Over the next few months I’ll be conducting short interviews with some of the amazing women who’ve been involved with Take Back the Night (TBTN) Hamilton over the years, in hopes of getting a multigenerational perspective on this historic event. My first interview is with Lisa who has been on the TBTN organizing committee for over five years. She is a PhD candidate in Women’s Studies at York University, a crisis/support line volunteer with SACHA, and an awesome feminist!
Jenn: Hey Lisa, I’m really happy to have you here. I wanted to know about when you first got involved with TBTN, and what motivated you, or was the driving force behind your decision to get involved with this event.
Lisa: Well…a couple of things. I knew that SACHA was a really great organization, I was looking to get involved with a feminist organization, and I had also spoken with Krista, one of SACHA’s public educators, and talked to her about a few ways to get involved…and she suggested–since at that time I couldn’t commit to the crisis line–she suggested me getting involved with the TBTN committee.
J: As you know, the theme of this year’s TBTN–along with it being the event’s thirtieth anniversary in the Hamilton area–is Sisterhood. Strength. Solidarity. I was wondering what special significance these concepts or ideas might have for you?
L: Well I think that the concepts, when brought together really show how, when women and women-identified folks come together around their shared experiences, it shows the strength that they have. I know that “sisterhood” has been a problematic term in some ways, for some communities, but I think that when we pair it with the word solidarity it goes beyond that kind of essentialist way of thinking…
J: …and then strength…
L: …organizing and standing together…and even just celebrating together is a political act.
J: In your experience with TBTN over the years, have you found the wider Hamilton community to be generally supportive of TBTN, or has there been some resistance to the event?
L: I think that maybe in the past there’s been some resistance, but I’ve actually found that the community has been very very supportive. It’s a long-standing tradition in Hamilton, and it seems to grow every year, and a lot of businesses and community partners seem to take pride in being a part of TBTN.
J: So at the start of this interview, in the short bio I gave, I alluded to you as being an awesome feminist, and I wanted to know why, for you, it’s important to identify as feminist, and how it makes you feel when you encounter the countless representations of feminists as humourless, manhating, angry-type, killjoys…I wanted to get your thoughts on that.
L: I am really happy to identify as feminist because I know a bunch of really amazing feminist people so its never really had that negative connotation for me. Definitely, you know, the politics of anti-oppression and anti-racism, and combating patriarchy—I know it’s an outdated word but…it still fits…
J: it’s still relevant! (laughter)
L: Just because it’s an outdated word, doesn’t mean it’s an outdated mindset! (laughter) So I think it’s a political act to even just identify in that way, and to say no, I’m not going to stand for this, and I’m going to stand for something. In terms of how it makes me feel when I’m called a killjoy, well…
J: Are you humourless, Lisa? (laughs)
L: I’m not humourless! You know me, and you know I’m not humourless! (laughter) But a lot of people think I am because I identify as feminist…On how it makes me feel, well, I think that if someone doesn’t want to take the time to actually get to know me then that’s ok, but I know it’s important to stand up for what I believe in, and I have a lot of fun doing it sometimes. I like critiquing movies, and maybe that’s a killjoy to you, but it’s a lot of fun for me. (laughs)
J: …so it’s okay to be serious, and to fight for issues of social justice, and it’s also ok to have a good time doing it!
L: I think Hamilton’s TBTN is a really great example of this. Even though we’re dealing with a really serious issue, and coming together politically around this issue, we have a lot of fun too, and you see this…you see women celebrating, and kids running around, the energy is up, and by the time women are marching, they’re ready for the march and they have a really good time just being together.
J: I was also curious to get your opinion on something. No doubt you’re aware of the recent ad campaign for beer that features billboards containing retro images of pin up girls, which also state that the beer’s consumers will receive a “free girl with every can.” What kinds of connections do you see between the need for events like TBTN, and the obvious sexual objectification of women in ads such as this one?
L: Well…those ads are getting lots of attention…and they were very out there about the sexist message they wanted to get across, although I think that beer commercials and advertising in general tend to objectify women. It’s clearly showing how women are still objectified, and when women as a group are thought to be less than other parts of the population, violence is an inevitable outcome of that.
J: Yes…the violence is a part of a wider sexist culture that tends to view women as unequal, as inferior, and not as individual people…but as sex objects there for consumption…
L: So it’s important to draw attention to that objectifying message. That’s one way to combat that violence.
J: Do you have a favourite story or a fond memory of TBTN that you’d like to share with the readers?
L: I don’t really have a favourite story exactly, or a specific memory, but almost every year I help out at the food table and what I like is at the end — why I volunteer for this part — is when everyone comes back from the march, I get to see every person or half of the people, and there’s such an energy, such a positive energy, and people are talking to people they’ve never talked to before, or they’ve come with a group of friends and they’re having a great time…I really like that about the event.
J: I have a last question which is going to seem like it doesn’t really fit with the rest of our conversation so far, and it’s: What’s your favourite vegetable? (The reason for this question is that this year TBTN has a community garden plot that is dedicated to growing food for the event!)
L: Oh come on, you know the answer to this one, it’s…
J: Cheese bread is not a vegetable…!
L: Zucchini! Although, if you want to grill it up with some red and orange peppers, I’m okay with that…
J: Okay, zucchini…that’s a respectable vegetable! Thanks Lisa!