Category Archives: Slutwalk

3 things that might surprise you about Slutwalk Chicago

Slutwalk Chicago came to town yesterday and it was great!  Here are 3 facts that might surprise you about the event and the Slutwalk movement.  These three facts have been underreported – and in some cases even twisted – by the mainstream media.

1.  Slutwalk wasn’t (mostly) about sluts. 

There were certainly women with signs saying “slut” and dressed in provocative clothing – and more power to them!  It was great to see women so comfortable in their own skin, reclaiming the street.

But don’t believe the media hype, or the carefully selected media images, suggesting that the march consisted of 2,000 women in lingerie.  Most of the marchers were wearing everyday clothing, of all varieties, reflecting their individual identities and personal styles.  The overall message was to put an end to victim-blaming, no matter what survivors are wearing.

2. Men were a central part of Slutwalk Chicago. 

Men marched on their own, with their girlfriends, with their boyfriends, and in groups.  Men worked as volunteers along the route to support the marchers.  They cheered and chanted, they held signs saying “An injury to one is an injury to all” and “Fight for a World Without Sexism.”

This was one of the most moving and underreported aspects of the march – to see men out on the streets demanding an end to violence against women is a huge shift in a movement that has long alienated male allies.

We in the anti-violence movement need to embrace this change, and to further encourage male allies to organize workshops, rallies and other events to speak out against violence.

3. It’s time for the anti-violence movement to listen to younger women, who have developed important new messaging. 

If you think an anti-violence march only has the message of “end violence,” then listen up: this march aimed to promote positive sexuality that is consensual and free from violence.  Posters like “Wow, I like sex so so much when it’s consensual!” send an important message that many younger women in the movement have embraced.

You hear it from groups like SHEER (Sexual Health Education to End Rape), a group that has partnered with many organizations in Chicago, including the Taskforce, to build a new sex-positive anti-violence movement.  In their own words, SHEER is

a survivor centered, sex positive, pro-consent coalition formed to prevent sexual assault, abuse, harassment and victim blaming and to address myths about rape by promoting an affirmative consent standard as the cornerstone of healthy sexual interactions. An affirmative consent standard calls for the use of enthusiastic consent that is active, mutual and ongoing throughout a sexual encounter.

This new messaging is helping to shape the movement going forward, and it was displayed in full force at Slutwalk Chicago.


On Navel Gazing and the Incredibly Pointless “Backlash” to Slutwalk…

I didn’t want to have to write this today. Frankly I am busy with a lot of other things. But I have decided that being quiet is just leading to increased frustration on my part. So here goes…

To the young women across the world who are organizing various Slutwalks, you have my gratitude and my appreciation. I have been an organizer for over two decades now. It feels strange to write those words because I honestly don’t feel that old.

I am also a survivor of sexual violence so I am 100% in support of any direct action that focuses on resisting victim-blaming.

Thank you for daring to actually TAKE ACTION in this climate that either finds such things quaint at best and useless at worst. From experience, I know how difficult it is to organize ANYTHING. It is damn hard and lonely but so very important. By doing something public, you make yourselves vulnerable to criticisms from the right but also from the left.

I have read criticism from commentators who suggest that trying to redefine or reclaim the word “Slut” is a “waste of precious feminist resources.” Gail Dines writes in the Guardian:

“Advocates would be better off exposing the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women – sexually active or “chaste” alike. These myths facilitate sexual violence by undermining women’s credibility when they report sex crimes. Whether we blame victims by calling them “sluts” (who thus asked to be raped), or by calling them “frigid” (who thus secretly want to be overpowered), the problem is that we’re blaming them for their own victimisation no matter what they do. Encouraging women to be even more “sluttish” will not change this ugly reality.”

How incredibly sad that it has come to this: some in the feminist movement have bought into the scarcity model of thinking that suggests that we only have “limited” feminist resources. Why would this be the case? Could it be that the main problem is that so-called feminists have in the last 10 years mostly abdicated the very important work of base-building and ORGANIZING? Also, it is incredibly condescending to assume that feminist activists and organizers can’t organize a march and ALSO “expos[e] the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women.” Why assume that this is an either/or proposition rather than a both/and one?

I won’t respond to other media criticisms of Slutwalk because I am not all that invested in them and also a post titled “Why We Need Slutwalk” addresses itself better to this than I can.

Instead I want to focus on the question that has been raised about who has been or is being “left” out of Slutwalks. I don’t care if the only people who were involved in organizing Slutwalk were young, white, middle-class women. You know why? Because young, white, middle-class women get raped too! They have every right to organize marches or speak outs or whatever else they want. They should do so unapologetically. We are each entitled to save our own lives.

