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From riot grrrl to the streets of Chicago | The SlutWalk Chicago interview

Punk feminism inspires the inclusive version of SlutWalk hitting Chicago.

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

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Photographer: Brian Carson

Slutwalk Toronto, 2011

TOC spoke with Jamie, Jessica and Tony of SlutWalk Chicago.

A storm of people will sweep through Michigan Avenue on Saturday in their underwear, shouting, jumping and screaming their heartfelt message about harassment and solidarity. This is SlutWalk, a now international activist march against sexual harassment and street harassment, against slut shaming and a double standard that says women who are sexual are sluts, while “male sluts” are studs.

It all started in April in Toronto, when a police officer addressing street harassment remarked that women could fight harassment by avoiding  “dressing like sluts.” Toronto women flooded the streets in their underwear, in whatever, with the message that the dress is not a yes, with signs like “I ask for it, by asking.”

As SlutWalk has become a global movement with marches in major cities throughout the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, the Middle East and Europe, the message (victims are never asking for it) remains the same, but its roots as a critique of the mind-set of law enforcement has gradually faded. Chicago, however, seems ripe for the original message, considering recent allegations of rape by police officers now under investigation in the city.

I spoke with the organizers of Chicago’s SlutWalk. The women spilled about making the event inclusive, why Chicago especially needs a SlutWalk and how the early-'90s rock movement of riot grrrl fits in.

Why does Chicago need a SlutWalk?
Every city needs a SlutWalk, but Chicago's SlutWalk has a special significance. We are a world-class city and have influenced people for centuries. Many social issues and reform movements trace their roots and progress back to Chicago, whether it's the May Day movement born of the Haymarket Massacre or Jane Addams and Hull House.

Living in a city as important and historic as Chicago provides opportunity for a real pulpit.

Is the real message of SlutWalk getting out in Chicago? Or are people just seeing “women in their underwear!”
I think our message is getting out—and it's a pretty simple one. Women should have the same sexual freedoms as men—in terms of judgment. And not to put too fine a point on it, but rapists commit rape, women don't get themselves raped because of their actions. That is the message of SlutWalk.

SlutWalk has been very inclusive to all genders, pressing that this is march for everyone join in. Do you think it is important that men march in SlutWalk?
Absolutely. Sure, there are women out there we'd like to reach and whose opinions we'd like to change. But in many ways men are the audience who most need to hear and understand the message most.

Speaking of being inclusive, I know you guys have worked hard to make SlutWalk Chicago accessible to all people—you’ve passed out flyers in Spanish and so forth. Can you tell us a little about that and why it’s important?
There was some concern in other parts of the world that these events were too white. We didn't see any reason that was inherent in the nature of the event for that, so this criticism made us work extra hard to be as inclusive as we can. We want everyone to feel welcome at this event (and any like it.) 

We've been listening to the critiques of SlutWalk by women of color and have been taking them very seriously. We wanted to make sure that so many of the mistakes made by mainstream white feminist movements in the past (which were often well meaning) weren't perpetuated here. We're helping organize a forum on race and class issues a few days after the walk, because we think this conversation is so important. In addition to trying our best to make sure that everyone who wants to participate feels welcome and included. 

There is something of a riot grrrl (a grassroots punk-rock feminist movement that happened in the early ’90s) revival happening with young people online. In my mind the simple, activist message of SlutWalk is very riot grrrl–esque. 
I (Jessica) was a young riot grrrl in the '90s, and it was an enormously energizing thing for me, as I'm sure it is for young women getting involved in the revival. While it's heartening to see young women finding inspiration in many of the same things I did, the riot grrrl movement as it stood in the early '90s was overwhelmingly white, middle class, young, and could feel extremely exclusive. 

Tobi Vail (of the band Bikini Kill)  has written some great words on her blog about lessons learned from that era. SlutWalk faces some of the same challenges. Yet I see SlutWalk as part of feminist anti-violence activism. This is a movement that has been making enormous changes in our society for the last few decades and will continue to do so. 

Any words of advice, moving forward, for Chicago women who are fed up with street harassment? What else can they do?
I think the message goes beyond just harassment, and everyone—not just women—can be vigilant in their advocacy, and never forget the message of empowerment and support for others. This is just one step toward changing the culture toward a more open, understanding, equitable and supportive one; there's much more work to be done.

What do you hope the average Chicagoan walks away with from SlutWalk Chicago?
A really positive feeling, a great message and the energy to change hearts and minds. We're really hoping that this will be a coalition- and solidarity-building event.

So, Saturday join the flock of activists in the street—in “slutty” clothes, in whatever you feel like wearing—to send the message: whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.

Date: Saturday, June 4, 2011
Time: Meet at 11am, walk leaves at noon
Place: The walk starts from Thompson Center Plaza.  We will walk east along Randolph Street, south on Michigan Avenue (along Grant Park), west on Jackson Boulevard, and north along Clark Street to our final meeting place at Daley Plaza.  

Schedule of Events:
11am—Gather at Thompson Center Plaza
Noon—Opening remarks, begin walk along route
2pm—Return to Daley Plaza for speakers and entertainment 
3pm—Closing remarks, end of walk

 

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