Commentary Violence

Six Reasons Why SlutWalk Is Awesome

Amanda Marcotte

SlutWalk NYC showed why SlutWalk is an effective protest against rape.  SlutWalk reverses expectations of how anti-rape protests should work, and uses humor to great effect to get the message across.

Political action really brings out the Generation Xer in me. Like a classic Xer, I’m not a joiner, I prefer sarcasm to earnestness, and folk music makes me itchy. Because of all this, I often approach the process of protesting the streets with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. I picture the pressure towards self-seriousness and chanting, and I want to find something else to do, such as sit at home and read the dictionary. But I go, because I do believe in the power of protests to compel change. 

With all that in mind, I have to say that Saturday’s New York City version of SlutWalk wasn’t a chore to be slogged through. It was, dare I say, a really good time. I even ended up chanting, which I never do, because so many of the chants were delightfully funny as well as pointed.  My favorite was, “Rapists, go f— yourselves!” With this in mind, I made a list of reasons why SlutWalk NYC was so awesome, with the hopes that those thinking of organizing one in their hometowns are inspired to redouble their efforts.

1) Humor and fun.  We’re fighting rape culture, which has been the culture for at least as long as humans have been able to write. It’s going to be a long battle and victory is probably many generations into the future. If we can’t have a laugh while fighting this fight, we’re going to drown in despair. SlutWalkers get this. People strove to have laugh-out-loud signs and half the crowd was wearing outfits sending up the ridiculousness of the very idea that one can objectively define “dressing slutty.” I chose a sign inspired by an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” that I admired for using humor to show how casually people accept the sexual abuse of women, and how wrong that really is. Signs that relied on humor were more common than not.

2) Aesthetics. Aesthetics matter.  Nona Willis Aronowitz got a lot of criticism for pointing out that the patchouli-heavy hippie vibe the dominates Occupy Wall Street is running people off, and that the dress code free vibe of SlutWalk is welcoming, but she’s right. SlutWalk’s message is that anyone can be dismissed with the word “slut” for speaking out against sexual abuse.  The crowd responded by either wearing whatever they want, wearing the clothes they were raped or harassed in, or wearing some parody version of what people imagine “sluts” wear.

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Beyond the dress code factor was the general air of modernity and fun. Too many protests hearken back to a hippie aesthetic that fell out of fashion forty years ago. SlutWalk felt much more up-to-date. The music was punk rock or peppy dance music, and while there was the standard “hey, ho” chanting, some people were livening it up with more hip-hop influenced chants.

3) Reversal of expectations. The way the media portrays SlutWalk, you’d think women were using sex to sell an anti-rape message.  It is true that many of us were scantily clad or rocking the fishnets (though with our tongues firmly in our cheeks), but I would actually say that SlutWalk uses an anti-rape message to sell sex positivity as much as anything else.  You can get most people to agree that rape is bad in a generic sense. The problem is that the existence of rape is being used as a weapon to control and shame women, to tell us we don’t deserve to have sex and have fun and live our lives. SlutWalk gets your buy-in with the anti-rape message, and then sells you on the idea that rape is more than a crime against a single woman but part of a larger system that robs women of our freedom, our pleasure, and our right to live as we see fit.

4) SlutWalk attracts attention. For all these reasons, SlutWalk garnered more onlookers than I’ve ever seen at a protest. Many people came to gawk at the funny clothes and the people having a good time at their protest, and were impressed by the message. The walk got bigger as it went along, in part because of latecomers but it also seemed to attract some people who simply agreed with the message. Many, many onlookers moved from being surprised to being supportive rapidly, including some women who flashed us in solidarity from a 4th Ave. apartment window, and some folks on the sidewalk who were particularly supportive of SlutWalker criticisms of the NYPD in light of a widely unpopular not-guilty verdict for two officers accused of rape.

