They came from as far away as San Diego and Delaware to participate in SlutWalk, holding signs that read CONSENT IS SEXY and WE DEMAND RESPECT. This was part of a wave of protests initiated in April in Toronto and continuing with additional walks in Australia, Chicago, and London. SlutWalk’s ostensible purpose is to protest associations between rape and appearance. Women (and some men) dress slutty in an attempt to take back the word.
“I think it’s going to have a definite impact on the people who we can talk to and who we can reach out to,” said Andrea, part of a group of fifty women who identified themselves as the Delaware Sluts. “Because so many people think that women are raped because of the way they dress or the way they present themselves. Or they’re too drunk. But, you know, that’s not always the case.”
On Saturday morning, many hundreds gathered in Union Square to bring this movement to New York City. I decided to attend because I was curious about the philosophical overlap between SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street.
I was to discover some startling differences. When I began talking with people last week at Occupy Wall Street, a guy there slipped me his business card (containing a phone number right after “Press Inquiries”) without comment. I very much appreciated the swift nonchalance and unintrusive nature of this gesture. But when I wandered around with my microphone seeking to understand the SlutWalkers, I was informed by three separate people (one identifying herself as a “media coordinator”) that there was a media scrum on at 11:45. I observed another journalist get into a five minute discussion about the interview availability of one of the main organizers. The journalist was informed that the organizer’s schedule was quite busy.
It was as if the SlutWalk organizers were top-level politicians or entertainment figures who had to approve every interview request. Quite frankly, I didn’t have time for this. And I certainly didn’t experience anything like this at Occupy Wall Street. So I just walked around and talked with people.
This top brass tendency to drown out the very people who wanted to listen or have a conversation reached a comical crescendo when I talked with a very thoughtful participant named Jen, who was holding an endearingly geeky sign reading </patriarchy>. She had helped to organize SlutWalk San Diego.
As we were discussing protesting issues, another SlutWalk lieutenant — standing only a few feet away from us — boomed “Attention all media! We’re going to be having a media scrum in five minutes on the steps!” into her amplification device without warning. Second later, there was another “Attention all media!” from another lieutenant. This left Jen and I desperately seeking intermittent thirty second pockets to talk, hoping that the lieutenants weren’t going to bark over our conversation, which involved whether a political protest with a narrow message could attract the same 99 percent involved against Wall Street.
Despite the martinet-minded organizers, most of the SlutWalkers didn’t prepare their signs in advance. The majority affixed marker to board shortly before their participation. It was almost as if they wanted to write out the first thing that came to their minds. I couldn’t help but compare this against some of the cardboard placards that had been placed in Zuccotti Park with more permanent messages in mind.
There was a fair amount of media at SlutWalk NYC. I liked the 1010 WINS reporter, who asked many thoughtful questions. I wasn’t impressed with the CNN crew, who proved so lazy that, when the WINS reporter was interviewing a SlutWalker at length, the CNN crew propped his camera up and hoped to siphon off the WINS reporter’s labor. Suddenly there were two mikes recording the woman’s words. I felt compelled to insert my own mike into the shot to make the woman look more important on screen. You can listen to what I recorded of the WINS exchange here:
As seen by the way that the young man in the blue jacket checks out women in the above photograph, one little discussed aspect of the SlutWalk is the male gaze. I tried chasing this guy down after I had taken this photo. I wondered if his clipboard meant that he was an organizer or possibly a member of the media. It’s possible that his gaze was innocuous or that he was lost in thought.
Why is this important? Because I overheard a separate conversation between three young men on the perimeter of the protesting area. They didn’t know what the walk was all about. One of them, wearing an orange hoodie, shouted, “They say that women get raped because of what they wear. No, it’s because they crazy loons! If I’m in the jungle at two in the morning, there shouldn’t be crazy loons out there.” The man in the orange hoodie kept enunciating “crazy loons.” I tried to approach this man for a radio interview, curious if he could elaborate on his point and his curious redundancy, but he swiftly disappeared.
