SlutWalks, as they’ve come to be known, are taking place internationally. The first, SlutWalk Toronto, was held in April and organized by Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis in response to the representative’s careless remarks, but they’ve since spread like wildfire in the U.S. and this past weekend the latest city to host the event was Los Angeles. Organized by Chelsea Delgadillo and 19-year-old college student Olga Ivesic, SlutWalk L.A. had approximately 1,000 attendees and was sponsored by various groups working towards sexual justice, including the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project, Butch Voices Los Angeles, and Planned Parenthood, among others.
Like many women who don’t identify as “straight” or “white,” I had preconceived notions about this movement and its reach. The Crunk Feminist Collective eloquently echoed my sentiments when they wrote of being incensed by the “how-dare-you-quality” of the SlutWalk protests, which to them, felt very much like “the protests of privileged white girls who still have an expectation that the world will treat them with dignity and respect.” My feelings exactly — then I actually attended SlutWalk Los Angeles on Saturday, June 4th and everything I thought I felt went flying out the window.
wants to share your stories! Email the blog manager for more information.]Ivesic fled Bosnia for the U.S. with her family when she was just seven-years-old and the war had a lasting effect on her. “One of the biggest instances of rape and sexual assault is during war and this really influenced me to become involved with SlutWalk,” Ivesic said. The college student will be the first to point out that just like any other grassroots movement, SlutWalk has its flaws, but she believes it’s constantly evolving and growing and is by no means the solution to all shaming of women in society.
Aware of the assumptions about the movement, Ivesic and Delgadillo set out to create a diverse group of guest speakers ranging in age, gender, sexual orientation, and race, including Ikoi Hiroe, a San Diego feminist activist, Alana Evans, porn star and rape survivor, Hugo Schwyzer, a co-organizer of the event and a women’s studies professor at Pasadena City College, and feminist activist Morgane Richardson, among others. One of the most powerful speakers was Evans who, for the first time, publicly discussed her rape. Evans introduced herself as a mother, a registered voter, and a patriotic citizen, characteristics that don’t matter, she said, when she reveals that she’s also a sex worker. At times Evans became emotional, but the crowd cheered her on and urged her to continue sharing her story. In moments like those it became impossible to see or feel the divides between races, sexual orientations, or genders because there were none. Very quickly it became apparent that SlutWalk wasn’t just about reclaiming a word that wasn’t particularly meaningful to some of us; it was an event that had become personally meaningful to many.
“Even as a SlutWalk organizer, I’ve struggled with the notion of entirely reclaiming the word ‘slut,’” Ivesic said. “Without a doubt, the word harnesses a lot of power for those who use it to degrade others and personally as a young woman growing up in society today, slut bashing and shaming is extremely prevalent. It not only provides men with the power to degrade women, but it also encourages women to degrade other women. I believe the first step in ending rape culture is to end woman-on-woman hatred, and that’s one of the main goals of SlutWalk for me.”
This is something that was echoed by 15-year-old attendee Christina Anaya, who says the word “slut” is most often used by other girls at her school and not by her male classmates. Regardless of whether or not a female classmate is sexually active, let alone promiscuous, girls throw the word around in reference to girls who have many male friends or who seem “too confident.”
In many ways, SlutWalk has managed to spark conversations in the feminist community that are long overdue. From the diversity (or lack thereof) of feminist movements to woman-on-woman hate, one of the least-touched-upon subjects is the role that straight men play in feminism. Schwyzer, a passionate teacher and self-described male feminist, was gripped by the SlutWalk movement because it addressed sexual justice in a comprehensive way and he wanted to step up and prove that straight men can be allies and lovers.
“We can be sexually attracted to women and strongly heterosexually-inclined and still be safe, empathetic, and want justice for women,” Schwyzer said. “Because we’re heterosexual, it doesn’t mean that you can’t trust us. Rape and aggression aren’t biological truths of testosterone. Straight men need to be up front about safety and address the concerns that women have about allowing them in their movement. Men have to make it clear that their involvement isn’t some weird strategy to meet people or a creative way to get laid.”
Like Ivesic, Schwyzer understands why some women of color, especially in areas of Southern California, were unwilling to get on board with SlutWalk. “The freedom to be openly, assertively sexual isn’t a top priority for communities facing poverty and deportation, but it’s important to point out that there is no culture, community, or country where rape and slut shaming do not occur,” Schwyzer said. “One person’s lyric is another’s obscenity; one person’s defamation is another’s empowerment. Women went through the same thing with the word ‘bitch.’ Different people have different experiences. It’s possible for women to reclaim ‘slut,’ but that’s not what this is about.”
The “freedom to be openly and assertively” sexual is still something that even the most open of us struggle with. Handfuls of female SlutWalk attendees wore nothing more than panties, bras, and high heels and many, like myself, looked- and then looked away in embarrassment. Seeing a confident, attractive woman wearing next to nothing in broad daylight is still so jarring. For many of us, overt female sexuality is still shocking.
After walking around West Hollywood Park and seeing young women holding signs that referenced their childhood rapes, it was difficult to think of a single reason why SlutWalk wasn’t important or meaningful and I felt my reservations about the movement sliding away. Speaking to attendees like Mandy Burgundy, a 34-year-old trans woman who is harassed daily because of her style of dress, or Lillian Behrendt, a 21-year-old who bravely admitted to being sexually assaulted three times, really put things into perspective. Behrendt actually wasn’t going to attend the event, but as she read more about it, it began to feel more personal.
“Every time I was sexually assaulted, it felt like my fault,” Behrendt said. “When I was first raped at the age of eight, that was the conclusion that I came to, but no one said it was my fault. Because of the culture we live in, I knew instinctively to blame myself for what happened. Victim blaming in not acceptable, it doesn’t matter who the victim is. Slut shaming is not ok, all it does is support and perpetuate rape culture. I’m doing this for personal reasons. Maybe I don’t unanimously support the SlutWalk message, but this is a start for a lot of us.”