The din of excitement and laughter, mixed with a crowd-wide feeling of compulsion to just be present flowed through the sun-filled Boston Common. Markers flitted across poster-board, buttons punctured t-shirts, cameras flashed, and pens scribbled answers to invigorating questions. Cell phones reminded others to locate their friends and one could almost feel the tweets flinging through whatever through which they fling. It felt like almost any other May-time Saturday rally, the only difference being that the nearly 2,000 people at this particular rally were partially naked.
This is the freshly constructed environment of a Slut Walk, an international series of marches that originated in Toronto, Canada in April of this year protesting rape-culture and slut shaming. The marchers were a human grab bag of diversity, gathered together under a flag of respect and equality – straight women in corsets, trans-genders in fishnets, husbands in feathered boas, and boys in lingerie. Sprinkled in were also a collection of just jeans and t-shirts or just bras and underwear. Regardless of what they were wearing, they were beautiful, brave, and they were the warriors of victimizing, victim blaming, and the horrors of rape.
The currents of the Slut Walk began to pulse when a police officer, Michael Sanguinetti, said to a room full of students at a lecture on safety at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada, that in order to avoid getting raped or being victimized women should not “dress like sluts.” Although, Sanguinetti did eventually submit a written apology to the college (Kwan, Raymond), his words ignited a flame that would soon begin to grow into a fire.
Sonya Barnett, 38, and Heather Jarvis, 25, along with a group of friends created Slut Walk Toronto, the original Slut Walk that would prove to be the beginning of something much larger than these women ever expected it to be. After the Toronto march in April, satellite marches began to pop up all over Canada and the United States, closely followed by the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand. The velocity with which the satellite marches were organized and held, sadly proved that rape-culture is prevalent all over the world.
In Boston this weekend, some protested against the global acceptance of rape, others screamed for the reclaiming of sluthood. Vanessa White of Somerville, Massachusetts divulged to AP that for her, the protest was “an attempt to reclaim the word ‘slut’ itself, because once you reclaim it, you take the power away from it.”
I told the Boston Herald on Saturday that I was raped in 2007, during my senior year of high school. The Slut Walk is an important cause to me because it’s so personal. I’m tired of rape culture, and victimizing. As I said to that reporter, just because I want to go out and have a good time doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with me.
The coordinators and participants of these Slut Walks are attempting to convey a number of messages, including the abolition of victim blaming and slut shaming, a redefining of the word “slut,” and the birth of a new outlook on rape that has yet to have been taught. Hilary Beaumont, a feminist philosopher, has written that “society teaches; don’t get raped rather than don’t rape.” This societal message that teaches rape survivors that they themselves are responsible for the wrongs done to them or that they were “asking for it.”
Thoughts like these are the foundation of Slut Walk’s fight against slut shaming. Feminist writer, activist, and keynote post-march speaker of Slut Walk Boston, Jaclyn Friedman wrote, “Sluthood isn’t a disease, or a wrong path, or a trend that’s ruining our youth. It isn’t just for detached, unemotional women who ‘fuck like men,’ (as if that actually meant something), consequences be damned.” Friedman continued to support this chain of thought in her speech on the bandstand at the Common, stating that one should never be ashamed of what she believes to be very human; that we are sexual beings and that people should thank “sluts” for putting more happiness and passion into an unhappy world.
Among the most influential of speakers of Slut Walk Boston were the participants; from chants to inspirational reasoning for marching, every single person in attendance had something to say. A number of chants rose from the stream of voices circumnavigating the Common, some brought down from the streets of Toronto, others fresh thoughts of New Englanders:
“Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Misogyny has got to go!”
“However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”
“Who loves sluts? We love sluts!”
Walking through the crowd, I could overhear the stories and aspirations of many participants who were being interviewed by the various journalists from Associated Press, The Boston Herald, and The New York Times. Typical questions posed were “Why is this an important cause for you?” and “what do you hope to achieve from showing your support today?” Just as extensive as the variety of the attendants was the variety of each person’s goals for and thoughts on being there, some standing primarily against rape culture, such as Ben Atherton-Zeman of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism who said that “most rape is committed by men, so it’s our responsibility to stand up against it.”
Slut Walk and its marchers are bringing awareness to the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the United States. According to statistics made available by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of every six women in the United States has been raped, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, according to a statistical average of the past five years and factoring in unreported rapes, only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail.
Slut Walk has hopes of changing the tone in which rape is spoken, bringing a sense of confidence and self-importance to survivors so that they may no longer live in fear of judgment and ridicule for exposing their assaulters.
As the event came to a close, it began to rain. The marchers stood, united. They could feel the rain making its way down their bodies and into the grass beneath their feet. To me, it signified fresh growth and a spring of a new societal standard, a changing of minds and a turning of viewpoint. They were glowing with triumph before they began to scatter, taking with them the pride of having their voices heard and their thoughts, previously hidden behind shame and grief, brought to life. The road to enduring change in an old and cataract-ridden outlook is a long one, wrought with both tribulation and victory.
Written by Natalie Olbrych.
Photos and Video by Jason Potteiger for TNGG