So, I’ve been talking about Reclaim the Night with strangers on the internet. Not a great idea, really, I’ve gotta say. The problem is that men aren’t invited to march with the women’s group. One calls the event ‘pathetic’, another says we all need to be less emotional. Why are we alienating these poor men like this? We’re missing a wonderful opportunity to ‘foster understanding’ about equality.

No. We ARE taking that opportunity, and I’ve spent as long as I intend to talking to these outraged men but I wanted to take a while to lay the facts out for other people who might be more interested in listening. We’re educating men by marching, if they’ll shut the fuck up and pay attention; we’re educating any men who’re willing to use just the tiniest rudiment of compassion.

Our reasons are all there, stories and statistics both. How many men stop to worry about what they’re wearing as they walk home at three AM? How many men dance a balancing act between ‘dressed up enough’ and ‘looks slutty’ as they get ready to go out clubbing? How many are more worried about whether they’re dressed too suggestively than whether they’ll be warm enough? When they’ve been drinking, are they more worried about whether they’ve got enough basic motor control left not to walk into the road than whether they’ll look drunk enough to be an easy target? How many men check in with an ETA for their housemates as they set off home? How many men have stories about men they know coming home distressed and worried? How many have ever had an interview with the police about what a stranger said or did to them when they just wanted to get home?

Speaking up about that, speaking out about it, marching and shouting and painting banners, that’s the opposite of alienating: it’s an explicit invitation. Please listen. Please change.

And any man who listens should know not to ask to walk with us, because men walking with us is not how to change our situation. Men: if you want equality for women, make space for us. Learn that you cannot stand at our side in everything we need to do and that you cannot listen honestly to us while you seek to make choices for us. While you cast as long a shadow over our lives as you do now, you will not be able to see the colours and contours of our lives that lie hidden behind your own assumptions. It is men who teach us what is sexy and what is safe, what makes us desirable and valuable and what makes us sluts and whores. It is men who make us trapped enough that we only dare claim one night a year for ourselves.

Step into our protest and claim that little corner of that one night a year for yourselves too, and you will hide the realities we’re trying to demonstrate about in your shadow again, the shadow where feminism is ‘equality for everyone’ and inequality is men not being allowed into every single space women build for themselves and their own needs. It’s easy for you to miss the logic that governs our lives, men: it’s nearly invisible to you while you stand between us and safety. If you keep stepping closer, all you’ll notice is that we’re looking away and trying to hide from you. If you keep grabbing us and shaking us and asking why our conversations aren’t all about you, of course you’re going to see us angry.

You didn’t build this distance between us: it’s older than any of us, and I’m not asking you to go away thinking that you need to shoulder all the blame for the way the world works. But I want make it clear that if you’re here to help, it’s your responsibility to move aside at times like this. Until men and women stand at the same distance and you see us as clearly as we see you, you will help us most by listening to us.

Stand back and listen and watch. Stop asking why we haven’t laid a place of you at the feminist table: if you get an answer it’ll be because we’re trained to answer to you and to stay quiet while you sit yourself down at the table’s head.