London Slutwalk — Hopeful Solidarity
What to wear to Slutwalk? That has been my dilemma for weeks now. But when the big day dawned yesterday, I dressed in jeans and a top that showed just a peek of cleavage, and the thought of walking on hard pavement for several hours made me opt for my old reliable Hedgehogs rather than f**k-me shoes. If there’s ever a ‘tomboy walk’ I’m so in! Raymond dressed like Raymond always dresses, no dilemma for him. I admire that so much. Of course the answer is that it doesn’t matter what one wears to Slutwalk, as the oft repeated chant says, ‘Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.’
For those of you who might have been on holiday on another planet recently, Slutwalks began as a protest movement when a Canadian policeman advised students to ‘avoid dressing like sluts’ in order to avoid being attacked. Since his unfortunate remark, thousands of people around the world have marched in protest of a culture in which the victim, rather than the abuser, gets the blame.
We arrived for at Hyde Park Corner for Slutwalk London amid a gathering crowd and a forest of waving placards and banners. Though there were the expected men in drag and women in mini skirts and bras, and I could only see a small bit of the crowd (BBC estimated five thousand people marched) a majority of the people who marched could have passed for people just out for a Saturday stroll in London, or even people heading off for work. My Hedgehogs and jeans were not the least big out of place, and my man dressed like himself was in good company.
We were all in good company, actually. Placards ranged from angry, ‘Blame the c*nt who rapes and not the c*nt he raped’ to ‘My clothes are not my consent,’ There were lots of ‘No Means No.’ placards, but the one that moved me most was a hand held message written on a piece of cardboard. It simply said. ‘I was wearing jeans and a jumper.’ There in the colourful, festive atmosphere a simple piece of cardboard said it all, why we were all there, and why what we were doing was so important.
The march got officially started at two, and Raymond and I found ourselves marching in front of Zoe Margolis, ‘the girl with the one-track mind.’ I’d met Zoe before at a reading she did at Sh! a little over a year ago. She is an avid supporter of Slutwalk.We marched along talking and laughing and sharing the excitement with the others marching around us, men in drag hobbling in heels, women in corsets and suspenders, men and women in dressed in T-shirts, all mixed together. The age range was fabulous. There were mothers marching with their daughters, there were pensioners of both sexes, there were students and professionals and every one in between.
Every once in a while to the beat of drums and tambourines, a spontaneous chant would arise, ‘Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.’ The day had turned warm and a woman marching several people in front of us had written a plea for sunscreen on the back of her placard. There was an outpouring of support from the crowded open-topped tour-buses that passed by the march with waves and whistles and shouts of solidarity.
The feeling of excitement and the chanting and cheering got louder as we rounded Piccadilly Circus and headed down Haymarket toward Trafalgar Square. At Trafalgar Square the march ended with a barrage of amazing speakers, most with messages of what the average person can do to make a difference. The official website, Slut Means Speak Out has more on that.
Afterward in The Chandos Pub, I spoke with a group of young women who had come up from Brighton for the march. It was their first ever. They had read about it on Facebook and felt it was important. We all laughed and chatted and had a pint together.
It’s hard for me to take it all in, even now. It was my first march too, and it was sensory and emotional overload. But I took away two very important things from the London Slutwalk that will stay with me. First of all I felt a renewed sense of hope and excitement for the future of women in general. The organizer of the London Slutwalk was 17-year-old 6th-former, Anastasia Richardson. The London Slutwalk made it clear young women are neither apathetic nor silent when it comes to changing the world they live in for the better.
Secondly, I went away wondering what all the controversy was about? The message was clear, the marchers were all united. Rape is never acceptable. The division between ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls’ is a false dichotomy that must be done away with if we are to create a world where justice really is for everyone, and everyone can walk the streets in safety. And the feeling of expectation that permeated the whole walk was the sense that something was about to change.