Take Back The Night and why it matters

Justin Timberlake has released the third single off his ‘The 20/20 Experience’ album.  It’s called ‘Take Back The Night’.  Take Back The Night is a charitable foundation established in 1999 whose aim is to “end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse and all other forms of sexual violence. We serve to create safe communities and respectful relationships through awareness events and initiatives.” (www.takebackthenight.org) Take Back The Night is synonymous with a rallying cry to make the streets and society safe for women.  To work towards removing sexual and violent crime from their experience.  To empower them to not only feel but actually be safe from attack.  Justin Timberlake’s song is not about that.  It is a club track with a sexy uninhibited tone whose lyrics confess that “attraction can drive you crazy / the way you move, you go crazy, that’s incentive for me”.  In the wake of causing upset and being reached out to by the Take Back The Night organizers whose foundation name was used without permission, Justin Timberlake issued the following statement:

“Upon the release of my new single ‘Take Back The Night’, I was made aware of an organization of the same name called The Take Back The Night Foundation.  I wanted to take this opportunity to let all know that neither my song nor its lyrics have any association with the organization. As I’ve learned more about The Take Back The Night Foundation, I’m moved by its efforts to stop violence against women, create safe communities and encourage respectful relationships for women — Something we all should rally around.  It is my hope that this coincidence will bring more awareness to this cause.”

The legal implications of using an official and established name without permission stand on their own and that issue will be resolved by lawyers, no doubt.  You can’t make something your own just by wanting it so.  But there is a much bigger issue at play here.

Justin Timberlake’s ignorance defense is one I don’t buy.  Does no one on his undoubtedly bloated payroll have the ability to perform a simple google search?  Between conception, writing, recording, mixing, and selecting for the album, the single had to filter through dozens of people, likely more.  Not one of them found the name ‘Take Back The Night’ even slightly familiar? 

But far more distressingly, by appropriating the foundation name Justin declares we should “all rally around” encouraging “respectful relationship for women” and hopes he can “bring more awareness to this cause”.  However it is with lyrics like “use me up until there’s nothing left” that what he is really bringing awareness to is the fact that it’s this attitude we still need Take Back The Night to fight nearly forty years after it’s inception.  We’ve come nowhere.  Rape culture is prevalent.  Sexual assault and date rape are daily realities.  Take Back The Night held it’s first documented event in 1975 and became a charitable foundation in 1999.  Globally women have rallied to Take Back The Night, speaking out against sexual and violent crimes committed against them all too frequently.  But here we are, in 2013, with a 32 year old male singer claiming complete ignorance of the movement and penning a dance anthem urging clubgoers that “ain’t no time like tonight / and we ain’t trying to save it ’til later / stay out here living the life / nobody cares who we are tomorrow”.  This club-hopping devil-may-care ‘fuck me now’ attitude is the exact opposite of what Take Back The Night stands for.  By titling his song ‘Take Back The Night’ he is insinuating that somehow the night has been wrongfully misappropriated for respectful and responsible deeds and we need to collectively take back our right to dance and “pull you nearer ’til you feel it again”.  And it's not that Justin Timberlake wants to bring sexy back that bothers me.  It’s that Justin Timberlake is so willfully ignorant of a movement that sincerely affects every woman he has ever known that he would take the movement name as a sex-dance anthem that distresses me.  The fact that the rallying cry women need, one that is still all too necessary in society, is being ignorantly subverted to push the exact opposite message.  That’s what bothers me.  Surely Justin thinks that just by having the association drawn between his dance-gropey song and Take Back The Night the conversation started is a positive one.  One that will “bring more awareness to this cause”.  Except that it isn’t nearly enough to let accidental (or maybe deliberate - he is clever enough to have planned this, let’s be honest) association do the lion’s share of heavy lifting.  Because the song espouses values that the foundation never would.  And the conversation that needs to be had necessarily must include the song’s casual attitude towards women and their place in the scene.  It needs to address the directive to “use me up until there’s nothing left” which should not be the fate of any woman or any man.  The conversation needs to include the fact that we’re even having to point this out in the first place.

It isn’t enough on Justin’s part to simply give lip service after the fact.  There is a responsibility to take an active part in adding respectful language to the overall conversation about women.  Our society is one where rape is not reported, touted as being something the female body can just “take care of”, and falsely quantified in increasing stages of trauma by the lawmakers we want to protect us.  Our society is one where once a sexual assault is reported, one of the first things the victim will be asked is what she was wearing.  Our society is one where rapists are pitied because of the ruination of their promising futures while the victim is vilified and accused of having asked for it by partying.  In Canada statistics suggest that one in every four women will be sexually assaulted.  That every seventeen minutes a woman is raped.  And that 93% of sexual assault survivors do not even report the crime to the police.  It is against these realities that Take Back The Night is fighting.  It is into this society that Justin Timberlake chose to release a single misappropriating their name and touting, with that name, the joys of being used up until there’s nothing left.

- Corinne Simpson

 If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, please contact one of the support numbers listed below or a helpline in your area.  Know that help is available to you. 

 SACHA Sexual Assault Centre 24 Hour Support Line: 905.525.4162 (Canada)

SACE Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton 24 Hour Crisis Line: 780.423.4121 (Edmonton)

RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE (USA)