Around this time last year, something big was happening all over the world. Before Occupy Wall Street. Before the execution of Troy Davis, or the more recent murder of Trayvon Martin. If you can think back to April 2011, you’ll remember what was blowing up the blogosphere and (marginally) the news circuit. It was called SlutWalk, and it started in Toronto and spread all over the world, including my home, Chicago.
And around this time last year, I caught wind through tumblr that someone was organizing a SlutWalk Chicago, and that they were looking for organizers. Immediately, I contacted the poster, and was invited to a meeting where I was put in charge of SWC’s guerilla marketing (a fancy term for DIY promoting and engaging the arts communities). My co-organizers consisted of three other badass feminists–Jamie Keiles, Jessica Skolnik, and Katie Bezrouch. We were all at different phases in our personal careers but had individually demonstrated a devotion to community organizing and activism. We also felt very strongly that sexual assault was something that needed to be acted out against in a big way. For Jessica and I specifically, the opportunity gave us a chance to carry out justice in our own cases of assault (in which the police did nothing to help us), and there were no allusions about us feeling an immense sense of healing from our undertaking. The SlutWalk movement has given a lot of women the opportunity to speak about their experience, and when you’re suffering from something like rape, the small act of solidarity brings a huge comfort that is usually the only type of true solace you receive.
Recording of me reciting a poem at SlutWalk New York
The most difficult part of organizing SlutWalk Chicago was the amount of criticism we received. Like a lot of liberal feminism, there are some serious flaws within SlutWalk, mainly in that it was created by, and largely benefitted, white women. The Crunk Feminist Collective has a great article about some of the fundamental issues regarding race and SlutWalk. That’s not to mention the bulk of the critics, who were mostly dudes who could just not understand how victim blaming in the crime of rape is just illogical. (It’s not rape if you invite it. And obviously it is not okay to take advantage of someone, ever, no matter what your relationship with them. Consent is a pretty cut and dry thing.) Although it was confusing for us at times, and involved a lot of tough conversations and recognizing our privilege, we all still felt convicted to carry out the protest. After coming to terms with the criticism, I would not have traded the experience for anything, nor withdraw my support for the SlutWalks that occurred all over the world.
Since SlutWalk, we’ve seen a rise in punishment for men who demonstrate victim-blaming behavior–the most timely example being Rush Limbaugh losing several of his sponsors for calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” on his radio show. In the United States, the Federal Definition of Rape was changed, which means that rape statistics will be more accurate (which hopefully also means that it will become easier to prosecute rape, although those numbers aren’t in yet). We didn’t stop rape. We didn’t expect to. But the SlutWalk movement ultimately gave us a chance to be empowered. We spoke out, and around the world, we were heard. A satirical article I found in a 1994 issue of Playboy entitled “Politically Correct Sex” included a flowchart mocking the increasing importance of verbal consent in rape laws–less than a decade later, this shit is thankfully outdated:
That said, recently our organizing team was contacted by someone interested in organizing a SlutWalk Chicago 2012. Unanimously, none of us were interested. Jamie responded telling the inquirer that it would be good to have a new organizing team in charge, and that we would be happy to share how we accomplished planning our protest.
Although I can’t speak to the reasons of all of the organizers, I know that none of us were interested in becoming figureheads. Organzationally, we kept our goals simple–our plan was to organize a massive protest, which we accomplished with relative ease. Although SlutWalk was arguably a movement, each satellite protest was organized individually, and ours was not intended to expand into an organization or more “SlutWalk” events, although we’ve all done badass things with ourselves in the aftermath. It was never our goal as organizers to “reclaim the word slut.” In fact, after becoming aware of how SlutWalks were playing into a feminist narrative that has historically benefitted white middle-class women, it became pretty difficult to figure out what to do with ourselves.
In October, I had the opportunity to attend, and subsequently perform in, SlutWalk New York, which was an amazing experience. It occurred at the same time Occupy Wall Street was exploding, and so my entire weekend was filled with the opportunity to take part in activism in a different city–and when it comes to activism, it became very clear to me that, at least in this instance, Chicago was the Second City. The New York organizational team had faced more obstacles than we had in Chicago, but had ambitiously included several fundraising and awareness events, with plans to continue working together after the event.
However, the one thing we found common ground on as organizers was our struggle with the name. The problem with SlutWalk is two-fold: one, that its effectiveness lies within the provocativeness of its name, and two, that there are no inclusionary slurs to replace it. By calling itself “SlutWalk,” the movement is an introduction for many in a lesson of double standards; for others, it was a lesson in the privilege that comes with the option of reclamation. And at the end of the day, once the conversation is had and opinions are formed, there’s not much more the name is serving. The New York organizers had resolved to change the name in the future, affectively becoming an entity no longer formally attached to the SlutWalk movement. In Chicago, where there were only the four of us, we also attached ourselves to different entities–in my case, it’s included relatively no activism, instead continuing to focus on arts organizing and youth mentorship.
Although I think it’s great that the cause of SlutWalk has generated enough interest to potentially become an annual event, I would not organize this protest again. Although I’ve known this for a while, since receiving that email, I’ve put far more thought into my reasons. In terms of my own healing, I am not in a place where it’s compulsory for me to act on my suffering. SlutWalk occurred very close to my instance of assault, and it was very much therapeutic for me to be a part of it. Now, I don’t feel as much apprehension around sharing my experience; my challenge is how to live with it. And getting out of my system helped, but it feels unhealthy for that to continue motivate my [time] commitments in life.
I am frustrated with the current climate of feminist activism. I am tired of a borderline circle-jerk inclusion that makes “the personal is political” compulsory but usually stops with having discussion. I don’t need a protest to tell people why it’s not okay to rape people. I also don’t need the internet, and I certainly don’t need to tell a bunch of people who already agree with me. I don’t oppose doing these things (hell, I’m guilty of it right now), but I no longer consider it effective as a method of activism. Essentially, I’ve been having an existential crisis for at least the past year, and I need to deal with what’s in my head before I try to do anything about the state of the world.
It is hard for me to see what more SlutWalk could do that it hasn’t already accomplished, and that applies to a lot of feminism I was exposed to through organizing and immersing myself in this pocket of community. It’s something I’m still struggling with, but thankfully, being a part SlutWalk also introduced me to a lot of activists who aren’t doing it that way. Some have even have found time to be artists and activists (simultaneously or separately). If anything, I think it is the job of people with better ideas than me to carry this protest into the future and apply the ideology behind it. When and if that happens, I’ll be there to do whatever I can.