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Emily Johnson: SlutWalk Chicago: By Any Other Name?

June 24, 2011

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The essential point of this march is that people must be the subject and not the object in our own lives.

By **Emily Johnson**


emily johnson.jpgThe first thing I saw when I got off the train at Clark and Lake in Chicago was a beautiful young woman in a tiny black skirt and a black bikini halter-top. She looked like a streetwalker, and I got a little thrill. She was walking beside a short, boyish dyke. The tourists behind them smiled and pointed, but I knew where they were going.

On Facebook some critics denounced the name. “Slutwalk just cheapens and dilutes the cause.” “I support the idea behind this but not the title or people encouraging other people to dress sleazy.”

But they don’t say whose cause.

So as I walked, not that sluttily dressed myself, I asked people why they were walking.

SlutWalk Chicago is minimally defined as a march in support of women’s rights, but it is strongly anti-victim blaming and shaming. It is a spinoff of SlutWalk Toronto, which was initiated when a representative of the Toronto Police Service was quoted saying, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” It’s a march in support of education and against intolerance.

Here’s the official line, from the website of SlutWalk Chicago:

“SlutWalk Chicago aims to combat the myth of ‘the slut’ and the culture of victim blaming that prevails the world over. Our mission is to enforce the truth that those who experience sexual assault are never at fault-no exceptions. We seek to combat a culture that teaches ‘don’t get raped,’ as opposed to ‘don’t rape.’”

While the name must have deterred some, by taking a provocative stand it attracted more devotion from those who did participate.

If it hadn’t been called Slutwalk, it would have not attracted SWOP, Sexual Workers Outreach Project, a sex-worker advocacy group. They said as much, and that made me very happy. I ended the walk, which according to some guesstimates numbered around 2,000 people, with that group.

“I’m glad I decided not to wear my stripper heels,” one woman told me. Very sensible, I agreed. A young man walked in front of us alone, wearing his stilettos proudly. Someone yelled out “Free Porn”! And the spokesman of SWOP told me, “No! We’re not for free porn. We’re for people getting paid for porn!” “All I want is a raise!” one sex worker (not sure which kind) told me. I began to see how the Marxists dotted amongst the crowd also fit in here.

Workers rights aside, the essential point is that people must possess their own sexuality, proudly, unreservedly. To be the subject and not the object in their own lives. To see the difference between that, and fear-based behaviors—avoiding becoming a target, making women responsible for “holding out” or “giving in,” being ready to say yes as well as no.

That Toronto police officer must be eating his words by now.

And for all the people who found the terminology off-putting, I talked to many young women who said something like, “I heard about this thing called SlutWalk, and I just said, ‘Yep, I’m going.’” While the name must have deterred some, by taking a provocative stand it attracted more devotion from those who did participate.

“I like it because ‘Yes means yes’ is just as important as ‘No means no’!”

“I was called a slut and that I’d asked for it when my boyfriend forced me in high school.”

One polyamorist told me, “I’m for the idea of ethical slutdom, that sex feels good, so we must question why the dominant culture dislikes the idea of a slut.”

A kind of take-back-the-term empowerment crackled in the air, and the girls in fishnets and boys in heels all seemed to blossom for this cause.

If there was any fear of a stale feminist rally, the term slut practically, easily guaranteed that this wasn’t the case.

Truckers beeped, and one guy joked, “I know they’re honking because they like sluts, but also I like to think it’s a little bit of solidarity with our cause.”

Copyright 2011 Emily Johnson

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Emily Johnson is a writer and pro bono philosopher living in Chicago. Some of her published work is available online at emjohnson.net.

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