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After helping to put on SlutWalk here in Baltimore, those involved were asked to address some of the criticisms aimed at the entire SlutWalk movement, as well as our local event, on our Facebook page. Some were warranted and absolutely worthy of deeper conversation, but unfortunately some were not. What follows is my response to an off-base argument that implies SlutWalk (even the positive outcomes of empowerment, consciousness-raising and ally-involvement) is not worth saving or appropriating.
FINDING SOLIDARITY THROUGH SLUTWALK
Written by Shawna Potter, director of Hollaback Bmore!
(Trigger warning: discussion and use of the terms of sexual abuse)
As one of the SlutWalk Baltimore (SWB) organizers—one chapter of the worldwide movement to end victim-blaming of sexual assault survivors—I must respond to Cathy Brennan’s piece in OUTLoud’s October 7th issue. Brennan’s rape comparison, suggestion that empowering women has no place in the anti-violence movement, and insensitivity to the original SlutWalk Toronto organizers’ survivor status (suggesting they organized SlutWalk to sell merchandise) seems straight out of a men’s magazine, not a safe space like OUTLoud.
In my response, I want to dispel some myths and ask for cooperation among those in Baltimore’s feminist community. For us, this isn’t about one day, one march, or an admittedly controversial name. It’s about two common desires: to change the way sexual assault victims are viewed, and to make Baltimore even better.
To organize SWB, I collaborated with Alana Smith of the International Socialist Organization (Baltimore chapter), and Brennan Lester – an enthusiastic, albeit young, activist. Following our successful SlutWalk event in Baltimore on September 17, Ms. Brennan wrote an op-ed about SWB, referencing the creepy/tongue-in-cheek (and rarely used) screen handle of Lester (“molester”), who thought it was funny when he created it. If you’ve ever met a 16 year old boy, then you might understand. Alana and I believe his prompt public apology was sincere and his commitment to advancing the cause of women’s rights is genuine, obvious to anyone who has met him. We also know that real molesters do not call themselves out on the Internet like that, nor do they help plan anti-sexual assault/anti-victim blaming marches. However, Lester’s past ignorance, including the regrettable play on his last name, prompted Brennan to label him a chauvinist, and assert that SWB was not an authentic feminist event (referring to it as “astroturf”). Conversely, we believe people can change, otherwise what’s all this consciousness-raising for?
Following her post, Ms. Brennan emailed SWB organizers with one question for her upcoming article: Which organizations endorsed SWB? While we were hesitant to respond in light of her recent confrontational comments, we cooperated by providing a list of organizations that we contacted during event planning. We told her truthfully that most either declined participation (because of the controversial name) or just never responded. National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) was on our list, and although their official stance toward SlutWalk is “neutral,” they did allow us to insert flyers in “swag-bags” at the National Sexual Assault Conference, held in Baltimore the day before SWB, as a “potential thing to do” in the area. For an issue of semantics (still riding the learning curve of professional activism, I referred to organizations that helped out as “endorsing” SWB) Brennan presented us as untruthful in her article. I do apologize for any unintentional misrepresentation of the NSVRC and hope this does not deter them from working with young activists in the future.
Brennan also accused SWB of mocking our sisters in Baltimore’s sex workers community, which is deeply offensive and factually untrue. We set out to prove that no matter how someone dresses, or where they work, no one deserves to be assaulted. If Brennan had attended our walk, she would have seen many sex workers come out of local strip clubs and smiling, waving, and chanting with us in solidarity.
Despite her critiques, Brennan did get something right: we believe “SlutWalk counts as the first event in years to energize the women’s rights movement.” Participants can attest to the contagious energy at SWB. Like it or not, it was bigger than most Take Back the Night events, and for good reason: it is defiant and celebratory, and there are no feminist theory prerequisites to get involved. We do recognize that this movement would never have been possible without the groundwork laid by our many fore-feminists, but any movement that inspires people to work together to end sexual assault should be taken seriously and is worth improving.
This brings us to the well-deserved critiques that the movement is not inclusive of women of color. As organizers, we knew our message was authentic: Blame the rapist, not the victim. But regardless of the positive intentions behind SlutWalk, whether in Baltimore, New Delhi, or Lima, if diversity is lacking, the power of the movement will be limited. It is our vision that anti-racism will become a natural component of feminism, and we know that it will take listening, learning, and a lot of work to get there. After SWB, we now have a much greater understanding that creating an inclusive environment is a life-long practice — but also that we can‘t do it alone. We’re not asking to set aside our disagreements, but to discuss them while uniting to work together in solidarity — think of the power! We hope that new feminists who were excited to be part of SlutWalk will not be turned away from making connections with experienced local activists, including women of color, just because we don’t always get things right. Surely Ms. Brennan will agree that attacks and defenses are not a productive way forward. Let’s treat each other with the respect, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity that we demand from others. Let’s remember that we are on the same side.
We’re fans of the xojane site, especially when they conquer big social topics in a way young girls can relate to. After sharing “It Happened to Me: I was Groped” on our Facebook page, we got a few comments from local Bmore ladies about being groped. Just goes to show it can happen anywhere, not just on a crowded NYC subway car!
Einnob’s story: I had something similar happen to me in a liquor store with a group of 3 male teenagers. They surrounded me and grabbed my butt as a went to pass them, then they laughed. I didn’t go in the store again.
Laura’s story: I was once groped while I was riding a bicycle and he was riding a scooter. Besides being actually kind of impressed by his skills (he should join the circus!) I thought that since I had his license plate number and we could easily have ended up in a heap of twisted metal, and it happened just outside my home, that people would be interested. Oddly, my perpetrator really sped up as he fled also… I wondered what he thought I was going to be able to do on my bicycle. I had the same reaction of being kind of amused at the ridiculousness, but at the same time feeling furious and violated (and speeding up myself as if I could catch him, yelling, etc.)
So remember, when these incidents happen to you, share them directly on our website so we can geo-track them on our map! The more recorded data we have (even from anonymous sources) the easier our fight to end street harassment will be. As for the misguided people out there with neutral intentions, they are relying on you to change their perception of street harassment. They need to know how it makes real human beings feel, and that we’re not all just ‘asking for it.’