This past Saturday, I attended the much ballyhooed SlutWalk NYC, and what I found there was so inspiring I actually fucking cried.
I should start off by saying I almost didn’t make it. I woke up feeling the full effects of my budding flu/cold, i.e. I felt like crap run over twice. So I missed the actual “walk” part. But I got there just in time for the rally, and what a rally it was! Although the crowd was overwhelmingly female, there were some men there, too. There were people of all different races, abilities, genders, ages, weights, orientations, you name it. I know the SlutWalk has been accused in the past of alienating women of color, but a decent number of them turned out as both speakers and supporters. Personally, I don’t agree with the points made in this intentionally divisive “open letter to the SlutWalk from black women.” As I understand it, the people who wrote this letter think that black women don’t have the same space as white women to reclaim the word “slut” because they’ve historically been hurt the most by it. To which I say: doesn’t the group historically most hurt by that word stand to gain the most by draining it of its power? A lot of people in attendance seemed to agree with me. I mean, the whole point of the SlutWalk is that nobody deserves to be assaulted for the way they look, and race is a huge subcategory of that.
Wearing everything from jeans and t-shirts to lingerie (with many choosing to wear the clothes they were wearing when they were assaulted), the attendees listened to the speakers with rapt attention, often punctuating their speeches with loud cheers or boos, depending what was being discussed. When it started to rain, nobody budged, and many offered their umbrellas to strangers. Among other things, the SlutWalk movement has been accused of being incoherent in its message, which makes me wonder if said accusers have ever been to a SlutWalk. I’m not sure it gets much clearer than this:
“No matter who you are
No matter where you work
No matter how you identify
No matter how you flirt
No matter what you wear
No matter whom you choose to love
No matter what you said before:
NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent.”
This is not to say there wasn’t some nuance. The rally’s diverse speakers fleshed out these ideas in an intelligent way, each using their own personal experiences and areas of expertise to support larger points. Far from being a homogeneously white/straight/female/cisgender affair, speakers included nearly every different kind of identity there is, and there was also a person doing sign language interpretation so that deaf people weren’t left out. Over the course of the rally:
-Transsexual community activist Mariah Lopez talked about how we can put the energy gathered by the gay rights movement into the struggle for trans rights.
-Chloe Angyal from Feministing talked about the power of language, and how she hopes one day both the word “slut” and the ideas behind it will seem as quaint and outdated as the word “strumpet.”
-Socialist Jen Rush talked about the cops who recently got away with raping a woman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the ways both racism and slut-shaming contribute to horrible miscarriages of justice.
-Queers For Economic Justice’s Kenyon Farrow gave an amazing speech on how he’s been targeted for harassment as a gay black man, and called upon (ostensibly) straight and cis-gendered black and Latino men to examine the part they play in enforcing gender roles. (A full version of his speech can be read here.)
-Trans community activist Lourdes Ashley Hunter garnered the most enthusiastic response of the day with this rousing speech:
I was especially taken by her call for women to stop bashing other women. The policing of other women’s choices and desires (by social conservatives as well as by those who claim to be feminists) only serves to divide us when we should be banding together to get important shit done.
-Nancy Schwartzman of The Line Campaign talked about how one need not be female bodied to be raped. She also discussed the important distinction between being a sexual subject and being a sexual object. I think a lot of older generation feminists criticize the sex-positive movement because they think that by embracing our sexuality, we are turning ourselves into objects for the male gaze. A lot of the SlutWalk’s message is that you should do (or not do) sexual things because they make you happy, and not because someone else is pressuring you to do (or not do) them. Also, if you think all the sex women have is sort of against their nature and at the behest of men, and if you don’t learn to recognize your own sexual desires, it’s harder to say yes or no, harder to recognize when you’ve been raped, and harder to place the blame where it truly belongs. (See also: Bristol Palin.)
-Sex worker advocate Audacia Ray talked about the importance of being an ally and listening to voices that differ from your own. She also discussed violence against sex workers and the great amount of progress that must be made before they’re treated like human beings by society’s various institutions. I couldn’t help thinking about all the “feminists” who try to silence and exclude sex workers from the movement when she said, “resist policies that make your life better at the expense of others.”
I was extremely familiar with all the territory that got covered (I mean, I write about this stuff for a living), but even though the feminist blogosphere is vast and wonderful, I often feel isolated from my allies while sitting behind my computer screen. Seeing all those amazing people in the flesh, holding signs, chanting, and showing their solidarity was unexpectedly moving for my jaded, bloggy heart, and I actually started to cry. I also felt a surprising amount of catharsis over my own probable date-rape; I never blamed myself for it, but that didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly pissed off over both the event itself and the daunting odds that led me not to have it investigated. To have a bunch of people be pissed off along with me felt indescribably awesome; in turn, I was pissed off on their behalf, too.
I think we’re still figuring out how these rallies are going to effect concrete change, but hopefully the momentum will not be lost. I spoke to a lot of first-time ralliers who plan to start going to the “what next?” meetings, and it’s amazing to see similar movements spring up organically all over the country and the world. As we move forward from this legal, permitted march, I have no doubt the movement’s more radical elements will push for civil disobedience, and while I’m extremely averse to getting pepper sprayed, I’m going to stand behind them, because I know that’s what’s worked in the past. If you, like me, are excited by the prospect of getting off your ass and admitting you care about something, SlutWalk‘s website has links to a lot of information on how you can get involved with like minded organizations. Let’s SlutWalk our way to a better tomorrow!