Friday, July 1, 2011

COMMENTARY: Slutwalk -- Knoxville

There are days I'm really glad when my family doesn't call. I could imagine the conversation today.

Aunt Jeanne: Do you have any plans for the weekend?
Me: Not really, but tonight I'm going to the slutwalk

That would have taken some explanation. It might for you, too. Slutwalks are protests which started in April 2011 in response to a Toronto police officer advising college women that rape would be less if they didn't dress like sluts. Since then, cities all over the world have hosted slutwalks to increase awareness of rape.

Why did I want to attend? For my best friend's non-verbal autistic daughter who was raped by her grandfather. For my high school classmate who was raped by a stranger and she was blamed for wearing shorts in 100 degree weather to play in her own backyard. For an author who had the guts to stand up in a room full of people at a sci-fi convention and tell people, "Yes I was raped." For so many others....And ultimately, because I've been damn lucky and I know it. I don't want other people's lives to depend on luck. I want something to change and I believe that change starts with awareness.

About fifty people came out for Knoxville's first Slutwalk. The event happened in conjunction with a monthly celebration that happens in downtown Knoxville's Market Square and surrounding area called First Friday. First Friday consists of gallery openings, performances by musicians and a local drum circle.

I was surprised that a third of that group was male, including one of the organizers. Participants were dressed in everything from a pink satin corset and platforms to regular street attire. I wore a red shirt in memory of my Mom, who was always too afraid to wear her favorite color because it would mark her as a "streetwalker."

While our spirits were high, we were people on a mission. We were there to help heal victims by giving them a chance to speak out and affirm to them that they were not to blame for their rapist's choices. We were also there to raise awareness about the seriousness of rape and to defend victims' rights for all people affected. We were there to increase awareness of what rape is and start encouraging society to place responsibility for crimes where it belongs: squarely on the shoulders of the people who choose to commit those crimes. Period.

Yes--people. Rape is not just a feminist issue. Rape effects everyone. If the victim is female, she's got male family and friends who have to support her. One in every ten rape victims is male according to the USDOJ. And those male victims have to have been hurt pretty badly to report. Male rape is the most under-reported crime there is.

Tonight, we stood in a circle and shared why we'd come. This was a difficult experience, but I believe a cleansing and healing one. More than a fifth of the group had experienced rape, some at the hands of people close to them. Some were in tears, others enraged and needing to find a positive outlet for their emotions.

Listening to people's stories was one of the hardest experiences I've ever had, but very worthwhile if it helped people to heal. Many had not spoken of their attack in public til now. Part of me wanted to cover my ears and run. Another part wanted to reach out and embrace the folks who were hurting so badly.

This was a very loving and open environment, encouraging even. Tony surprised me when he confessed to the group that he'd managed to escape a pedophile. I still can't remember how a grade-school friend and I escaped a band of older boys who jumped us as we walked home from school.

There was no pressure on us to do anything. If we chose, we could just hang out where we'd originally met up. Or we could walk around in groups and pass out pamphlets to the people gathered on Market Square for First Friday. Tony and I joined a group of three with a great young male spokesman who was there in support of his fiancee.

Reactions from the people on Market Square were varied. Folks my aunt's age and older were shocked at the vulgar language (slut) and the clothing. Most women were supportive, but we felt we might have worried some young women. And, some of the guys in party mode were really enjoying the sight of the costumed slut-walkers.

Fine, let them enjoy as long as they don't try to harm anyone. That's the purpose of the slutwalk, to get attention for a serious cause in a fun way for both participants and audience. Ultimately, to get across the message rape really isn't caused by the clothes victims wear, or the way they wear our hair or anything else. Rape happens to people of all ages, colors, sexes, in all manner of circumstances and dress--the crime is caused by a rapist's sick urges to hurt and dominate another human being by force or stealth.

One of the women in the group works with high school students and talked about ending the 'rape culture' in our country. I hope we have taken a valuable step tonight. Even if we've raised the awareness in just a few people, that's enough. They'll spread the word.

Imagine, one Toronto cop lit the fire with just one word. It's an honor to be part of a group that's carrying the torch across the world.

There's more planned. We're going to be raising money to hold a parade march later on this fall. Johnson City and Jonesborough, TN will be holding their own slutwalks on July 23.

That torch will hopefully catch fire and keep going. It's time men accepted responsibility for their actions and women were free to enjoy their bodies themselves without fear of harm. It's time we teach our young boys how to properly respect themselves and others. And finally it's time only a freely given "YES!" means consent for sex.

No comments:

Post a Comment