5) SlutWalk NYC had a broad appeal. There have been many important criticisms about SlutWalk and the role women of color play in it.  Perhaps it’s because SlutWalk NYC was responsive to these criticisms, or because New York is conducive to a “we’re all in this together” vibe, but it seemed that a wide variety of people were adapting the SlutWalk message to fit their individual take on the problem of rape and all these different views merged into one important message: We are all affected by rape culture. The march featured people of different races, ages, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities, but all of us had felt the sting of victim-blaming for sexual violence. I was particularly heartened to see how many men were at SlutWalk, because even though men commit the majority of rapes, the issue is often considered just a women’s issue.  Even better, the men did a great job of marching in solidarity (or as survivors themselves) without taking over or making it all about them.

6) Women demanding the right to be sexual beings without shame is deeply threatening to many. This is, above all other things, why I love SlutWalk. Even pro-choice, anti-rape feminists sometimes blanch about unapologetically saying that women are sexual beings who deserve to pursue our pleasures without being punished with it by unintended pregnancy, forced childbirth, sexually transmitted infections, or rape. Having 1,000 people march down the street shouting a pro-sex, anti-violence message scares the pants off people who are still invested in a system where women are supposed to cower in fear and shame about sex. Some of my friends at the march were upset by a couple of guys who reacted to the SlutWalk by making an obnoxious point to take lascivious pictures and grabbing their crotches at the SlutWalkers. Those guys do suck, of course, but they only acted that way because they’re threatened by unapologetic female sexuality, and their reaction to it was to hint at sexual violence. But their behavior underlined the point. For many people, female sexuality is threatening and they respond with violence. And we, the SlutWalkers and SlutWalk allies, are standing up to say, “Enough.” 

Commentary Violence

This is Not The Story I Wanted—But It’s My Story of Rape

Dani Kelley

Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a "date" that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.

Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

The night I first truly realized something was wrong was supposed to be a good night.

A visiting friend and I were in pajamas, eating breakfast food at 10 p.m., wrapped in blankets while swapping stories of recent struggles and laughs.

There I was, animatedly telling her about my recently acquired (and discarded) “fuck buddy,” when suddenly the story caught in my throat.

When I finally managed to choke out the words, they weren’t what I expected to say. “He—he held me down—until, until I couldn’t—breathe.”

Hearing myself say it out loud was a gut-punch. I was sobbing, gasping for breath, arms wrapped as if to hold myself together, spiraling into a terrifying realization.

This isn’t the story I wanted.

Unlearning My Training

I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a small fundamentalist Christian denomination that justifies strict gender roles through a literal approach to the Bible. So, according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, men are considered “the image and glory of God,” while women are merely “the glory of man.” As a result, women are expected to wear head coverings during any church service, among other restrictions that can be best summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Women are never allowed to have authority over men.

If you’ve spent any number of years in conservative Christianity like I did, you’re likely familiar with the fundamentalist tendency to demonize that which is morally neutral or positive (like premarital sex or civil rights) while sugar-coating negative experiences. The sugar-coating can be twofold: Biblical principles are often used to shame or gaslight abuse victims (like those being shunned or controlled or beaten by their husbands) while platitudes are often employed to help members cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” assuring them that these tragedies are “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

In many ways, it’s easy to unlearn the demonization of humanity as you gain actual real-world experience refuting such flimsy claims. But the shame? That can be more difficult to shake.

The heart of those teachings isn’t only present in this admittedly small sect of Christianity. Rather, right-wing Western Christianity as a whole has a consent problem. It explicitly teaches its adherents they don’t belong to themselves at all. They belong to God (and if they’re not men, they belong to their fathers or husbands as well). This instilled lack of agency effectively erases bodily autonomy while preventing the development of healthy emotional and physical boundaries.

On top of that, the biblical literalism frequently required by conservative Christianity in the United States promotes a terrifying interpretation of Scripture, such as Jeremiah 17:9. The King James Version gives the verse a stern voice, telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If we believe this, we must accept that we’re untrustworthy witnesses to our own lives. Yet somehow, we’re expected to rely on the authority of those the Bible deems worthy. People like all Christians, older people, and men.

