Male feminists, sex work, and SlutWalk: part two of a conversation with Meghan Murphy

On Monday, I posted the first part of an exchange with Meghan Murphy, a blogger and radio host with the Canadian F Word Feminist Media Collective. I answered five questions she had asked of me, and we each posted the same piece at our respective sites. Predictably, we both attracted critics; some of Meghan’s radical allies were incensed that she would legitimize me by engaging, while some of my liberal/sex-positive friends were equally exasperated with my decision to take part in this dialogue.

In any event, what follows below the cut is the second part of our exchange, in which Meghan responds to five of my questions about male feminists, sex work and SlutWalk. Intercourse and puppy dogs also come up for discussion, though not in the same context. Continue reading

Feminism, Porn, and SlutWalk: part one of a conversation with Meghan Murphy

One of the many benefits of being involved with the SlutWalk phenomenon has come in the form of new allies. But it’s not just allies I’ve met in real life and online. I’ve also had some vigorous discussions with folks who disagree with the very premise of the SlutWalk movement. Some of these conversations have revealed more heat than light. But some have been good, and I’m particularly pleased to have had the chance to meet Meghan Murphy, a graduate student in gender studies at Simon Fraser University who blogs with British Columbia’s F-Word Media Collective. Meghan also hosts the F Word Show on Vancouver’s Co-Op Radio, airing Mondays at noon Pacific time.

Meghan’s written a series of posts taking on SlutWalk, particularly around the willingness of some SlutWalks to form alliances with sex workers without a concomitant criticism of the sex industry itself. My views on SlutWalk are clear, and I’m currently developing a project in conjunction with sex worker advocates.

So in the interest of cutting through some of the rhetoric, Meghan and I decided to have a frank but civil exchange of views. She’d ask me five questions, and I’d respond; I’d ask her five questions, and she’d respond. What appears below the cut are her five questions to me and my responses. Jointly posted here and at the F-Word Blog, this will be followed on Wednesday with my questions and Meghan’s answers. Continue reading

The Young Turks cover SlutWalk

The Young Turks, one of the best of the online news services, filmed a story at SlutWalk LA.

I’m on in the second half of the two minute story: SlutWalk West Hollywood. My teammate Chelsea Delgadillo also is interviewed, as are several of our great speakers.

And you see me standing next to Sgt. Jim Farrell of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, who bent over backwards to make this happen and was a fabulous ally.

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“What’s SlutWalk?” A note on rallying right next to a sandbox

I will eventually stop writing about SlutWalk, but not just yet.

Not long before I got up to speak at SlutWalk on Saturday, Melissa Maynarich, a reporter from L.A.’s CBS affiliate, walked up to me. I was standing with the other organizers behind the stage. Melissa and I had chatted earlier, but this time she didn’t have a microphone in her hand or her camera operator trailing behind. She asked for a quick word, then pointed over my shoulder to the space just beyond the lawn where the throng of SlutWalkers was assembled. “Did you think about the fact that this is going on right next to a play area?”

I was surprised no one had asked that earlier.

When we first were given the West Hollywood Park location, I’d seen that a large sandpit with slides and swings was immediately adjacent to our assembly area. When I was meeting with city officials on Thursday, I’d briefly brought it up, and was told it would be “no problem.” As one remarked, “parents in West Hollywood are not going to have a problem with SlutWalk.” (The city has a very progressive reputation and is the heart of the Southern California LGBT community.)

While we were setting up, kids and their parents played in the sandbox. As our speakers began to speak, and as the space began to be jammed with people, small children swang and slid and dug under their parents’ watchful eyes. As our speakers told painful personal stories of rape and slut-shaming, and as at least a few scantily-clad speakers took the stage, the kids kept playing. I kept glancing over at the little ones, many of whom were my daughter’s age. And even before the reporter asked me, I’d been watching the eyes of the parents, locking friendly gazes with a few of them.

