On Sunday, around 200 marchers taking part in Portland’s 3rd annual Slutwalk enthusiastically chanted, “whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no” as their party wove through the mostly empty streets of downtown. The contrast between the colorful, passionate and often topless protesters and the starchy clean, barren sidewalks gave another chant, “shatter the silence, stop the violence” a more resonant tone. Here was a group of (mostly) women making their stand against the broad cultural passivity towards sexual violence, victim blaming, and the denigration of women.
The absence of a large street audience (the Portland financial district on a Sunday afternoon is never a very active place) does not negate this protest’s impact. Slutwalk is an international movement that began in Canada in 2011 in response to a Toronto police officer advising women to “avoid dressing like sluts” in order to deter rapists. Since then, “Slutwalks” have been held across the globe in cities such as London, Buenos Aires and Singapore. Portland’s march may not be the most visible in the world, but it demonstrated solidarity for those who wanted this conversation to be held in this city.
The speeches from organizers and supporters at the South Park Blocks before and after the march were clearly the more substantial part of the protest. The crowd of mostly women of all ages listened to stories about harassment, sexual violence, the experience of the trans community, and a quick lesson in consent by a representative from Sex Positive Portland.
Elle Stanger, one of the organizers and featured speakers, stepped up to the microphone in unexpected apparel considering the event: unrevealing street clothes. This, she explained, is exactly what she was wearing the last time she was harassed by men on the street. It happened two days ago while she was carrying groceries.
“…that’s my point. I’m never asking for it. Whether I’m standing on a street corner, riding a bus, driving a car, or breastfeeding in public. In a swimsuit, or in pants and a vest. And it never matters what I’m wearing when I’m harassed, I know that it just shouldn’t happen. And that’s what Slutwalk means to me,” Stanger said in an emailed statement that reflected what she said at the event.
There have plenty of detractors to Slutwalk, which was bound to happen after its sudden rise as a global movement. There have been debates over whether the approach of women marching topless will bring the right kind of attention to the issues, whether the basic tenets of the movement are correct, or even whether the name of the movement itself inherently excludes others.
Many of these detractors are against the tone of “slutwalk.” They don’t like that encourages female sexuality or “promiscuity,” or that it might suggest that misandry is an appropriate response to harassment and sexual violence (who are mostly men). I saw no man-hating at this event, and I think the claims that Slutwalk uses naked female bodies to gain media attention are missing the very simple point that the women in Portland were trying to make.
Boobs are great. They are actually really awesome and are enjoyed in one way or another by just about everyone. Rape and harassment are not and they never will be.