Though I’ve abandoned Christianity and embraced feminist secular humanism, the culture in which I grew up and my short time at conservative Bob Jones University still affect how I view myself and act in social situations. The lessons of my formative years created a perfect storm of terrible indoctrination: gender roles that promoted repressed individuality for women while encouraging toxic masculinity, explicit teaching that led to constant second-guessing my ability to accurately understand my own life, and a biblical impetus to “rejoice in my suffering.”

Decades of training taught me I’m not allowed to set boundaries.

But Some Habits Die Hard

Here’s the thing. At almost 30, I’d never dated anyone other than my ex-husband. So I thought it was about time to change that.

When I found this man’s online profile, I was pleasantly surprised. It was full of the kind of geekery I’m into, even down to the specific affinity for eclectic music. I wrote to him, making sure my message and tone were casual. He responded instantly, full of charisma and charm. Within hours, we’d made plans to meet.

He was just as friendly and attentive in person. After wandering around town, window-shopping, and getting to know one another, he suggested we go to his favorite bar. As he drank (while I sipped water), he kept paying me compliments, slowly breaking the touch barrier. And honestly, I was enthralled—no one had paid attention to me like this in years.

When he suggested moving out to the car where we could be a little more intimate, I agreed. The rush of feeling desired was intoxicating. He seemed so focused on consent—asking permission before doing anything. Plus, he was quite straightforward about what he wanted, which I found exciting.

So…I brought him home.

This new and exciting “arrangement” lasted one week, during which we had very satisfying, attachment-free sex several times and after which we parted ways as friends.

That’s the story I told people. That’s the story I thought I believed. I’d been freed from the rigid expectations and restraints of my youth’s purity culture.

Now. You’re about to hear me say many things I know to be wrong. Many feminists or victim advocates almost certainly know the rationalizations and reactions I’m about to describe are both normal responses to abuse and a result of ingrained lies about sex in our culture. Not to mention evidence of the influence that right-wing conservatism can have on shaping self-actualization.

As I was telling people the story above, I left out important details. Were my omissions deliberate? An instinctive self-preservation mechanism? A carryover from draconian ideals about promiscuity?

When I broke down crying with my friend, I finally realized I’d kept quiet because I couldn’t bear to hear myself say what happened.

I’m a feminist, damn it. I left all the puritanical understandings of gender roles behind when I exited Christianity! I even write about social justice and victim advocacy. I ought to recognize rape culture!

Right?

If only being a socially aware feminist was enough to erase decades of socialization as a woman within rape culture—or provide inoculation against sexual violence.

That first night, once we got to my car, he stopped checking in with me. I dismissed the red flag as soon as I noticed it, telling myself he’d stop if I showed discomfort. Then he smacked my ass—hard. I pulled away, staring at him in shocked revulsion. “Sorry,” he replied, smirking.

He suggested that we go back to my house, saying we’d have more privacy than at his place. I was uneasy, unconvinced. But he began passionately kissing, groping, petting, and pleading. Against my better judgment, I relented.

Yet, in the seclusion of my home, there was no more asking. There was only telling.

Before I knew it, I’d been thrown on my back as he pulled off my clothes. I froze. The only coherent thought I could manage was a weak stammer, asking if he had a condom. He seemed agitated. “Are you on birth control?” That’s not the point! I thought, mechanically answering “yes.”

With a triumphant grin and no further discussion, he forced himself into me. Pleasure fought with growing panic as something within me screamed for things to slow down, to just stop. The sensation was familiar: identical to how I felt when raped as a child.

I frantically pushed him off and rolled away, hyperventilating. I muttered repeatedly, “I need a minute. Just give me a minute. I need a minute.”

“We’re not finished yet!” he snapped angrily. As he reached for me again, I screeched hysterically, “I’M NOT OK! I NEED A MINUTE!”

Suddenly, he was kind and caring. Instead of being alarmed, I was strangely grateful. So once I calmed down, I fucked him. More than once.

It was—I told myself—consensual. After all, he comforted me during a flashback. Didn’t I owe him that much?

