As one Toronto SlutWalk sign put it: “Don’t tell us how to dress. Tell men not to rape.” It’s this — the proactive, fed-upness of SlutWalks — that makes me so hopeful for the future.
Feminism is frequently on the defensive. When women's activists fought the defunding of Planned Parenthood, for example, they didn’t rally around the idea that abortion is legal and should be funded. Instead, advocates assured the public that Planned Parenthood clinics provide breast exams and cancer screenings. Those are crucial services, of course, but the message was far from the “free abortion on demand” rallying cry of the abortion rights movement’s early days.
Established organizations have good reason to do their work in a way that’s palatable to the mainstream. They need support on Capitol Hill and funding from foundations and donors. But a muted message will only get us so far.
“We called ourselves something controversial,” Jarvis says. “Did we do it to get attention? Damn right we did!”
Nineteen year-old Miranda Mammen, who participated in SlutWalk at Stanford University, says the idea of “sluttiness” resonates with younger women in part because they are more likely than their older counterparts to be called sluts. “It’s also loud, angry, sexy in a way that going to a community activist meeting often isn’t,” she says.
Emily May, the 30-year-old executive director of Hollaback, an organization that battles street harassment, plans to participate in SlutWalk in New York City in August. “Nonprofit mainstays like conferences, funding and strategic planning are essential to maintaining change — but they don’t ignite change,” she says. “It’s easy to forget that change starts with anger, and that history has always been made by badasses.”
Unlike protests put on by mainstream national women’s organizations, which are carefully planned and fundraised for — even the signs are bulk-printed ahead of time — SlutWalks have cropped up organically, in city after city, fueled by the raw emotional and political energy of young women. And that’s the real reason SlutWalks have struck me as the future of feminism. Not because an entire generation of women will organize under the word “slut” or because these marches will completely eradicate the damaging tendency of law enforcement and the media to blame sexual assault victims (though I think they’ll certainly put a dent in it). But the success of SlutWalks does herald a new day in feminist organizing. One when women's anger begins online but takes to the street, when a local step makes global waves and when one feminist action can spark debate, controversy and activism that will have lasting effects on the movement.