News & Politics

'Hey Rapists, Go Fuck Yourselves': SlutWalk Arrives in NYC

A controversial grassroots anti-rape movement makes its way to New York, with style and substance on the streets of the Village.

Over much of the past year, the movement known as SlutWalk has been snaking its way through cities and towns around the world. Finally, with great fanfare, SlutWalk arrived in New York City this weekend, and we got to witness its provocative power firsthand.

SlutWalk originated in Toronto this April after a cop warned students "not to dress like sluts" to avoid getting raped. Since that first march, the movement has taken on a life of its own, pushing the idea that rapists, not short skirts, cause rape. The movement has been seen on campuses and streets throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, and South Asia.

The power of the Internet to record these marches has enabled slogans, outfits, speeches and chants to go viral online and then pop up again in real life. Participants have glommed onto the most powerful and savvy messages from other SlutWalks, recreating them in their hometowns.

After months of the movement spreading this way, this past Saturday, October 1, Slutwalk NYC took to the appropriately diverse and countercultural streets of NYC's East and West Village.

The march (and accompanying rally) couldn't have come at a more critical moment for New York City anti-rape activists. Just days before SlutWalk NYC, the Washington Postreported that New York police officers were stopping women on the street in Brooklyn to shame them about their clothing choices, reportedly telling them they shouldn't wear shorts or skirts because a rapist has been targeting women in the area. And there was this summer's acquittal of the so-called New York City "rape cops," who were accused of sexually assaulting a heavily intoxicated (and, for much of the evening, unconscious) woman they were supposed to be escorting home. The Dominique Strauss-Khan case has also been a focus for the NYC SlutWalk team.

Feminists, rape survivors, allies and supporters (according to organizers, the NYPD pegged attendance at 3,000) assembled first in Union Square, clad in everything from lingerie to hijabs to an oft-photographed Hester Prynne outfit. Illustrating that you really can wear whatever you want to SlutWalk, there was also a healthy representation of jeans and T-shirts at the event.

The day began with sign-making, resulting in some articulate and powerful placards: "#1 Tip to Prevent Rape: Don't Rape Anyone" was one, written on plain cardboard. Many women wore signs that said things like "My Dress is Not an Invitation" or "This Skirt Doesn't Cause Rape: Rapists Do." Some signs declared great enthusiasm for consensual sex.

After we amassed, we marched -- and this was perhaps the most powerful part of the day. From Union Square down West 3rd Street and back, the crowd was jubilant, defiant, enraged and empowered all at once. Passersby gawked, and some reacted lewdly. But others joined, nodded or stripped in response to the march going by. (We even saw a woman flashing her breasts in solidarity with the SlutWalkers as they marched past her living room window.)

Sparkly stilletos and combat boots pounded the pavement together as we chanted:

"Hey Ho! Hey Ho! / This rape culture has got to go!"

"Yes means yes! No means no! / However I dress! Wherever I go!"

"NYPD / Blame the rapists, not me!"

And our favorite:

"Hey rapists! Go fuck yourselves!"

The feminist blogosphere was out in full force, and the march hosted many a veteran progressive agitator as well. But it felt as if the day really belonged to the youngest SlutWalkers in attendance. The loudest chants didn't come from long-time protesters, but from young women in bras with "slut" scrawled on their bellies, Kathleen Hanna-style, or in their school T-shirts banding together with classmates to raise their voices and shout as one. It was truly inspiring to see that the message of the march had been absorbed and relayed so articulately and bravely by participants.

This isn't to say that there are no valid critiques of SlutWalk to be made. There have been many complex, important discussions about the formation of the SlutWalk movement and the way groups pushing for social change can sometimes exclude whole groups of people or replicate the very hierarchies they seek to dismantle. For instance, this moving open letter from a group of black anti-violence activists begged New York City SlutWalk organizers to change the name of the event. And some reports from Saturday affirmed their critiques: that many who embrace the cause find the name too burdensome and insulting to get past, and that men on the outside of the movement will look at the women's bodies--but not their signs.

At the same time, the efficacy of the controversial name was hard to ignore. The theatrical, subversive, satirical and playful aspects of the march turned the concept of a reactive protest into something that felt proactive, verging on revolutionary.

This short film created by Trixie Films of captures this sentiment. In her words: 

For me, one of the truly frustrating things about coverage of SlutWalks all over the world has been the media’s focus on the most elaborately undressed and risque marchers, leading people to believe the events are solely about demanding the right to dress like a slut. I hope this video gives people a sense of the range of participants (gender, orientation, background, race, age) that were there marching, chanting and generally raising some hell. You’ll want to hit pause over and over again to read all the signs!

Slutwalk NYC 2011 from Trixie Films on Vimeo.

Back in June, writer Jessica Valenti discussed SlutWalks with the hosts of MSNBC'sMorning Joe. When asked "Why not call these Empowerment Walks, and avoid the controversy [of the word slut]?" Valenti responded, "Do you think I’d be sitting here if they were called Empowerment Walks?" Indeed, it's unlikely they would have had the conversation at all.

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
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