If you are an organizer, you have no doubt had the following experience. You are sitting in some meeting or other trying to organize something or other and someone (usually who is there for the first time) says: ‘We need to have more X involved in this meeting.” If you are an inexperienced organizer or riddled with self-doubt, you might respond with: ‘We’ve tried really hard to involve X in these meetings but we haven’t had any luck. We really want more X to participate. Blah, Blah, Blah.” Then, usually the meeting becomes super uncomfortable because everyone is secretly worried that they are now being perceived as an X-hater. Folks start tripping all over themselves to point out who else is not in the room. No solutions are ever offered for how to practically remedy this and the inexperienced organizer usually finds him or herself on the defensive desperately trying to get the meeting back on track; to no avail.

As a young black girl growing up in New York City, I was blessed to have some terrific older organizers as mentors. I learned many valuable lessons from them. The most important of these was to never feel as though I had the sole responsibility for outreach and recruitment. It is EVERYONE’s responsibility in a group to conduct outreach. As an organizer, I was responsible for casting a wide net in trying to recruit people to the table. I should do my best to be as “inclusive” as possible in my outreach and then whoever showed up is who I was responsible for working with. This was a liberating realization. From that moment on, whenever someone would say “we need to have more X involved in this meeting, event, or action,” my response was “You are so right. How are you planning to involve more X in this meeting, event, or action?” Even better is to ask: “What do you need for your recruitment of more X for this meeting, event, or action?”

Back to my point about it being just fine if Slutwalks were only organized by young white women and only attended by that same group… The truth is that these events have been organized by a multi-everything group of people and attended by a multi-everything group of people. I know for example that the organizers of Slutwalk Chicago have gone out of their way to reach out to many, many of us from different backgrounds and different political affiliations. For our own reasons, some of us have chosen to join the planning group, others have pledged to march, and others have chosen not to be involved. That’s all that we can ask for. On Feministing, Harsha Walia speaks to the diversity that she witnessed in the Vancouver march:

“By the time Slutwalk hit Vancouver on May 15, the debates had already been raging for weeks. I expected to see only a handful of women of colour, mothers and children, older women. I was surprised at the actual diversity on the streets, not captured by photographers seeking sensationalist images of bras and fish nets. There was no attempt to recruit everyone into one uniform vision of feminity, nor was there an overarching romanticization of ‘sluttiness’; sexual autonomy was being self-determined by each participant– as one placard read ‘Whether scantily dressed or fully dressed, clothing does not equal consent’. Most heartening was the significant number of teenagers, who are perhaps most pressured against affirming consent and are most impacted by self-shame and victim-blaming, and supporting their voices on the street was a critical gesture of solidarity.”

I am a black woman entering middle-age. I won’t be marching in the Chicago Slutwalk (for my own reasons) but I am really excited to know that it is taking place and I stand in solidarity with its organizers and its marchers. I hope that you welcome being the targets of drive-by pundits who couldn’t organize their way out of their own clothes closets. I hope that you know how important it is that you are staging PUBLIC actions to make your voices heard. I hope that you remain fearless and creative and with good humor in spite of the endless navel-gazing and supremely useless pontificating. It is that very navel-gazing and pontificating that has atrophied actual feminist ORGANIZING in the last decade. Finally, I hope that the people who are offering critiques (some very valid and many incredibly vapid) about Slutwalk will organize their OWN thing. As Michelangelo has said: “Critique by creating.” If you don’t like what Slutwalk is all about, make your own thing and do it now.

The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women.


Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Events, Organizing, Sexual assault, Slutwalk, Violence


Standing up to victim-blaming: Slutwalk Toronto

We have a lot to learn from efforts underway across the globe, and we’ll be featuring some of these efforts over the coming months.  Here’s our first.

We’ve seen a lot of victim blaming in the media lately — the New York Times blaming an 11 year old girl in Texas for being raped even garnered national attention  It’s rare that people take to the streets to protest victim-blaming, but that’s exactly what organizers in Toronto, Canada have done.

On April 3, over 1500 people rallied for the very first Toronto Slutwalk. Why a Slutwalk?  In response to victim-blaming by none other than the Toronto Police. On January 24th, a police representative told a group of students at York University that they could avoid sexual assault if they didn’t dress like “sluts.”  That’s right — once again, blaming young women for the violence they experience.

Here’s what the Slutwalk organizers have to say:

On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto Police gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

So on April 3, people of all backgrounds gathered in Toronto’s Queens Park and chanted,

“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.”

Right on.  One thing that’s great about this effort is that the organizers have refused to accept the individual police officer’s apology as an appropriate response, and are instead demanding systemic change.

The organizers are now supporting Slutwalks across Canada and even in the US — walks are scheduled for Boston, Dallas and Seattle.   What do you think?  Should Chicago be on the list?

Photo credits: Lyndsy D