The Slut Walk in New York City

October 1, 2011

“Yes mean yes, no means no. However we dress, wherever we go!”
“Down with the Silence, Stop the violence”
“What do we do when we’re under attack? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK”
“Consent is Sexy”
“Respect a woman. Be attracted to a woman. You can do both.”

These were the signs at the Slut Walk on Union Square in NYC today. Very scantily clad gorgeous young women, together with more moderately dressed older women (that would be me), even men dressed as scantily clad women all gathered to protest a culture that blames the victims of sexual violence.

Outrage, frustration, and grief have galvanized a growing number of women the world over. To quote Nancy Schwartzman (The Line Campaign), “Women have organized across the world, from Toronto to Buenos Aires to Mexico City, Kyrgizstan, and Morocco under the universal agreement that we, as women, have had enough.” She spoke thoughtfully about the thorny nature of the name “Slut Walk.” This has bothered me from the getgo, but it’s also gotten my attention and I guess that’s the point. Here’s her take on it: http://whereisyourline.org/2011/09/slutwalk-why-i-am-marching/

I showed up to Union Square, and watched as the prospect of provocatively dressed, pretty woman drew the media like flies to picnic food. As I write now, hours later, I don’t know where I stand on the Slut Walk. Rape is horrific. The perpetrators, not the victims, should be punished. How the victims were dressed should be irrelevant. These things should be self-evident. But evidently in our culture, they’re not.

We have women protesting in the streets, reclaiming the right to their own bodies. They are protesting for the right to wear whatever (and “fuck”—their term—whomever) they want, without being subjected to sexual violence. They are asking the good questions, like “Where do I go, if you ignore my NO and condemn my YES?” But I think we have a bigger problem than whether women can wear sexy clothes without getting raped. And it has to do with the fact that our society just basically does not value dignity or self-respect, and so doesn’t teach it. This is something I think is an essential ingredient for healing from this whole mess. Without it, we’re just slinging the same mud back and forth at one another.

For instance, in the protest march today, there was a pole dancer in an insanely sexy outfit, doing her thing on a rolling platform. When I saw her, I was confused, reluctant to be in this march with her. Perhaps that’s good. It confronted my own judgments about her line of work. But the question remains in me: how is she advancing the conversation about whether women should be punished for being victims of rape? I mean, if I step back from it, I think she’s saying, “I can be this sexual, and still you shouldn’t touch me.” But it brings up a really difficult question: how can we objectify ourselves (by celebrating pole-dancers) and then turn around and vilify men for objectifying us?

A man is not supposed to force himself on anyone—man, woman or child. Period. But writhing in front of him with an outfit specifically designed to elicit sexual activity—how does that help our cause? This is not a rhetorical question. It’s a real one. I want to know. Maybe Nancy Schwartzman will have an answer for me. But for now, I’m sitting with all these thoughts—grieving for the millions of woman and men who’ve been affected by sexual violence, and hoping we can evolve out of this mess. One self-respecting human at a time.