“No, ma’am. It’s—ah, just like it sounds; Slut-Walk.”
I was having trouble with this phone conversation, as I have every year for the past three years. “S as in Sam… S, L, U, T, W, A, L, K… No ma’am this is not a prank. Yes, I’m an organizer for this event.”
The Parks and Recreation city employee on the other end of the phone was not being malicious, she was dubious of my words, and I understand why.
Slutwalk, as many of “us” Slutists know, is an international movement to end sexual violence and the victim blaming that accompanies it. Slutwalk was a response to the events of March 2011, when Toronto constable Michael Sanguinetti spoke to a small group of college students about personal safety. Sanguinetti immortalized himself in rape culture when he stated that, “Women could avoid being raped if they would stop dressing like sluts.”
Ah, if only it was that easy, Michael.
Survivors of childhood abuse will tell you that their clothing was never provocative. Every woman who has been abused by a partner will tell you that most of the violence occurred in their own homes. And every single woman who has searched for the loosest pants and hoodie she can find before walking to the grocery store knows that not even a potato sack will ward off catcallers or creeps. Publicly nursing mothers know what it’s like to be shamed and sexualized for wanting to feed their offspring as nature intended. Sex workers are familiar with the men who seek us out to abuse us, simply because much mainstream culture has no shits to give regarding our safety. We know these things.
No, no. Let’s start at the beginning. Rape culture.
What is “rape culture”?
Wikipedia tells me that, “In feminist theory, rape culture is a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.”
Do we need some palpable examples?
A joke about dead whores: only supports and encourages harassment and violence and discrimination against sex workers. I write this, as a sex worker. Are you a sex worker?
A judge who asks a rape victim to hold up her skirt, the one that she wore the night she was attacked, in front of a jury: encourages harassment and violence and discrimination against people wearing skirts. I write this, as a person who wears skirts. Are you a person who wears skirts?
A comment thread on one of the many Brock Turner articles where the readers ponder how intoxicated a rape victim was: encourages harassment and violence and discrimination against people who drink alcohol. I write this, as a person who drinks alcohol. Are you a person who drinks alcohol?
A culture that leverages the gender/race/clothing/occupation/appearance of any person who sustains sexual violence against them: encourages harassment and violence and discrimination against women/transpeople/non-white people/sex workers/people who don’t wear pants and sweaters every day of their life.
How do we fight this culture? Well, one practical application to encourage progress and equality is to encourage people to be vocal.
And so, every year in PDX, Slutwalkers and their allies become visible, in a safe space. The internet has served as a tool and as a weapon for all sides of these arguments, and yet the physical closeness that I feel in sex-positive and gender supportive spaces is reaffirming. Healing, some people have told me.
Gay pride began as a riot with Stonewall, but this generation’s wave of sex-positive culture has evolved with the visibility of body positive Instagrammers, sex-working writers and their allies, and of course, with public demonstrations like Slutwalk.
“I wore the dress that I was raped in, ten years ago”, said one woman in a message I received after last year’s event. “It felt almost cleansing to be able to do that.”
“Boys are raped too,” stated one young man’s chest, at the rally. And surely, nobody present would have disagreed with him.
Are there problems with Slutwalk? Oh, fuck yes there are. For one, the movement can be very narrow minded when it turns into a public party of middle-class white chicks such as myself, running around naked. Is your event trans-friendly? Black-friendly? Well, it should be.
Last year, Queer rights and Black Lives Matter activist Leila Haile spoke to a mostly white crowd, saying: “I’m here to make some of you real uncomfortable… if you scratch a racist, you will find a sexist… all of the people who are pushing against us are pushing against us together. If you are not here for the most marginalized, what the fuck are we here for?”
And Leila is correct, as far too often I see and speak to cis-women who are ready to pout their lips and purchase “100% Boy Tears” cell phone cases, but who never listen or support their sisters. They use words like “retarded” and insult men for having small dicks. (Which, by the way, is pretty fucking transphobic if you’re going to equate a man’s worth by the size of his external genital.) Feminism is not convenient, and it should not be a trend.
Are there other problems with Slutwalk? Oh, fuck yes there are. For two, it’s very difficult to promote or host an event when it’s quite the challenge to find sponsors or people who will post your flyers. “I’m a second wave feminist, I don’t support what you’re doing,” said one owner of a purportedly body-positive bra shop in NE Portland. Lots of times, the flyers are simply torn down. And besides being an absolute waste of paper and resources, it saddens me to know that the people who are so offended by the word “slut” probably could learn the most from the movement.
The word “slut” is argued over, a lot. There is power behind a word, as the word links to our emotions and we associate them to the beliefs with which we were raised. And I’d like to think that when there is power in something, it is up to some of us to wield that power. The suffragettes showed us that we can vote. The second wavers did seemingly silly things like burn their bras, and yet they were able to wear pants and join the workforce. The third wavers of the 90’s brought forth the notion that femininity did not equate to weakness. And now? The millennials are fourth wave feminists, if we are feminists at all.
If we have small breasts, we don’t hate women with big ones, or vice versa. Shave your pussy, don’t shave your pussy, I don’t care. It’s your body, and you give hell to anyone who tells you otherwise. We support sex workers. We acknowledge and support asexual people. We support our trans sisters and brothers, and let them pee where they feel safe, and change clothing in any locker room. If we are white, we stand back and listen to Black Lives Matter.
I know that male allies are important in the fight against today’s misogynists. And I appreciate them too. Can you imagine what real gender equality would look like? Today’s feminists are the most diverse bunch of them all, and we owe it to those who paved the way for us to march, and for those of us who are still too young to follow. We support sluts, and we will claim ownership of that word, one home made sign at a time.
I hate organizing Slutwalk, but I keep doing because it’s still necessary. I don’t enjoy the random death threats that find their way to my mailbox, and I’m constantly scanning my social media for comments left by trolls that may trigger my followers. My co-organizer Sterling turned to me last year as we were sweating in the sun, and said, “I wish that someday I don’t have to do this any more. It’s hard.” She’s right.
And now, I have to call the city back, and finalize our permits. I’m off to have another awkward, and yet necessary conversation. Are things in our society “getting better?” Of course they are. We see more problems with society, because these issues are finally being made visible. Let’s continue these tough conversations, one letter at a time.
Hey Portland, I’ll see you at Slutwalk.
Portland Slutwalk dates and times are TBA here