This is What a SlutWalk (Really) Looks Like
This 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:
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.