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.
Various socialist and communist groups trolled the rally, handing out flyers to everyone.
I took one of these flyers and later scanned it for your amusement: It tells the hilarious tale of in-fighting within the Freedom Socialist Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, and the outrage that erupted when celebrity usurper Roseanne Barr swooped in and stole the presidential nomination from a true radical. VP candidate Cindy Sheehan even comes in for some deserved vitriol, for double-dealing and making contradictory statements.
The extreme left always commits political suicide in a flurry of self-criticism and internecine battles. But at least they provide amusement for the rest of us.
Speaking of the extreme left: Here's a video taken by a fellow SlutWalker of one of the rally's main speakers, a woman named Natalie Hrizi representing a new feminist group called WORD — Women Organized to Resist and Defend. Something about her near-hysterical levels of outrage made me suspicious.
That suspicion was amplified when professional-seeming WORD protesters fanned out in the crowd with their professionally printed signs. Something about the design of those signs set off alarm bells. What was it, what was it...I know! The graphic style of having all-caps text above and a black box below containing the group's identifying info looks exactly like the signs made by the ANSWER Coalition, a communist group that organized many of the anti-war protests in the Bush era. [WORD even uses the exact same color for its signs as ANSWER uses for some of theirs.]
Since ANSWER has a long history of setting up front groups to co-opt various subsets of the left, luring in prospective new members without at first letting them know they're joining a communist organization, I suspected that perhaps ANSWER was moving in on SlutWalk as well with their latest incarnation, "WORD." Sure enough, a quick check of the WORD web site reveals a big Thank You to ANSWER for help setting up the group. One of the WORD phone numbers is actually the same number that another ANSWER-related socialist party formerly used for a different (now defunct) front group back in 2009. I guess it's more efficient to just recycle phone numbers than having to get new lines for each passing front group.
As always, ANSWER has big, big plans for its latest front group, positioning themselves at the vanguard of whatever social movement is au courant. Despite this boundless optimism, their plans repeatedly fail, over and over. The sign of a True Believer is to never ever give up, change beliefs or get disheartened in the face of constant failure.
Oh, politics politics politics. Enough already! Let's look at pictures!
Local sexpert and activist Carol Queen gave a sort of droning academic-tinged speech, while wearing an "I Love Female Orgasms" shirt and some unfortunately ill-fitting granny pants.
Nearby, a slut showed off her Dome of the Rock Palestinian kaffiyeh. Because everyone knows how sluts are welcomed in Muslim culture!
"Greater" in the sense of "larger," or "more significant than"?
Miss "My Very Existence Affirms the Inevitability of Looksist Appearance Hierarchy" announced to all and sundry, "My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you." OK. But then why are you wearing a short skirt (and lipstick and the rest)? So that people don't turn their heads and look at you? In order to make yourself look unappealing? Then who or what does your short skirt have to do with?
Once again, the simplest SlutWalk sign raises the deepest questions. In this case, all that is missing to make everything clear is an emphasis on the final word in her message: "My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you." In other words, she's dressing up to attract only those people who are in her league, but not you, you disgusting troll.
This actually was my favorite sign of the day: "Modest clothes? Still rape." True, so true. In reality, no one in Western society condones rape — the entire SlutWalk concept is a straw man fallacy. They're arguing against a position that no one professes. And this sign, in an un-self-aware way, subtly undermines the whole thesis of the rally. This particular protester wasn't really on board with the whole "dress provocatively" thing, so fashioned a message from her point of view: Doesn't matter what kind of clothes the victim is wearing, including modest clothes: rape is still rape. But that just exposes the tautology of the overall SlutWalk message, which is reduced to: Rape is bad. Period. But that isn't controversial, so the message has to be dolled up in radical festoons to make it seem exciting.
Sluts could stock up on Feminist "Cliterature" at the pre-march rally.
As you might expect, it's all capitalism's fault. There is no rape in a socialist utopia!
Maxine Doogan, a prostitute who founded "The Erotic Service Providers' Union," gave an emotional, if hesitant speech, in which she concluded each summation of Republican sexism with, "And that's not right."
Rarely do I ever see the normally street-smart San Francisco police do something stupid and naive, but they fell for it this time: After Doogan repeatedly insulted and bashed the police in her speech, she went over to cops who were on hand to guide the march through the city, and asked them to pose for snapshots with her and her friends, to which the cops agreed — seemingly unaware that the photos were almost certain to be used sarcastically and mockingly.
Socialists and feminists marched together.
We trooped through the streets of the city.
"Slut Wranglers" kept us all herded together.
"6-inch pumps doesn't mean I want to hump."
"My ass is not an excuse for assault."
SlutWalk in a nutshell.
The full extent of the crowd; maybe a quarter of a block long. We headed off to the Castro District, where our message was so uncontroversial that it barely merited notice.
See you at SlutWalk 2013!
[Thanks to the various sluts who contributed photos and videos to the report.]