(Heloise and her mother weren’t at SlutWalk. As someone who for better or worse was so publicly identified with this, I didn’t want to make my daughter the focal point of attention. I’m reluctant, personally, to politicize very young children. It’s one thing for me to say “I’m here as a father”, it’s another thing to display my daughter as evidence. When she’s old enough to understand the work I do, and if she chooses, she’ll be welcome to come and participate. Other parents do feel differently, and I respect their decisions regarding their little ones.)

I told Melissa that I thought most of the very little ones were completely oblivious to the rally taking place just feet from their play area. Others, I suggested, might ask their moms or dads about what was going on. And speaking as a father and a long-time youth leader, I said there were many developmentally appropriate things one could say to a child who asked “What’s slutwalk?”

With small kids, the easiest thing to tell them is that SlutWalk is a group of people getting together to remind everyone that no matter what you wear, you deserve to be safe. I’d say, off the top of my head, something like:

“No one ever gets to touch you if you don’t want them to. Some people think that if a girl or a woman wears certain clothes, she deserves to be hurt. The grown-ups at this rally don’t believe that. That’s why you see so many people who look like they aren’t wearing very much. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it? It’s okay to look and it’s even okay to laugh! It’s just not okay to think that any of these men and women deserve to be hurt because of what they’re wearing.”

Melissa cocked her head, looked up at me, smiled her best on-camera journalist smile, and thanked me. Her eyes seemed to suggest that many parents might not share my views or my desire for such a discussion.

More to come.

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. Continue reading

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SlutWalk and Jack Kevorkian: the symmetry of bodily sovereignty

SlutWalk LA is now less than 24 hours away. Though Facebook is notoriously unreliable in this regard, we have more than 4000 RSVPs. (I’m guessing we’ll get half that, but would like to be pleasantly surprised with something much bigger.) The weather appears to be cooperating (some morning clouds likely, then highs in the low 70s with sunshine during our rally and march.) I’ve touched base with the City of West Hollywood again, done a brief radio interview, and done something else I hardly ever do: write out my speech. I tend to wing it in most settings, liking the adrenaline rush of extemporaneity and panic. (Once an addict, always an addict, eh?) But to ensure that I’m brief and to the point, I typed up a three-minute piece. I’ll post it here after the event.

This morning, I saw the news of Jack Kevorkian’s death. Though his penchant for self-promotion and risk-taking seemed at times to do more harm than good to the movement for death with dignity, on the balance I was and am a fan. I honor his passing and his tremendous work to give dying people the best and most peaceful transition possible.

In several obits, including this one in the LA Times, one can find a famous quote from Derek Humphry of the Hemlock Society: “If we are free people at all, then we must be free to choose the manner of our death.” Jack Kevorkian believed in that definition and struggled hard to make it possible. I’m grateful for that.

Thinking of what Humphry said, it strikes me that there’s a parallel with SlutWalk. We’re fighting for the freedom of women to choose the manner of their dress, to choose how they present themselves in public, and to do so in confidence that they will be safe. We’re marching for the right to be sovereign over one’s body, a right to which Jack Kevorkian dedicated his life. We’re marching for sexual justice, which is rooted in the sacred principle of personal autonomy.

In the end, our bodies belong to us and us alone. They do not belong to our spouses or our children, to our parents or our presidents. We can use our bodies to love and serve others, of course. We can give hugs and orgasms, invite others to find refuge and comfort and ecstasy in our embraces. But in the end, our bodies are always ours. Sexual justice is about giving all of us the right to say “yes” to pleasure without shame or fear; it’s also about giving all of us the right to say “no” in the certainty that that no will be respected regardless of who we are, whom we’ve touched, what we’re wearing.

And just as we should always be free to choose who touches us, we should also be free, within the obvious limits imposed by our own human frailty, to choose how and when we give up our bodies to death. Women’s bodies don’t belong to men, whether those men are their husbands or the leering strangers on the streetcorner. That’s a basic principle of SlutWalk. In the same way, our bodies don’t belong to our families or to our communities. When we are terminally ill, there’s no point in dutifully prolonging the body’s pain out of a sense of obligation to those who will grieve our inevitable death.

