Sluts on Parade: SlutWalk SF 2012
San Francisco hosted its second annual SlutWalk on Saturday, September 8, and just like last year I showed up with a small group of fellow sluts to join the cutting edge of American politics.
I covered the first SlutWalk in 2011, but I was hoping, what with the whole Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh controversy, the Todd Akin brouhaha, and many delegates at the Democratic convention wearing "Sluts Vote" pins, that this year's SlutWalk would be bigger, bolder and better than ever.
Alas, it was not to be. To my (and surely the organizers') great disappointment, SlutWalk San Francisco 2012 was smaller, calmer and less exciting than the previous year's event. Perhaps that's because the original impetus behind SlutWalk — a Toronto police constable telling women at a 2011 crime conference that they could decrease their odds of getting raped if they didn't dress like sluts — is already receding into the past and no longer feels like a fresh outrage. Or perhaps it's because anger over the term "slut" has since become mainstreamed, and it no longer feels particularly radical or avant garde to discuss the word anymore? Either way, SlutWalk 2012 was — dare I say it? — a modest affair.
That isn't to say the protest was devoid of intentional play-obscenity and manufactured outrage; as the picture above shows, there was plenty of that as usual. But the joke was already wearing a bit thin.
I already comprehensively deconstructed the SlutWalk concept in my previous year's report, and everything I said then remains true. Little, in fact, has changed in the SlutWalk universe, so rather than repeat myself presenting the same analysis of the same cognitive dissonance, I invite you to read the link above for a full investigation into the SlutWalk concept. This time around it'll be more pictures and fewer words — just as you like it!
If I had to select one sign at the rally to sum up the entire day's philosophy, this would be it: "Hey! Control your lust!"
And the other half of the basic SlutWalk message is contained in this sign: "The amount of clothes I wear does not change how much respect I deserve." (And no, that's not her actual pubic hair. It's a merkin.) (And yes, I've waited my whole life to use "merkin" in a caption. At last!)
But aside from the SlutWalk essentials, there were plenty of individualized freelance messages as well. This phallocentric gentleman creeped everyone out with his "Reclaim yor penis in love" shirt. And no, I don't know what it means. I don't even want to know what it means.
You're probably curious: Did the SlutWalkers show a lot of Obama Love? Oddly, no: Although there was quite a lot of Republican-bashing, as expected, only one marcher, shown here, overtly campaigned for Obama. I'm quite certain that there were a grand total of zero Romney votes in the crowd, but it was probably considered just too square and predictable for most of the protesters to openly declare their support for a sitting president. One must maintain a supremely radical pose in public, and then in the voting booth get pragmatic and pull that lever for "D."
One Democratic politician did show up and speak to the crowd: California State Assembly member Sally Lieber, who in the video above goes Full Slut and says,
I stand before you as a slut. I hope to become more of a slut. I know that you're all sluts. I hope you still are and I still I am when I'm 80 years old, when I'm 100 years old, when I'm 120 years old.
If you still haven't read my 2011 analysis and are mystified as to why anyone would say this: One of the goals of SlutWalk is to "reclaim" the word slut, so that it loses its power and is no longer an insult — just as the homosexual community did with the words "gay" and "queer."
But this poses a serious problem for the movement's public messaging, and partly explains why the Fluke/Limbaugh/Akin fiasco did not energize the SlutWalk movement much: It becomes difficult to act offended and outraged at being called a slut when you are simultaneously embracing the word and calling yourself a slut. "Don't you dare call me a slut — I'm a slut!" doesn't make much sense as a political stance.
As a result, the crowd was pretty thin — I'm not much good at crowd estimates, but I doubt it was any more than 300 at most, as this photo of the pre-march rally in Dolores Park shows.
The most interesting person at SlutWalk was this slut who wore a burka made of an American flag. While the speakers at the rally were free to bash Christianity, no mention was ever made of gender oppression in the Islamic world, where of course it is a million times worse than in America. I think her costume meant to imply that America is oppressive toward women. And to indicate that allegorically she has fashioned a flag into a burka.
But what she may not have paused to consider is that, by referencing the burka itself as a shorthand symbol of gender oppression, she was confirming the presumptive truth that the mistreatment of women in the Islamic world remains the epitome of what oppression looks like. In other words: If you condemn American society by comparing it to Islamic society, then the underlying assumption is that Islamic society must be really bad. So, this burka-wearer was the only person to unwittingly criticize Islam at SlutWalk.
Another issue that bedevils SlutWalk is what some call "body fascism": the inescapable human social hierarchy based on one's level of attractiveness. While some SlutWalkers decry the very concept of an appearance pecking order as a "cosmetic assault," many protesters go out of their way to doll themselves up as sexily and sluttily as possible, to drive home the point that looking sexy and attractive is not and should not be an invitation to rape. So there still remains at SlutWalk the same cognitive dissonance I noted at the first march, in which some SlutWalkers embrace "looksism" with a vengeance, while others embrace off-putting repulsiveness as a political statement.
The Neanderthals reading this may be thinking, "Yeah, but were the protesters attractive or ugly? My assessment of their protest depends entirely on this fact." Sorry to disappoint, but there is no simple answer: like any random crowd of people, the SlutWalkers ranged from...
...very very cute, to...
...intentionally off-putting, to...
...bearded ladies, to...
...uh, well, I'll let you make the call.