SlutWalk L.A.: brief initial recap

SlutWalk Los Angeles 2011 is in the books. On a lovely spring day, some 2500 Angelenos gathered in West Hollywood Park to rally against rape culture and for safety, for pleasure, for joy, and for healing. My fellow steering committee members and I have been working night and day on this for weeks, and right now, I’m totally zonked. For now, I’ll just thank the wonderful speakers, volunteers, sheriff’s deputies, musicians, and marchers who made this afternoon magical.

A longer follow-up coming Monday.

There’s plenty of media coverage available. See this link for a video news story and a radio story (scroll down for the radio) featuring an interview I did yesterday. (Google “Slutwalk” and find much more.)

Jessica Valenti’s magnificent piece in the Washington Post is perhaps the definitive analysis of SlutWalks to appear so far.

Some photos from LA IndyMedia. And a great public Flickr set.

I threw out the speech I’d written and spoke from the heart, genuinely. I don’t remember what I said, but below the fold, the speech I had planned to deliver.

I’m here today as an organizer, as a feminist, as a husband, a father, and as a teacher. But I’m also here as a man.

When that Toronto constable told women that they should avoid “dressing like sluts”, he was telling a lie about rape. We know that what women wear in public has nothing to do with their likelihood of being sexually assaulted.

But he was telling another lie as well: one about men. Call it the myth of male weakness. It’s the all too prevalent idea that men are incapable of self-control.

I joined the international SlutWalk movement because I believe in men’s capacity to do two things at once: be turned on by what we see while honoring the humanity and dignity of the woman whose body attracts our eye. The worst lie about men is that because of our biology, lust and empathy can’t coexist within us. If you want kind and compassionate men who will respect women’s boundaries, the myth of male weakness tells us, women need to conceal the parts of themselves the sight of which will turn a man into a savage beast.

We live in a world where far too many men rape and commit other kinds of verbal and sexual assault. It’s a world where an even greater number of men feel powerless to stop other men’s violence. As fathers, husbands, brothers and boyfriends we warn the women we love to “cover up” because that seems the only solution to the terrible problem of sexual violence. But there’s a better solution: challenging the guys in our lives to check themselves and each other.

The myth of male weakness becomes real because we repeat it. We need to start repeating a “counter-story”. In our words and in our actions and in our activism, we need to live out the truth that men can be both sexual and safe. We need to acknowledge that rapists rape for many reasons, but what a woman wears is never one of them. We need to stop telling our sisters to cover up – and we need to start challenging our brothers to respect every woman’s no, no matter how much skin she shows or how many people she’s slept with.

Respect is not something we give only to the prudish or the virginal. Respect is owed to everyone by reason of their being human. Whether she’s in a bikini or a burqa, whether she’s a nun or a porn star, a virgin waiting for marriage or a woman whose number of sex partners is higher than Einstein’s IQ – EVERY woman deserves to have her “no” heard and respected, every time.

That’s not too much to expect, and it’s not too much to ask. And if men want a world where the women they love are safe, and if they want a world where men are trusted more than they are feared, they need to stand up, step up, and speak out against the myth of male weakness. I’m so glad so many are doing just that today.

I’m proud to stand and march with all of you. Thank you.

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11 thoughts on “SlutWalk L.A.: brief initial recap

  1. Looks like you had GREAT weather, Hugo.

    Jessica’s article was good too, but then I read the comments…ughhh.

  2. As a former youth leader, would you take your youth group to SlutWalk?

    I’m thinking most of our kids have had Our Whole Lives and it’s a cause they support. I think there’s supposed to be a Salt Lake slutwalk at some point.

  3. Digging the photo you posted. Mark this one in the fun category. It’s sorta like guns rights activists who have concealed carry weapons rallies. Those are a chance to hang out, carry a concealed weapon, talk guns, gripe about the government, and maybe have a bite to eat while building relationships. These types of things aren’t going to change a lot of minds, but they makes the participants feel good. And feeling good is usually a good thing.

  4. I took the wrong bus and ended up in East LA. Was heartbroken that I missed it.

  5. There’s something about the image of the fully-dressed (overdressed, even) man along with the partially-dressed women that reminds me of Manet’s “Dejeuner sur l’herbe”. It’s kind of creepy, with the man front and center, as if he’s leading the women into whatever they’re doing. There’s another man over to the left, wearing ultra-long “shorts”, showing the same thing done in another style. It’s as if we’re meant to see a point involving grotesque asymmetry in body exposure–but what is it?

  6. I’d tend to suggest that a ‘SlutWalk’, meant to support and bring attention to the issue of the way our society polices and punishes female sexuality, is inevitably going to itself highlight asymmetries in presentation between the male and female participants. We all understand that ‘slut’ is used to police female behavior in a way that it’s not used to police male behavior. Given that, it seems inevitable that the men are going to show up dressed conservatively but woman may choose to show up dressed however pleases them.

    Parsing the image in a way that privileges the male presentations as significant seems to devalue the women involved, as well as discounts the effort the men in the picture put into dressing non-obtrusively. It’s a flip of the usual; if the men dress provocatively, they get dinged for taking attention away from the women. If they dress conservatively, they get dinged for asymmetries with the more provocatively dressed women they are marching with.

  7. Oh no. Why did John have to say that? I have to admit, the image does look kinda like the stuff the haters say. I know it’s not true, but to somebody who’s seeing your picture for the first time, I can see how they would jump to conclusions.

    You’ll have to wear your White Swan costume to the next rally, Hugo. Or maybe one of Eira’s negligees?

  8. The whole idea was for people to wear what was comfortable for them, dressing as they wished without fear. For me, a Brooks Brothers suit is what I’m most at home wearing. Two of our female speakers also wore suits, while another wore lingerie and fishnets.

  9. I question (and don’t have a clear answer) as to what the role of men should be in the SlutWalk marches and movement in general.

    My initial thoughts relate to some of the issues raised in Take Back the Night Marches over the years.

    I see the importance of men:

    1.) Being visible (visibly supportive),
    2.) Not taking the primary attention away from the women,
    3.) Supporting the Women and
    4.) Building Support and Work Amongst Men.

    It seems important to me for men such as you (and I) to support women and to most significantly to do so building work with other men.

    SlutWalks should be a place where men may find male allies and start (or expand) the work to end Male Violence – reaching out to the men who “aren’t there”.

    I think that if we men seriously talk with other men at SlutWalks and figure out how best to reach out to other men we will being doing our best to really support the women of the SlutWalks who Should be the primary focus of the efforts. Thanks!

  10. I’m disappointed with Valenti’s piece, and that Hugo thinks it’s the definitive piece on Slutwalks so far. Valenti does manage to (briefly) note that there is criticism of various kinds from feminists of Slutwalks, but falls short in responding to that criticism, except (I guess?) to say that Slutwalks aren’t perfect. If she thinks this is the future of feminist activism, I would think she’d more want to address those concerns, rather than simply paying lip service to their existence.

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