“Stop the rapes! It’s a global epidemic around the world! From babies — yes, babies are raped — to grannies! And that’s around the world! And in New York City, we have a rape epidemic! Rapes are up. The stats on rapes are up. And yet rapes are under reported. Because women don’t want to be cross-examined by Joe Tacopina and Chad Siegel. Women don’t want their vaginas compared to a Venus flytrap!”
This protester was especially vociferous in her tone. You can listen to some of her speech here:
I was fortunate to meet Becky, another of the Delaware Sluts. She helped me clarify the origin of the group. I was grateful to learn that the Delaware Sluts was part of an on-campus feminist group called The V-Day Club. The group performs The Vagina Monologues every year to raise money for women’s charities. Hearing of the SlutWalk, they brought the whole group up via bus. Becky also told me that online mobilization was one of the reasons she and her friends were here.
“I read feminist blogs and stuff on the Internet,” said Becky. “And I know that a lot of other people in the organization do too. So I think a lot of people just found it by themselves and then came together through that.”
It sounded to me that, for many who were at Union Square, SlutWalk had come together in a manner not unlike Occupy Wall Street.
Becky confessed to me that she didn’t know a lot of details about Occupy Wall Street. She was still playing catchup.
“I’ve been reading a little bit about it just over the past week,” she said. “But it’s very basic information on my part. I don’t think that anybody feels that we can’t co-exist. I mean, issues are issues. But everybody needs to go out there and be heart. I don’t think it’s really diverting attention from either one.”
But while Becky expressed a desire for peaceful unity between SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street, I began to discover some unanticipated fissures. In search of SlutWalkers who didn’t fit into the demographic of mostly young women, I discovered a middle-aged couple named Murray and Sandy. Both were dressed up for the SlutWalk.
I asked them about Occupy Wall Street.
“I’m very aware of it,” said Murray. “I have a number of friends there. I think the message here is perhaps a little more clear and direct. Over there, it’s a little muddied. But, you know, we definitely wish them luck.”
“I’m not sure why they’re there,” interjected Sandy. “I mean, I know the economy sucks. But I’m not sure what picketing Wall Street is going to, you know, do to help the economy.”
I asked them why they thought the Slutwalk message was clearer than the Occupy Wall Street message.
“Cause this kind of stuff has been going on for as long as I’ve been alive, I think,” answered Sandy, who told me later that she used to work in Wall Street. (She also said later that she approved of Mayor Bloomberg’s parochial statement about bankers struggling to make ends meet.) “That women get accused of inviting rape or whatever by the way that they’re dressed.”
“This is an event that started from an idea with a message,” said Murray, “whereas Occupy Wall Street, I think, just came from…”
Sandy: “General dissatisfaction.”
Murray: “Let’s just go make noise and see what happens.”
When I pressed both of them further on their characterization of Occupy Wall Street as “just noise,” Murray defended SlutWalk as a permanent event and a planned event.
“It’s reasonable to work with authorities on something like this,” he said. “You want to find a compromise. We do have free speech in this society. And for the most part, it is granted. You just have to make compromises to make it work. And I think this is what happens when you make compromises. When you just kind of start showing up, you’re going to get a mass like you have down at Wall Street.”
You can listen to the fascinating five minute exchange I had with Murray and Sandy here:
There seemed to me a very conservative thrust to the type of protesting Murray and Sandy were talking about. Occupy Wall Street’s message, while very general, had nevertheless managed to be more inclusive to the public. By contrast, SlutWalk’s more narrowly defined message caused about 500 people to show up on Saturday afternoon.
Yet SlutWalk’s “more clear and direct” message had also attracted participants like Veronica — another member of the Delaware Sluts. Veronica wore very little. When I asked Veronica if I could take her picture, she said, “No thank you.” (During our conversation, she told another person not to photograph her.) When I asked her why she was dressed the way that she had, she told me, “Well, I like how my body is. I love my body and I think I deserve the right to display it the way I want and not be judged because of it.” She told me that SlutWalk hadn’t pushed her over the edge on the issue of judgment and appearance, but that “guys at my college pushed me over the edge on that issue. I’m glad that we have this organization where we can display this dislike of people’s judgments.”