Breaking All The Taboos: The View from Inside SlutWalk DC

I know how uncomfortable SlutWalk makes people.  SlutWalk is brash, and it is unapologetic.  Its participants are loud and unapologetic.  They’re topless, they are in their underwear, they are holding bright signs with angry slogans.  The band that played this year was angry, and unafraid to get offensive.  SlutWalk is incredibly uncomfortable for America.

America could stand to be a little more uncomfortable a little more often.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being part of the SlutWalk DC 2012.  The photos of me at the rally have spread on Tumblr faster than I could have imagined, but I’m not sorry.  I couldn’t be prouder to have been there.  I was volunteering with the DC Rape Crisis Center, an organization that helps provide immediate and long-term counseling to survivors of sexual assault.  We were on site handing out materials and serving as a support system for survivors who were triggered by the testimonies at SlutWalk.

“Consent is Sexy”: SlutWalkers wave signs, dance, and scream on the National Mall, 8.11.12

So let me first talk, from the perspective of someone who works with survivors and who was at SlutWalk, about the experience of being at SlutWalk.  Because SlutWalk IS empowering.  Seeing so many people come together-~-seeing so many survivors come together-~-was incredible.  Our opening speaker (whose name eludes me just now and the agenda appears to be posted NOWHERE, but I’ll get back to you) gave an incredible speech about the need to claim and name.  To name what has happened, to name the perpetrators.  We saw an incredible example of this with Savannah Dietrich.  And she had everyone shout first their names and then the names of their perpetrators.  The woman next to me very clearly knew who her perpetrator was, and she was not afraid to say it-~-and to see so many women claiming this, and not having to be ashamed of it, was incredible.  To see so many women reference their own attacks (“drinking was not my crime, rape was his”) was powerful.

Because these women have nothing to be ashamed of.  They are strong.  They are beautiful.  They are survivors.

Another of the speakers from SlutWalk, an 18-year-old young woman who gave her speech in her underwear, used her speech to talk about slut shaming.  We’re so used to it that we’ve probably all done it.  But when we slut shame, all we do is externalize our internalized misogyny, and use it to tear down another woman.  All we are doing is perpetuating the patriarchy, the system that allows for this kind of violence to continue.  She also talked about the normalization of harassment, and the fact that as long as women, as long as society, continues to write off harassment and other negative behavior as “boys being boys”, we will never solve these problems.  As she so rightly pointed out, “A man who won’t take no for an answer in a non-sexual situation is far less likely to take no for an answer in a sexual situation”. Too true.

The other thing that she said that stuck out, that I think is worth sharing, is this: “Sex negative messages don’t stop people from having sex.  They stop them from having good sex.  They stop people from talking about sex.”  And when we don’t talk about sex, when we create these taboos, we prevent good communication between partners, between different individuals in society, and we let the line between consensual sex and rape become blurred.  We make it shameful to discuss rape, because discussing sex is so taboo.

And this is where SlutWalk truly comes in.  Because SlutWalk breaks ALL of the taboos.  It breaks the taboo on female sexuality, by allowing women to embrace it and to embrace it publicly.  All slut shaming is is society’s negative reaction to female sexuality-~-and that’s something that needs to stop.  Immediately.  Sex shouldn’t be something that men take and women give up or give in to. That mentality is too dangerous.  SlutWalk breaks the taboo on talking about sex, on talking about enjoying sex.  It breaks the taboo on dressing “scandalously” in public.  It’s glaring, and it’s unavoidable.  SlutWalk DC is held on the National Mall, next to the Washington Monument.  We got SO many glares from tourists.

We will not apologize.

Survivors are not the ones who need to apologize.

Most of all, SlutWalk breaks the taboo on talking about rape.  Because the truth is, people cringe away from discussing rape.  I saw the looks I got on the metro in my “occupy rape culture” t-shirt.  A woman actually said to me “I can’t believe

Above, I hold up a sign from the Lighthouse Center for Healing and wear my “occupy rape culture” t-shirt (as referenced) at SlutWalk DC

you would wear a shirt with that word.  There are children here”.  Sure.  And 1 in 6 children are raped before the age of 18.  What’s the real scandal: the fact that I wore a shirt with the word “rape” on it, or the epidemic of gender based violence in this country?  SlutWalk breaks the taboo on women talking about their own rapes.  It gives survivors to share their stories in front of everyone-~-in one of the testimonies, the survivor explained how she was sodomized against her will at a party, and the one person who had witnessed it and could save her investigation refused to talk to the police.  The police mishandled her case horribly, and when she reported it, her letter of complaint was given to one of the people she complained about to handle-~-so of course, nothing got done.  This kind of injustice NEEDS to be shared, and these stories NEED to be aired so that society can be forced to confront what is right in front of us.

SlutWalk is uncomfortable for a lot of people, but that is precisely what makes it powerful.  These taboos NEED to be broken, and if we continue to tiptoe around this issue, we will never be able to put an end to the incredible epidemic of violence we face.  We cannot continue to slut shame and victim blame.  It is not the SlutWalkers who need to apologize; it is the perpetrators who violated them, the officials who failed them, and the society that abandoned them.

1 in 3 women. 1 in 6 men. It is not the survivors who should be ashamed.  It is we as a society who should be apologizing, for keeping alive the norms that got us here.

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~ by Randi Saunders on August 12, 2012.

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