why slutwalk matters

Zoe Nicholson is a women’s rights and LGBT activist and one of my feminist heroes.  I’m also very fortunate to be able to call her a personal friend.  In 1982, Zoe fasted for 37 days in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (and wrote about it in her memoir, The Hungry Heart).  Last year she was forcibly removed from a public forum by President Obama’s security team for speaking up against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and recently she was featured in the documentary March On! about the fight for marriage rights.  Zoe spoke at the West Hollywood SlutWalk a couple of weeks ago, and when I asked her to write about it for Cartoon Heart, she happily obliged:


On the phone last week, with a very prominent woman who is president of a very famous organization, I almost lost it. I told her I was really proud to have spoken at SlutWalk Los Angeles, and she said she could not support anything with the word “slut” in it. EXACTLY THE POINT, I shouted. Whoa, I didn’t mean to shout, but really, really.

I have the good fortune to be 62, which places me right in the middle of two different waves of American women. I am not old enough to be a founder of the Second Wave of the women’s movement (ends in 1975), and I am young enough to be plugged in to the intersecting highway of the modern day equality movement. Mostly I find myself with a foot in each, serving as a translator, but some days, when they are missing one another entirely, I do just freak out.

I have been trying to figure out what is the crux of the problem, and I think it is that each of these generations of women have different history, different tools and entirely different issues. In 1966 a woman needed a man’s signature for a mortgage and could not get a credit card. There were no women’s studies classes or women’s health clinics. Back then gender was called sex and there were only two varieties talked about in polite circles. Today there are a lot more than two genders and they can change on a daily basis. Today women can sign contracts, have lots of credit/debt and, in some states, can marry one another. And today the primary issue for women, everywhere in the world, is safety. From lights on campus, to office politics, to trafficking, to ethnic cleansing; sexual assault is the #1 problem all women face around the globe.

However, something really interesting is happening in the Global Safety Movement: women are rising up. In Mangalore, India, the pink chaddi action was started by a group of young women who were threatened with marriages if they went to pubs. Women mailed thousands of pink panties in protest as the word spread around the world through facebook and twitter. In Uttar Pradesh, North of India, Sampat Devi Pal founded the Gulabi Gang, a gang of women in pink saris who help women who are trapped in domestic abuse. If it is known that a woman is being beaten by her husband or his family, the gang shows up at the door in their pink saris, carrying bamboo sticks, ready to return the beating blow for blow.

And now, closer to home, we have seen the amazing phenomenon known as SlutWalk.  On January 24th, 2011, a Toronto police officer said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This single sentence has lit up minds and streets around the world. Never has the earth seen such an organic, instant, global response. No corporate sponsor, no newspaper, no celebrity; only social media and thousands of people who declare enough is enough. NO IS NO. No is ALWAYS No.


Zoe speaking at SlutWalk West Hollywood on June 4, 2011.

From Toronto to Amsterdam, from Boston to Melbourne, from Buenos Aires to, upcoming, India — it appears that earthlings are coalescing to say enough is enough.  And to an activist like me, the big news is that the community of humanity is able to rise up in a cause just because they got the news about an action they can relate to. It doesn’t require an expensive campaign or months of planning. It unfolded around the globe organically; mostly by college kids. That is thrilling.

People have come together to say that what you wear, how you walk, where you are, how drunk you are, even if you want to stop in the middle — No means No.  If you are a baby, a senior, a patient, a sex worker — No means No. If you are in a school, a bed, basement, a church or a prison — No means No.

Calls us sluts, we don’t care. But we got the memo and now you do too – NO ALWAYS MEANS NO.

You can keep up with Zoe via her website, Online With Zoe, and on Twitter @onlinewithzoe.

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7 responses to “why slutwalk matters

  1. First off I just want to say I agree with everything you’ve said here about Slut Walks and I generally support the events and would attend one if it occurred in my city. However, you fail to mention how the events are a very Western, cis-female event. They do not account for those who do not dress “slutty” and are still sexually assaulted (e.g. What about Muslim women? Or men? Or Trans persons?). They also imply that “slutty” women are the primary recipients/victims of sexual assault, and fail to acknowledge that a woman can be conventionally “unattractive,” “ugly,” “masculine,” etc. and still be assaulted. Sexual assault, and especially rape, has absolutely nothing to do with physical attraction or how a woman dresses, ANYONE can experience sexual assault, and Slut Walks, while empowering on one level, reiterate the idea that primarily women who appear a certain way experience sexual assault. There needs to be something better.

  2. This is so beautifully written and hits the nail on the head.

  3. Thanks for reading my blog. I appreciate it and your thoughts on SlutWalk. I think if you hear my speech, you will find I explicitly include lgbt, men, people in wheelchairs, in nursing homes and this piece includes babies. LA SlutWalk was at least 40 men with lots of gays.
    I hope that my representation of the SlutWalk movement serves to advocate for everyone, I really mean it to, I really work on that, I am here to learn.

  4. Pingback: Why a SlutWalk in India needs to happen « the mad period woman

  5. I think this is brilliant. I have been very much so on the fence about the Slutwalk, mainly because I have had my own issue with the word. I am starting to open up to the idea. As a pretty staunch feminist, I still feel hesitation on owning words such as “slut” or “bitch” but I think this is such a strong movement and the word is so crucial. While Slutwalk doesn’t change legislation, it is important to get the gears turning to start informing people and making society realize that no ALWAYS means no.

  6. Thank you so much for this, Zoe–brilliant as always! I am going to repost this at SlutWalk Minneapolis.

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