Yet, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d forcefully smack my ass. If I didn’t seem happy enough, he’d insistently tell me to smile as he hit me again, harder. He seemed to relish the strained smile I would force on command.

I kept telling myself I was okay. Happy, even. Look at how liberated I was!

All week, I was either at his beck and call or fighting suicidal urges. Never having liked alcohol before, I started drinking heavily. I did all I could to minimize or ignore the abuse. Even with his last visit—as I fought to breathe while he forcefully held my head down during oral sex, effectively choking me—I initially told myself desperately that surely he wouldn’t do any of this on purpose.

The Stories We Tell and The Stories That Just Are

Reflecting on that week, I’m engulfed in shame. I’m a proud feminist. I know what coercion looks like. I know what rape looks like. I know it’s rarely a scary man wearing a ski mask in a back alley. I’ve heard all the victim-blaming rape apologia you have: that women make up rape when they regret consenting to sex, or going on a date means sex is in the cards, or bringing someone home means you’re game for anything.

Reality is, all of us have been socialized within a patriarchal system that clouds our experiences and ability to classify them. We’re told to tend and befriend the men who threaten us. De-escalation at any cost is the go-to response of almost any woman I’ve ever talked to about unwanted male attention. Whatever will satiate the beast and keep us safe.

On top of that, my conservative background whispered accusations of being a Jezebel, failing to safeguard my purity, and getting exactly what I deserve for forsaking the faith.

It’s all lies, of course. Our culture lies when it says that there are blurred lines when it comes to consent. It violates our personhood when it requires us to change the narrative of the violence enacted against us for their own comfort. Right-wing Christianity lies when it says we don’t belong to ourselves and must submit to the authority of a religion or a gender.

Nobody’s assaulted because they weren’t nice enough or because they “failed” to de-escalate. There’s nothing we can do to provoke such violence. Rape is never deserved. The responsibility for sexual assault lies entirely with those who attack us.

So why was the story I told during and after that ordeal so radically and fundamentally different from what actually happened? And why the hell did I think any of what happened was OK?

Rape myths are so ingrained in our cultural understanding of relationships that it was easier for me to believe nothing bad had happened than to accept the truth. I thought if I could only tell the story I wanted it to be, then maybe that’s what really happened. I thought if I was willing—if I kept having him over, if I did what he ordered, if I told my friends how wonderful it was—it would mean everything was fine. It would mean I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety about defying the conservative tenets of my former political and religious system.

Sometimes, we tell ourselves the stories we want to hear until we’re able to bear the stories of what actually happened.

We all have a right to say who has what kind of access to our bodies. A man’s masculinity gives him no authority over anyone’s sexual agency. A lack of a “no” doesn’t mean a “yes.” Coercion isn’t consent. Sexual acts performed without consent are assault. We have a right to tell our stories—our real stories.

So, while this isn’t the story I wanted, it’s the story that is.

I was raped.

Commentary Violence

Inciting Hatred and Violence: Unfortunately, This Is Who We Are As a Nation

Jodi Jacobson

As a country, we are more like those we condemn for espousing hatred than most Americans would like to admit.

“This is not who we are.” “This is not America.” These sentiments have become a common refrain in recent years in the response to everything from mass shootings to police abuse of power and police brutality toward protesters, to blatantly racist acts by members of a fraternity. In response to a CIA report describing the extent of torture and brutality used on prisoners in the “war on terror,” President Barack Obama asserted “this is not who we are,” because torture is “contrary to our values.” And in the wake of the mass shootings last year in San Bernardino, California, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that: “Violence like this has no place in this country. This is not what we stand for, this is not what we do.”

But these statements are at best aspirational for a country in which the leaders of at least one major political party regularly exploit intolerance, fear, and “morality” to win campaigns, and in which the leaders of the other too often hide behind platitudes and half-measures intended to placate specific constituencies, but not fundamentally challenge those realities. They are at best aspirational for a country in which the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists are condemned, but the same views when espoused by conservative Christian fundamentalists are given legal and social approval by both parties, because … religion. They are at best aspirational for a country in which women’s rights to their own bodies are a subject of ongoing debate, medical professionals are villainized and murdered, and rape and sexual assault are often blamed on the victim. These statements are also aspirational in a country in which we imprison people of color of every age, sex, and gender at rates far higher than whites; actively rip families apart by deporting millions of undocumented persons; and pass laws denying people access to basic human needs, like bathrooms, due to their gender identity.

