This is What a SlutWalk (Really) Looks Like

slutwalkThis is part two of three entries about the Slutwalks this week. I wrote the first part of what I had to say about them yesterday here.

Today I want to briefly address the way that the walks have been visually represented in the media and by many bloggers writing about them, especially those who have been nonsupportive or critical.

In a word, they have frequently been represented by photographs which expressly stated or just implied they represent what people at the walks looked like as a whole, and have been anywhere from just incorrect to exceptionally dishonest in those assertions or implications. Because as far as I can tell, the images that keep getting picked aren't those which are most representative of the protests as a whole, but which are most representative of what a given person either found most provocative or most interesting. Or, which best represent their reasons for nonsupport or mockery.

This isn't unusual with images of protest at all.

As some of you know, I grew up with one parent who was an activist, and I've been in activism of many kinds literally since I was born. It's not at all uncommon that with any kind of activism, what gets featured in the media most, or shown up as representative often isn't anything close. It's typical for the aspects of activism which include the most spectacle to get the most eyes and airtime, something that has as much to do with the aspects of whatever that activism is and the people doing that that is intended to be spectacle as it does with what reporting on it features. I grew up with an incredibly peaceful and peacemaking activist who often had to counter ideas that we was some kind of mad bomber because of the way the media often chose to represent his activism in ways that were anything but representative.

Some of that absolutely can be about intentional, editorial choice, with good intent or ill intent (and those choices aren't always made by journalists themselves, especially if they are not self-publishing). Some of it may simply be careless. Some of it may be someone who just doesn't get it and literally only sees and is drawn to what makes their eyeballs go all googly. Some of it may be that an editor or journalist just picked the first photo they saw someone else use. As someone who is a photographer on top of the other hats I wear, I can also tell you that it is a lot more challenging and tricky to take a powerful, interesting photograph of someone who isn't creating the shot for you with their appearance than it is to take one of someone who is being very pared-down and introverted, who you yourself have to really look at and try and look into to portray in an interesting way. You have to work a good deal harder.

But the fact that the majority of pieces about the walks, especially when critical, contains an image that appears nonrepresentative of the walks on the whole isn't something I think it's sound to overlook, dismiss or excuse. I think it's important to bring an awareness to, especially if what you're reading about them is that they're just about an arseload of young women wanting to walk outside in their underpants or with "slut" written on their bodies just because they can. Because that does not appear to be the reality of the walks at all. Just like with reality TV, media-reality is its own reality, one often more reflective of itself than what it is reporting on.

But I think it's fair to say that with this particular activism, there's something that's beefing that common pattern up more than usual. After all, the spectacle here when it appears is mostly nekkid ladies. And we all know that nekkid ladies -- period, but especially when acting outside the script... -- is a big draw. Trying to smash down nekkid ladies who are working with being that way on their own terms, even if everyone isn't in the same place in that process, or their terms look like, well, everyone else's terms? That's an even bigger draw. That's freaking field day for sexist trolling, is what that is. It provides a golden opportunity for people to mock, poke fun at and easily get en masse support in diminishing or degrading those women, a sadly common pastime, especially on the internet (and not one only men participate in, either).

And the issues with this activism are issues which are some of the most challenging and threatening to many, many people in our world: sexual violence, victim-blaming, and the right of women to present themselves as they would like to and the freedom of women to be able to do so without repercussions which very few men, especially straight men, suffer unless they present in ways which are interpreted by others as being feminine.

People really have been cherry-picking these images, if you ask me, and I think it needs to be called out. I've been looking at collective imagery of all the walks (and thanks to folks who gave me some extra collections to look at).

Know what it looks like to me?

Nearly every protest I have ever been to in my life, that's what. The primary difference, as far as I can see, and the thing that identifies it as different than, say, an antiwar protest, is that the signs are about rape and about the right of women to feel free to.. without being blamed for violence done to them... or being assumed to be 'asking" for violence.

Seriously, most of what I see are people in jeans and t-shirts, with, less commonly, people in costume or something besides pretty standard I-need-to-be-comfy-walking-in-who-knows-what-kind-of-weather-all-day-protest-garb. And that is indicative of every protest I have ever attended, and I've attended quite a few.

The idea that Slutwalks are about thousands of women walking around in lingerie has a whole lot to do with misrepresentation of the walks. I think we can be sure some of that misrepresentation is unintentional and benign. I think we can be sure some of it is very intentional and anything but benign.

So, I gathered up a bunch of links of photos at SlutWalks around the world to share with you. They were the more common images I found, not images I cherry-picked which did not seem to be the more typical of the lot. Obviously, all I can do is ask for your trust on this. As a lifelong activist, someone who works in photography which has always aimed to be very real, and someone to whom these issues are critically important, as is the activism of young people, sound ethics around representations of all of those things are, and have always been, very important to me.

You can also look for yourself at the kind of pool I pulled these from. Here are all the photos on Flickr tagged with slutwalk, the biggest group I poked my nose into.

And yes, there are a couple nekkid or half-nekkid ladies (or not-ladies) in the mix, for they are part of the mix, even though they appear to be a minor part.

But here is what a Slutwalk really looks like, in London, Manchester, Melbourne, Edinburgh, Brisbane, Toronto, Amsterdam, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles and more:

Like this. Or this. And this. This. This, this and this. Like that, that, that and this. Like this, and this and this and this and this. Like this. And like that, too. Like this. Like that.

