On Oct. 1 nearly 3000 women marched and rallied at Union Square in New York City to protest rape culture, violence against women, and sexual shaming. It was a well-built, well-organized, and militant demonstration, inspired by the SlutWalks that have occurred in scores of cities around the country and the globe.
The marchers were youthful, multinational, driven by personal experience with the “new sexism,” and fueled by an outrage born of two recent New York City rape cases. In the first, hotel worker Nafissatou Diallo was denied even a trial of the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In the second, police officers Franklin Matta and Kenneth Moro were acquitted of the repeated rape of a woman they had been called to help, even though forensics and cameras established their guilt.
“NYPD, we know you! You’re racist, sexist, and rapists, too!” chanted the marchers as they wound around the cities streets. Others carried signs and banners that said, “Blame the System, Not the Victim!” This focus on the police and the system registered the possibility that an effective movement may be in birth against violence against women—a movement that is sophisticated enough to craft demands and an organizing culture that is attractive to millions of women, including those in communities wracked by the school to prison pipeline and mass incarceration.
Since its beginnings in Toronto in early 2011, when a police officer insulted a group of campus women by suggesting that if they wanted to safe from rape, “they should quit dressing like sluts,” the SlutWalk brand has been controversial. Initial organizers were eager to divest the word of its power to shame the victims of violent sexual attacks.
In addition to protesting a culture that seems to promote rape and shame sexually active women, some of the early organizers announced that they would call their action a SlutWalk and attempt to subversively reclaim the word for their own liberation.
The marches became a media sensation, and women eager to protest violence against women and sexual shaming came together in city after city. But protests were raised about this strategy; many organizers agreed but were worried about losing the enthusiasm and momentum that had been generated by the SlutWalk phenomenon. So the general rule has been to keep the name and attempt to address in the rallies and marches all the issues and concerns raised about the general approach.
For example, in New York City, while some young women chose to embrace the slut word and don sexualized costumes to mock the virgin/whore dichotomy so persistent in U.S. culture, others stood quietly, dressed in sweats or business suits, with signs that read, “This is what I was wearing when I was raped.” The incongruity in tone was jarring but expressive of the real diversity in the movement, as it now exists. Many are wondering if it can grow even further in the direction of the “multi-national, multi-gender, multi-ethnic” ideal that New York City organizers are striving for.
Just before the New York march, Black Women’s Blueprint published a sisterly open letter to the NYC Slutwalk in the Huffington Post and on other sites, saying that Black women could never join a march to reclaim the slut word. On the other hand, they reached out to the New York organizers and expressed their eagerness to join together to discuss a “more critical and sustainable plan” for a movement that says no to violence against women.
NYC SlutWalk organizers responded in kind, announcing at the rally the first of a series of meetings with the Black Women’s Blueprint and any other activists who wanted to discuss the kind of movement that is necessary. In an online report-back of that meeting, NYC SlutWalk said that it was “honest, intense, challenging, occasionally painful, and very needed.” Further meetings are planned.
> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and first appeared in the November 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.