We are not what we say. We are what we do.

Consider the events of the last 24 hours. A U.S.-born citizen (born in New York, living in Florida) opens fire in a large gay nightclub, killing at least 50 people and injuring at least 53 more. The shooter’s father suggested that the rampage was not due to religion but “may” have been incited by his son’s anger at seeing two men kissing. His former wife described him as being violent and unstable. He allegedly made a call to 9-1-1 to declare himself a supporter of ISIS. He used a military-grade assault rifle to carry out what is being called one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

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In the immediate aftermath, even before details were known, the following happened: First, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has most recently worked strenuously to oppose the rights of transgender students in his state’s schools, tweeted and shared on Facebook the biblical quote from Galatians, 6:7, stating that “a man reaps what he sows.” Translation: The people killed had it coming because they were gay. (His staff later said the tweet was prescheduled. It stayed up for four hours.)

Before any details were shared by the FBI or Florida law enforcement, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), known for scapegoating Muslim Americans and calling for racial and religious profiling, was on CNN claiming that the U.S.-born shooter was “from Afghanistan.”

In short order, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the fray by appearing on CNN. According to the transcript:

“If in fact this terrorist attack is one inspired by radical Islamic ideology, it is quite frankly not surprising that they would target this community in this horrifying way, and I think it’s something we’ll have to talk about some more here, across the country,” he said.

Rubio [also] said it’s not yet clear what the shooter’s motivations were, but that if radical Islamic beliefs were behind the shooting, “common sense tells you he specifically targeted the gay community because of the views that exist in the radical Islamic community with regard to the gay community.”

Rubio would appear to share those views “with regard to the gay community.” He is against same-sex marriage and made that opposition a key issue during his recent run for the GOP presidential nomination. He opposes legislation to make employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation illegal, supports “conversion therapy,” and is against the rights of gay persons to adopt children.

What, exactly, is the difference between the hatred spewed by radical Islamists and that by conservative Christian fundamentalists in the United States? How can any less responsibility be laid at the feet of the U.S. politicians and their supporters for violence and terror when they espouse the same forms of hatred and marginalization as those they blame for that terror? Why are we so quick to connect the lone gunman in Orlando with Islam and so unwilling to connect the “lone wolves” like Robert Dear, Angel Dillard, and Scott Roeder with the Christian right, or to hold young white star athletes accountable for the violence they commit against women? Why are we so loath to talk about rational limits on an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon of war, when mass murders have become routine?

It may not be pretty and it may be hard to acknowledge, but as a country we are more like those we rush to condemn than we are willing to admit. We are a country founded on and fed by a strong historical current of patriarchy, white supremacy, systemic racism, misogyny, discrimination, and scapegoating, all of which in turn feeds hatred, violence, and terror. That is part of who we are as a nation. Pretending that is not the case is like pretending that your severely dysfunctional family is just fine, and that the violence you experience daily within it is just an aberration and not a fact of life.

But it is not an aberration. Christian fundamentalist hatred is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist hatred. White American misogyny is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist misogyny. Discrimination and the abrogation of rights of undocumented persons, people of color, LGBTQ people, or any other group by U.S. politicians is not different morally or otherwise than that practiced by “other” fundamentalists against marginalized groups in their own country.

We are what we do.

We like to act the victim, but we are the perpetrators. Until we come to grips with our own realities as a country and take responsibility for the ways in which politicians, the media, and corporate backers of both help bring about, excuse, and otherwise foster discrimination and hatred, we can’t even begin to escape the violence, and we certainly can’t blame anyone else. We must aspire to do better, but that won’t happen unless we take responsibility for our own part in the hatred at the start.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify the details around the Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweet.