Have you ever attended a Take Back the Night march? If not, you should. There’s one coming up right here in Sacramento on October 14th, and hundreds of other Take Back the Night marches will be happening throughout the nation and around the world. It’s an opportunity to take to the streets, to engage in a form of direct action against rape, sexual assault, and other forms of violence against women.
The first Take Back the Night march took place in November of 1978. Thousands of women took to the streets of San Francisco, protesting against rape and other forms of violence against women. The organizers included Laura Lederer, Andrea Dworkin, Kathleen Barry, Susan Griffin, and Diana Russell – my mentor during my graduate school years.
I asked Diana, “What does feminism mean to you?” Here’s what she said:
I consider myself a radical feminist; and radical feminism has been the guiding ideology and politics in my life for many decades. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without being dedicated to raising public awareness about the prevalence of several different forms of violence against women and girls (e.g., rape, including wife rape, woman battering, incestuous and extrafamilial sexual abuse of girls, femicide [the killing of females by males BECAUSE they are female], the exploitation of females in pornography and its pernicious impact in all cultures and societies in which it is prevails, as well as other international manifestations of misogynistic forms of patriarchal violence such as genital mutilation, so-called “honor” femicides, and female sexual slavery.
I have been equally dedicated to engaging in feminist activism to combat many of these forms of misogynistic violence against women and sexual abuse of girls — the most significant example of which was initiating the first and only International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women that occurred during four days in Brussels, Belgium, in March 1976. Simone de Beauvoir described this international feminist event “as the beginning of the radical decolonization of women.” It was also the beginning of the internationalization of the feminist movement.
I feel extremely fortunate to have been born at a time when the second wave of the feminist movement began and grew to transform the United States and many other Western nations. I grieve now, however, because feminism no longer plays the transformative role that it did in the past.
I found Diana’s last statement to be intriguing – and disturbing. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that sentiment. Quite a few older feminists worry that the rights they worked so hard to secure are being taken for granted by younger generations of girls and women. In fact, I think they worry that girls and women aren’t even aware of the ways in which sexism and gender oppression operates in their lives.
So I decided to reach out to a younger feminist, who has organized our local Take Back the Night march here in Sacramento. Her name is Aisha Engle, and she is the director of the Women’s Resource Center at California State University, Sacramento. Here’s what she had to say about feminism:
Feminism is the overarching belief in equality for all. It encompasses recognizing difference, intersectionality and the pursuit of change for all marginalized groups. For some it means just women’s right. The reality is feminism means a vast inclusion of all groups . This means all people are needed to create change. Feminism is declaring a voice, making change, asserting agency, crushing institutions and advocating change for all genders. It is not limited to the needs of just one group but is inclusive of all genders. Feminism is the symbol of language that reveals the critical analysis and action necessary to exact change locally as well as globally. Feminism means liberation and freedom.
I think it’s safe to say that while feminism might look very different today, it is alive and well. Thank you, Diana and Aisha!
Dr. Diana Russell is one of the foremost pioneers and experts on sexual violence and abuse of women and girls in the world today. She has a long history of feminist activism in the United States, South Africa, and several other countries. In 1974, she mobilized other feminists to organize the first feminist International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women. She was a founding member of Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPM) in 1977 — the first feminist anti-pornography organization in the United States and internationally. Her book The Secret Trauma, published in 1986, was the first scientific study of incestuous abuse ever conducted, and it was the co-recipient of the prestigious C. Wright Mills Award. In 1987, Diana traveled to her native South Africa to conduct interviews with revolutionary women activists in the anti-apartheid liberation struggle, which culminated in her book titled Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa (1989). After focusing for 40 years on conducting research, writing and publishing books and articles, public speaking, and political activism to combat male sexual violence against females, Diana is now working on the first volume of her memoirs.
Aisha Engle grew up in Philadelphia and Oakland, and has spent the last several years in Auburn, CA. She received her B.S. in Women’s Studies from California State University, Sacramento and is currently working on her M.A. in Gender Equity. She has served as the Program Coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center at CSU Sacramento since August 2016, and has been active in community projects like Sacramento’s Women Take Back The Night and continues to make feminist strides.