hki – Take back the night

by Milla

Poster from Take back the night - Helsinki - May 8th, 2009

Poster from Take back the night - Helsinki - May 8th, 2009

This evening about 70 of mostly subculture – activist – leftist youth walked the streets of Helsinki behind a sound car, ending up in Kaisaniemi Park – popularly known as the Rape Park – reclaiming the city space and taking back the night. Many men passing by, making loud unfriendly, ridiculing comments. Two men were even pushed out because of disrespectful behavior. There were some speeches in the park as well. I was one of the persons given space to talk.

I didn’t prepare anything. So I guess I could have been more structured. What’s on my mind is fairly clear to me now, so I thought I could use the blog to express myself.

It started this afternoon, with meeting up with other women preparing a speech for the demonstration. There were seven of us. And sitting down on the green spring grass of the rocky slopes of the district called Kallio, it took no more than 5 seconds to find out that not only by night but also in broad daylight even women together are still seen as women alone. We are public property. There on the commercials: available, smiling, in underwear. Women without male company is property on the loose, there for any man to claim. In the same way as the four or five men who with their verbal harassment took our space away. Typical Finnish men, sitting in the sun, drinking beer on the grass. Finnish city-summer tradition. And when the quick choice was made to save time and not get into an argument, but to leave in order to finish the speech about reclaiming our space – we got the traditional: “Lesbians!” called out after us.

Women who don’t accept to be claimed by property seeking males usually get to hear this. It’s supposed to be a combination of insult as well as factual statement to heal the damaged pride. “Of course I can ‘get’ any woman I want – they must be lesbians”.

It’s frightening to think that we’re told that we’ve already reached equality, when in plain daylight it’s clear that we have no space that we can claim to be our own. We don’t even have right to physical integrity. Later at night the same neighborhood is full of men with property thinking, assaulting “their” women on the streets. The people walking by have the same thinking: “Oh, it’s a private matter – their business – I should not intervene.”

I’ve seen this open abuse wherever I’ve been. Lately in Hungary, Austria, Germany. Go out on a weekend, when people are drinking, take a ride in the metro, walk out in the street – and sooner or later you will see it.

I’ve encouraged many women harassed in a public space to say clearly that the person assaulting them is un-known to them. This will increase the chances of getting help from persons witnessing harassment or abuse. If you are a woman in a hetero couple relationship, few will step in to give you a helping hand. The power of your torturer is complete. You are property.

In Finland spraying a wall with grafitti can give you worse punishment than rape. This is how low the value of a woman is in this society. Everything is on the condition of men.

Have a walk alone in the park in the dark. Wear a short skirt, and you’ve practically begged for it. This is the mentality we live with. A woman should know her place and stay at home, while white hetero men walk freely. Perhaps in paranoid fear of darkskinned fellow men.

Maybe even in terror of someone like myself, a radical feminist – a woman out of control – taking space on my own conditions.

Like today in the park, repeating the same that was done by some French women in the demonstration done during the second Europe-wide Autonomous Feminist Womyn Lesbian gathering in Vienna. This April, we took each other by the hand, spread out in a wide circle and said: “The streets, the squares, this space – is for us.” It was a nice feeling doing the same with the few who had gathered in solidarity in Helsinki this friday evening 8th of May. This place is for us. On our terms.

Taking back the night - Helsinki 2009

Taking back the night - Helsinki 2009

For more information on Take Back The Night click on these two links:

About the:

Autonomous Feminist Womyn’s Gathering
April 9 – 14, 2009 · Vienna, Austria
for women & lesbians Europe-wide

There were about 250 women from 25-30 different countries, depending on if you count the country of origin or not.


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