They also look like this, and like this, and like this. They also look like that, this, and that. And this, and this, and this.

The look like this, like this, and like this, this, this, this, this, this, and this and and this and this and this and this and this and this.

And like this.

Once more with feeling, if you've ever been to or paid any attention to other protests before? They look a whole big lot like most, if not all, of them, including the occasional person at them who is pushing spectacle -- a valid way to engage in protest, whatever the issue - and who more people probably took a picture of than the people that looked a lot more like everyone else.

Go figure.


woo! XD
(I took the Brisbane photo and the "This is what I wore when I was raped" sign is mine)

thank you <3 I was particularly touched by the ones where it was a mass of red & white YES MEANS YES signs and the one where there was someone holding up "we are all chambermaids". wow.


Reading this, and your previous post on SlutWalk, makes my heart ache and me say 'Finally! Thank you!' Fighting the judgmental and misrepresenting media ideas of SlutWalk and the many critics who specifically select the more provocative photos or the photos capturing a specific identity and experience has made this all much harder. We expected some of this but not this much of it, especially when we thought this activism would never attract more then 150 people in Toronto let alone any other city or country.

As someone who's also been involved in activism for years and attended a lot of different rallies and protests there are a lot of similarities. Every protest I've attended includes people wearing what they want, people showing more skin and wearing things that would be deemed 'slutty' by someone else, and people dressed in ways that grab a lot of attention as they wear a protest on their body.

So thank you for saying these things and for challenging the judgments placed on the way people dress and look. That's just what we've always been doing in SlutWalk.

Heather Jarvis
SlutWalk Toronto

It amazes me the amount of support the slutwalk has gotten. It is based on an entirely unproven assertion that rape is not about how someone dresses or looks, that it is entirely a question of power. Why then are 80% of rape victims under the age of 30 according to RAINN? If rape is just about power shouldn't it be distributed evenly across the population instead of concentrated in the younger, more fertile and sexually attractive population.

The simple truth is that rape is about both sex and power.

Normally women have the power in a hetero-sexual relationship. They say "yes" or "no" to sex. It is women who go to a bar, sit at at bar and wait for men to approach so they can then say "yes" or "no". Often they parley this sexual power for material gain, wether it be free drinks in a bar, jewellery, or even greater prizes they are accustomed to being the arbiters of their sexual power. That is why many are so viscerally offended by rape. It reverses the normal power dynamic where women are on top and men are the supplicants. It transfers the power of "yes" to the man unilaterally. So sex is about power but it is also about sex which is the desired commodity at issue in the violent crime of rape.

You know that somewhere between 40,000 and over 140,000 men are raped in prison each year in the US alone, yes? That people of all orientations rape, and sometimes do so counter to their sexual orientation? That victims are not only women; that rape happens outside hetero-male-perp and hetero-female-victim, yes? I assume you also know that not everyone lives in that world in the first place, since not everyone is heterosexual, but also that plenty of heterosexuals don't enact or engage in their sexual interactions in the ways you describe?

You also are aware the typologies of those who sexually assault and abuse others most certainly do focus on power (and if you've never read any books that address those typologies to see how they have gotten at those assertions, sounds like you should, since the basis does appear to be sound when you really look at all the background), but also address the ways rape can be correlated with sexual feelings or motives of a perpetrator? Sounds like you're not, and think I'm not, so I'm not sure who you're talking to in…well, most of your statements here.

Those who are pre-pubescent, in puberty and barely outside of it (of all genders) do have the highest rates of victimization. But the usual premise with that is that that is about their (often accurately) perceived vulnerability, not about their sexual appeal. This probably had more than anything to do with my being attacked at 11 and 12, and with my great-grandmother's rape and homicide at the age of 76. And what we know about dress from study is that people dressed a million different ways can be and are assaulted, and the most common things victims usually are wearing when assaulted are their every day clothing or lounge-around-the-house garb.

I don't know about you, but what offends me about rape is not some lost feeling of entitlement to an imbalanced sexual dynamic or the opportunity to try and get gifts or other items in exchange for sex (and an orientation-based culture) I never have had any interest in in the first place. But I do know that those ways of thinking about sex and sexual dynamics certainly aren't the foundation for healthy relationships. To boot, if you want to talk about things we do know contribute to gender-based violence (which sexual assault often is), we also know that very combative, negative and binary conceptions of/feeling about gender have been found to be big influences.

What offends me about rape, especially as a survivor, was and is someone choosing to use my body, and out it and my psyche at grave risks, against my will to get something they want. I think that would probably offend you, too. What offends me about suggestions that women can protect ourselves from rape by the way we dress is that a) we have every evidence in the world that is not true, some of us from very personal experience with being assaulted and b) it suggests that something done against someone's will was invited. I think that would probably offend you, too.

It's not just women who find rape offensive (and I think offensive is a pretty light word for the feelings most people have about rape and other kinds of serious assault: it's a term I think more appropriate for my feelings about these comments you've left). I think it's safe to say most people of all genders find rape offensive, and that there is not just one gender of people who doesn't want to be victimized and doesn't like to be victimized. It's not like male rape victims experience being assaulted as any less traumatic than women victims do, after all.

Editor & Founder, Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
Author, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and Col