SlutWalks and the future of me

When do people take your picture? Think about it. What are you wearing when your picture is taken? Who are you with? Does the photographer ask you for permission? Do they post it online? Most importantly, do you care about these things? After having a picture of me and my friends go viral, I do.

My picture was taken on May 7, 2011. It wasn’t very long ago, so I remember it all. Being a high school student, I woke up late, got a bagel, went to take my SAT IIs, and then met up with some friends. We had heard online about something called a Slut March, or a Slut Walk, happening in Boston, and were planning to go. Two friends of mine were excited to dress up for the walk, but I hadn’t had time. So I, with another friend, was just wearing what I wear everyday, a tank top and jeans. But when we arrived, and met Jaclyn Friedman wearing lingerie too, my friend offered to carry my top in her bag and I said yes. So now we have answered three questions: When, What, Who. But there are more complicated questions to answer.

The reporter (who I later learned had taken multiple pictures) came up to us and asked our names, and our opinions on the march. I was surprised, because in my experience reporters can easily ignore youth activists. There certainly hadn’t been anyone asking us questions at Youth Pride the year before. So we gave our names, and talked for a bit — but never once did he ask for our picture, or for permission to take our picture later, or give indication that photos of us would go online.

However, one photo was published the very next day. I was a little uncomfortable with this, but whatever — we were in public, after all, and wanted the march to get publicity. My friends set it as their facebook profile picture. Someone put it on tumblr. I didn’t really mind. But fast-forward to a week later, and it was everywhere. My sister saw it. My parents saw it, and were not happy. I tried to explain, it was important activism, but to them it was no different than a Girls Gone Wild video. An old teacher of mine saw it on Jezebel. After a month, it was in the Washington Post and my grandparents had seen it. What’s a girl to do?

No one cared about what I thought, people just used my photo to write about their own thoughts. Established reporters and feminists needed a stock photo for the SlutWalk, and I was in it. It was clearly me, topless and silent before the world.

Some people insulted us, some commended us, but no one asked us what we thought. Gone were the inquisitive reporters — if we were newsworthy, it was only our past action, our photograph, that mattered. I saw the SlutWalk as an expression of our right to be seen as whole people, not just as our clothing or our bodies. I saw it as a clear statement that our clothing doesn’t excuse rape, it doesn’t excuse violence, it doesn’t excuse objectification.

I have learned, though, that your clothing is an excuse for photographs. Next time, I will be prepared.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted June 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    You attended the SlutWalk dressed like that in order to gain attention for a cause that you (and I) believe in. When that reporter took your photo s/he gave you exactly what you were asking for, as a topless demonstrator walking in public where everyone could see you. I’m sorry that you later had regrets, but you can’t get angry at a reporter who did his/her job AND helped you achieve your goal of spreading the message.

    Think about it. If you were walking around town in a bikini top and shorts, your photo would not have ended up in the Washington Post. There’s no news value. Your photo ended up everywhere because it’s an interesting way to show the face of the cause, not because of your body.

    • Posted June 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      I did attend the SlutWalk to spread awareness, but that is not the same as attending to have my picture spread around the world. I wanted to add to the walk as a participant and learn from others there, not become a poster girl for the cause. I didn’t sign a release form or give any consent to have my photograph taken. I was not “asking for” it. I’ve made peace with it, but it wasn’t a goal of “me” or the march.
      Certainly, the organizers and speakers would be more representative of the cause, as would a more diverse group of people. The four of us in the photo are all white teenagers, and mostly dressed up. As you say, our participation was the focus of the photo, but our clothing was hardly inconsequential.

  2. Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    that is disgusting, but it’s also completely normal. girls are objectified daily through their photographs. and one of the hardest parts of this to cope with it that girls objectify other girls. repeatedly, i’ve seen my class mates log into facebook and ‘stalk’ other girls, with comments like ‘she’s such a slut, look how short that dress is’ and ‘i’d never put photos up like that, what an attention seeking whore’ populating the converstation. strangely enough, they never do it to guys. how can we possibly expect to even attempt to combat how guys see us and objectify us because of our bodies when we ourselves tear each other down at every point. if a girl in highschool has sex she’s much more likely to be called a slut by other girls then by other guys; it seems sometimes that guys pick up on these titles and judgements from the girls, without actually formulating them themselves.

  3. Posted June 6, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Did the reporter get a release form? If not, you may have some recourse against your image being used further without permission legally. You can probably ask your friends using it on Facebook to crop or Photoshop you out of the picture, as friends, I hope they would respect your request. As would, I hope, any feminist sites using this stock photo that you contacted. But realistically, its so easy to link to or grab and re-post internet images that it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to find out every place this image has traveled to. I had a similar problem when my top came loose during a live show once. I kind of take it as a given that people will photograph a band on a stage, but I wasn’t expecting that to happen!

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