Until all women stand up together in the struggle against male violence, they will continue to rape, beat and abuse us
To some, feminist activism seems old hat. One of my friends, who has been involved in the women's liberation movement for as long as I have, sneered at me when I asked her if she was coming on this Saturday's Reclaim the Night march through London. The inference was that she had something better to do.
Well there is nothing better I can think of to do on Saturday. If you are planning to watch X Factor instead of marching alongside your sisters, chanting fabulous slogans such as "men off the streets," and "yes means yes, and no means no," consider this. Without feminist activism, rape in marriage would be legal; it would be perfectly acceptable to pay women less than men for the same job and sack them when pregnant; and domestic violence would be considered a normal part of family life. While you open that bottle of wine and put your feet up, more than two thousand of us will be protesting about the atrocities inflicted on women by men and telling men they will not continue to get away with it.
Although it is fashionable to look down on what is thought to be old-fashioned feminism - doing direct action, naming men as the problem, criticising rather than embracing the sex industry - women need to be out on the streets, protesting about sexual violence more than ever.
Despite four decades of campaigning against domestic violence, over 100 women are still killed every year by current and former partners. More rapes than ever are reported but far fewer convicted than the 1970s, and the sex industry is growing at an alarming rate, globally. There are so few convictions for child sexual abuse, it may as well be legal to rape an under-five year old, and sexual harassment in the workplace is still a major problem for women. I could go on.
Male violence towards women and children - yes, male - is pandemic. We must force them to change - to stop raping, killing and abusing us. When I march on Saturday, I will be doing so for women everywhere - even those of you watching X Factor - because sexual violence is the only thing in the world that affects all women, and therefore working towards eliminating it should be something we are all involved in.
Before you start having a go, telling me you have not been raped, or beaten by your partner, or sexually abused, or flashed, let me ask you (women) something. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you have never feared rape? Have you never modified your behaviour, even just a little, for fear of being attacked? Remember that time you took a minicab home, alone and drunk? Did you feel relieved the next day that nothing bad happened to you? Or when you walked through a park late at night alone? All women know that if we have not been raped, we are lucky. We are so accustomed to living with the constant, nagging fear of sexual violence that we rarely notice it is there half the time.
So let us stop ignoring the obvious. Until we all stand up together and make ourselves visible in the struggle against male violence, they will continue to rape, beat and abuse us. Let's see you there on Saturday. And men, if you wish to be part of the solution rather than the problem, perhaps you could send the organisers a donation for next year's march? Something tells me we will not have a world free of sexual violence by next November.