I am faithful to my wife. I am sexual with her alone. My arms are always open for my daughter. In different ways, they each have a kind of moral and emotional claim on my body, one I honor as best I can. But my body has never ceased to be mine. The fact that I direct all my sexuality towards my wife doesn’t mean my flesh is her property, or hers mine. Our bodies are gifts we share, but never give away.

Many rely on my body, a few love it. But it is mine, and yours is yours. And if our dying is slow and painful, our bodies are ours to relinquish just as they were once ours to delight in.

That principle of bodily sovereignty is clearest around sex and death. For me, at least, there is some parallel between our work in the streets of West Hollywood (and in the streets of many other cities around the world) tomorrow, and the work of the brave, impetuous, exasperating, and lion-hearted Jack Kevorkian.

SlutWalk Saved in L.A.!

After 24 hours of crisis, SlutWalk LA is back on. There had been some accidental miscommunication between the City of West Hollywood and our steering committee, and it threatened briefly to lead to cancellation of our event. We needed $2000 and a lot of paperwork, and we needed it fast.

I spent two hours this morning meeting with city officials and going over the permit process for our SlutWalk march and rally on Saturday. Thanks to a lot of scrambling, what could have been a desperately disappointing situation was smoothly resolved. We are permitted and paid for.

Thanks go to our generous donors who helped us meet our goal. (See the post immediately below for more). Thanks too to my fellow steering committee members who worked so hard to publicize our last minute fundraiser. Our largest individual gift was $250, our smallest $2. Many of the notes that came through PayPal were moving. A typical $10 donation message: “I don’t have much, but SlutWalk means a lot to me as a woman and a rape survivor. Good luck.”

I’m very grateful to David Logan of the City of West Hollywood and Sgt. Jimmy Farrell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. And a huge note of thanks to a great activist, former WeHo city councilwoman Lindsey Horvath who gave generously and worked brilliantly behind the scenes to make this happen. She and I must have spoken a dozen times in the past 24 hours — and you can hear her speak at SlutWalk on Saturday!

Nothing like a good crisis to get the sleep-deprived blood flowing!

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SlutWalk appeal

We learned today that a series of permits that needed to be filed for SlutWalk Los Angeles were not filed. The kind cooperation of the City of West Hollywood means that they have now been filed. But due to the size of our march (now exceeding 3500 people) we will need off-duty sheriff’s deputies to provide security. After negotiating with the sheriff’s department, we’ve gotten a great deal — but still need to come up with $2000 by (gulp) tomorrow. We’ve already had several nice donations, for which I’m grateful.

Due to the lateness of the hour, the way to give is via PayPal to our email account: Even $5 helps!

Any monies received in excess of our costs will be donated to our affiliated charities.

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Big Tent Feminism, Sex Workers, and SlutWalk LA

With the end of the semester fast approaching and several other irons in the fire, I haven’t had the time for blogging I’d hoped to have. And this week, I’m focused on organizing for SlutWalk LA, which goes off this Saturday at noon in West Hollywood Park. (Our press release is here). As of this morning, we have 3400 confirmed RSVPs via Facebook, and are still hoping for far more to join us.

The controversy over SlutWalk (both about the possibility of reclaiming the word “slut” and the larger message of the march itself) has grown exponentially.

My colleague on the SlutWalk LA organizing team, Katie Landers, will debate the F-Word’s Meghan Murphy tonight on KPFK’s Feminist Magazine program (at 7:00PDT). I’m pleased that most of my fellow organizers have gotten radio and press time as well as we promote this event that has become something of a cultural lightning rod.

I’ve taken the expected flak for my role as an organizer. At this point, I’m used to it; as the kids say, the “haters be hatin’.” Though the ad hominem attacks are as familiar as they are both tiresome and ineffective, they did raise one particular issue worth touching on: the role of sex workers and their allies in SlutWalk. Continue reading

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