Madison SlutWalk Small on First Take; Participants Hoping for Big Reprise in September
Post by Adrian Sullivan on 6/28/2011 10:00am
On June 19, Madison was host to its own SlutWalk, an event inspired by thousands of citizens of Toronto who took to the streets en masse to protest a law enforcement officer’s statement that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Since then, SlutWalks have sprung up in cities across the United States, protesting not just that one statement, but a long history of blaming victims of sexual assault.
There were nearly 300 people signed up for the Madison Slut Walk on its Facebook page by the day of the event. There were perennial progressive activists, gender scholars, sociologists, LGBT advocates, burlesque performers, and the loudly, proudly promiscuous, all signing up to say, “Hello, conservatives and morality police! The problem is not the choice of clothing for those who are the victims of sexual violence. The problem is a culture which does not take rape and other sexual violence seriously enough.”
Only a small sliver of that 300 showed up in Library Mall that day, though. Many, I’m sure, simply forgot about the event; at least via the Facebook page, there was never a reminder e-mail from event organizers to potential attendees. I know I actually would have missed it had my partner not reminded me.
My partner and I arrived just in time to make the official start time of the march, our “Stop Slut Shaming” sign in hand, to join a small group in the middle of Library Mall. We delayed for about half-an-hour, mostly, I think, just trying to build up even a few more bodies to our small group. There was little sense of organization, and I really didn’t know who was in charge. No one spoke to those who had gathered to rally us.
The actually beginning of the march was hard to mark. One man milling about moved a few steps towards the capitol, and I think I heard him quietly murmur a call to start marching, but I really wasn’t certain. Looking around, I could see he had begun to make uncertain steps towards the capitol, but no one seemed to realize that this was a “start”. I remember saying something like, “Um, I think he’s starting,” in an attempt to keep a connection between what few people we had and the people who might be leading the event, and we all somewhat awkwardly gathered up and began to march.
I think this moment perfectly captured the problem of the Madison Slut Walk: it didn’t have active leadership focusing the potential energy of the group. Some chants were called out which had been seemingly culled together at the last minute by what people could remember from Take Back the Night rallies. While I could certainly be wrong about this, it didn’t actually seem like it was something that was prepared by anyone, but rather it seemed like someone among us realized that we needed something to chant, and so stepped up as best they could to fill the void.
Marching up the street, the haphazard nature of the organizing was even more clear. Some chants seemed poorly chosen. “This is what a feminist looks like,” for example, is a better chant when your group is large and diverse. When chanted by such a small group of primarily white college-age women, it is a poor choice. Such a chant asks an onlooker to see the marchers as being important and worthy of respect and to potentially see themselves in the group. We looked marginal and privileged. We looked more like a group of people vying for attention than a part of a movement that would be worth joining.
There were only a few jeers and taunts during the short march from campus to capitol square. One group of budding misogynists belted out cries of “Whores!” Mostly, though, we received bemused stares, or annoyed glances from parents out to enjoy Father’s Day on State Street. One man came up to speak to those marching, clearly thinking we had something to do with the anti-Walker protests. A few people waved and smiled, or called out small cries of support.
By the time we had arrived at the capitol square, our numbers had swelled to something in the high-twenties to perhaps thirty people. In theory we were supposed to round the Capitol building, but we stopped after making it to the first corner, much to the seeming relief of most of the marchers. It was a hot day, and our small group hadn’t built up any real energy even in our own members. We milled around the water fountain that had stopped some of us up, and after some brief chatter, all slowly melted away in the sun.
The event really suffered from its missing pieces. It wasn’t well-organized or led. It wasn’t well-advertised, particularly where it ought to have been in the realm of social media. Despite the presence of members of the ISO, it didn’t look like it was partnered with any organization with whom it might have had common cause. Where was someone reaching out to Sex Out Loud? To various groups opposed to sexual violence? To the burlesque community? To other women’s rights organizations, particularly those that cater to a younger membership? To anyone?
With multiple wars abroad, a troubled economy, and the local concerns for worker’s and people’s rights in a Walker administration, I’m sure that there are some who think something like a Slut Walk is not important enough to take the time to support. But I also think that you should never stop trying to make the world a better place just because some other concern is also on the table. There is not some tragic magic rule that says to us that we can care about changing the world, but we can only change one thing at a time. Any one of us may have to pick and choose, because each of us only has so much time, but supporting Slut Walks is something I’m willing to give my time to, even if it isn’t perfect. Slut Walks are one small facet of a fight to end a societal injustice that is clearly gendered. Resisting gender oppression is a project that I think is important and worth caring about, and so it was with heavy heart that I left the marchers at the end of Madison’s first Slut Walk. I hope that the next event, tentatively scheduled for the early part of UW’s fall semester will have the energy that this one did not. “Pride” is a word you often see on signs at events like this. I’m hoping that that missing feeling is the energy I’ll feel in my heart at the end of Madison’s second Slut Walk.
Ashford Wyrd, one of the organizers, said most bystanders were supportive, and he thought the group was “mostly singing to the choir.” “But this walk was to test the waters more than an actual statement,” he said. Another SlutWalk will take place in September, with a focus on addressing the campus rape culture.
Wyrd says the organizers are considering several expansions for September, including heavier promotion, and collaboration with Slut Walks in adjacent cities.
Nearby SlutWalks coming soon:
SlutWalk Minneapolis – August 6
SlutWalk Milwaukee– August 13
SlutWalk Madison II – September (tentative)