I walked out the door that morning dressed as Hester Prynne–the heroine of the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, The Scarlet Letter. In America, this book is often studied by students in high school and college. Apparently it was one of the first books that put American Literature on the map as well as illustrating America’s favorite past time of using sexuality against people. I knew that people of all ages would instantly get the message–using a person’s sexual history to shame them is not cool. I also loved that this required me to wearing a pilgrim outfit of sorts which I hoped would hit home the message that rape/slut-shaming has nothing to do with what one wears and everything to do with being ignorant of reality. (I also hope that all those high schoolers who took pictures of me showed their English teachers and got extra credit for it! LOL)
I left the house wearing a black dress, bonnet, apron and Scarlet A+ (I didn’t think just an A was slutty enough LOL). I was actually a bit more nervous than usual, but the only person who made a comment was a man on the train platform who asked me where I worked. I told him I was going to a protest at Union Square.
While I was on the train, my mom called me to say that Planned Parenthood called my parent’s house, asking for me. I thought this was all pretty ironic considering I was going to a protest against sexualized violence. I told my mom I would have to donate to Planned Parenthood when I got home (I did). Of course, I also talked to my mom about the protest so the people on the train must have gotten an earful about rape culture (I’m sneaky like that).
I arrived at Union Square just in time for the march. There, I got interviewed by a reporter from DNAinfo.com. I told the reporter that people have been raped throughout history–slaves, native americans, war zones, disaster zones–but unfortunately that didn’t make it in there. “Rape didn’t start today” did, however.
We started to march, heading towards St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, chanting all the while:
Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! / Rape culture has got to go!
However we dress, wherever we go! / Yes means yes and no means no!
Hey rapists! Go fuck yourselves!
While I was marching through St. Mark’s, an Indonesian woman named Siti approached me, excited about my costume. However, unlike most people who recognized me as Hester Prynne, Siti was excited that someone else was wearing a head covering too. Siti was wearing a headscarf, or hijab. In Indonesia, Siti explained to me, women dress conservatively, but rape still happens there. So she understood SlutWalk’s mission. She told me she was going to participate in the Indonesian version of SlutWalk (although they are not going to call it ‘slutwalk’) and wanted to see how our protest went in NYC.
One of my favorite parts of the march was when we were stopped by traffic and one of those NYC Tour double decker buses passed us. Several tourist snapped photos while we chanted extra loud for them. This was only the second protest I’ve ever attended so I was surprised to see the police in full force. I wasn’t scared and for some reason I was thrilled to see them (unfortunately the Occupy Wall Street protesters haven’t had such a positive experience with the police). I also noticed a group of men who were watching us—they weren’t catcalling us–just watching and I was thrilled that they were paying attention. We stopped in front of a Fire Station and chanted some more. A few fire fighters were standing on the balcony, watching us, taking pictures with their phones. I waved.
We marched for about 2 hours (was it really that long?!) before ending back at Union Square. People just hung out and there was band playing music—I really enjoyed their music. They had a song about being slutty and song that said “I just wanna be free.” I had the pleasure of meeting Therese Shechter, a flim maker, who is currently doing a documentary called “How to Lose Your Virginity.” (I also did my feminist duty by donating $25 to help finish the film. Rock on women making movies!).
Various people came up to me asking for my picture and sometimes clarification about my outfit. One young woman ask me if I was a Quaker. At first, I thought this was a weird question, but then I realized that it made so much sense!!! Quakers are a sect of Christianity who, at least in America, were pretty much doing all these progressive things before it was cool. For example, the Grimke sisters became Quakers because they wanted to fight against slavery. They also went around speaking in public to crowds of both men and women. This was scandalous back then and one preacher said that they “unsexed” themselves by doing this. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I imagine it’s the 19th century version of “slut.”
All and all, I had a great time at SlutWalk NYC and I look forward to doing it again next year. As I’ve taken stock of the coverage of SlutWalk, it looks like we have a ways to go to prove to people that clothing does not cause rape. Also, we as feminists need to be more sensitive to the intersection of race, gender and sexuality. Marching may not be the perfect form of activism, but it’s just one more tool in our tool kit and we must strive to improve it.