Most Recent Thoughts on SlutWalk Chicago

2011 May 27

On May 17th you, dear readers, sent me a message, perhaps without ever meaning to. After I posted my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago my blog received more hits within an eight-hour period than it had on any entire day prior to the 17th. The letter is currently the most visited page of my blog. This is so despite the fact I wrote the letter with a sense of urgency and did not spend as much time proofreading it as I would have liked to. I can only conclude that the matter of inclusion at SlutWalk is a matter important to many of you. Because I feel that what has become apparent regarding SlutWalk since the 17th is more significant than anything I included in my letter, I suspect you will want to know what I now know.

Shortly after I sent my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago I wrote another letter, this one private, to a member of SlutWalk’s organizational board in the belief that she would be interested in dialogue. In this letter I did the following:

  1. I told the organizer that in view of a variety of circumstances, some of them unique to present-day Chicago, SlutWalk Chicago has an obligation to be conscious of the ways in which different communities view the Chicago Police Department.
  2. I expressed an interest in discussing my concerns in a forum, so long as it were possible for me to participate without appearing to endorse SlutWalk.
  3. I said that it appeared to me as though SlutWalk’s organizers were a small group of self-appointed people appointing others to leadership positions in an entirely top-down manner.
  4. I explained why the language then (and currently) on SlutWalk Chicago’s home page and in its mission statement is not trans-inclusive, and I offered concrete suggestions on how to make it so.

What has been SlutWalk Chicago’s response? As some of you already know, May 17th was also the date when SlutWalk Chicago decided to make a blog post entitled “SlutWalk Chicago on Inclusivity, Diversity”. Since then Jessica Skolnik, a member of the organizational board (who is not the person I wrote to on the 17th), has made a related blog post entitled “About being an ally, privilege, marginalization, naming, and SlutWalk’s place in feminist activism”. Because no one in SlutWalk Chicago has yet acknowledged its critics by name, there is no way of knowing for sure whom they were responding to. (What the fuck, SlutWalk Chicago? Even SlutWalk Toronto, in its massive fail, had the decency to mention Aura Blogando by name.) In any case, SlutWalk Chicago has talked the talk, but what has it done so far to walk the walk? In a word, nothing. I will use the remainder of this post to expand on some of the problems I currently have.

1. Apart from the forum SlutWalk Chicago might hold after the march the organization has not announced any opportunities for dialogue concerning oppressed groups’ relation to the police.

When I read people’s concerns regarding the SlutWalk movement, I feel that it is only a matter of time before they mention the police. TJ’s friend notes, “Most women still do not report sexual assaults to the police.” Aura Blogando questioned the idea of inviting a police officer to speak about safety to begin with. While critical of many of the other points Aura makes, Little Red Henski says this about one of the aims of SlutWalk Toronto:

OK, so SlutWalk organizers are really bummed they can’t think of the police as friends anymore and they really want to work with them to repair their relationship. I’m with Blogando on this 100%. Boo fucking hoo. Granted, I don’t know what the police in Canada are like. I hear things are better up there in a lot of ways. It could be that Toronto police aren’t a repressive internal military force designed to violently preserve what is itself a violent racial and economic order. I’m inclined to think they’re more or less the same as police in the US; but, if they aren’t, SlutWalk organizers need a reality check before crossing the border and telling us how to be free. Their failure to deal with the police as an institution is damning evidence that the organizers are inadvertently reifying white supremacy.

When it comes to the police, is Chicago in any way exceptional? Marginalized people have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Chicago Police Department. I cannot hope to give an exhaustive list of the reasons here, but I hope this non-representative sampling will give my readers some idea of the threat oppressed folks face:

Despite this marginalized people have not had the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the Chicago Police Department to SlutWalk Chicago in a public forum. This cannot be attributed to a failure to consider police presence or involvement on the part of the organizational board. In a registration form SlutWalk Chicago tells prospective volunteers, “Your job will be to keep people out of the street, keep crowds from getting unruly, and generally encourage enthusiasm! Police will be on hand to assist with these tasks, so you will not be responsible for any sort of physical intervention in the unlikely event that such an action is required.” It looks as though SlutWalk Chicago will be very welcoming to anyone who has enough privilege to equate the police with safety.

2. SlutWalk Chicago does not use trans-inclusive language.

When I wrote to SlutWalk Chicago, I figured that the organization would do what so many other social justice organizations have done: Modify its words while doing little to back them. As it turns out, the organization has not even done that much. In this matter I feel conflicted. On the one hand, SlutWalk Chicago has failed to make a minimal effort to help trans people feel included. On the other hand, it has avoided making trans people tokens. While I try to resolve my inner turmoil, I would like to note that there is a preferable way to go about avoiding the tokenization of trans people: Include us both in word and in deed.

3. The only dialogue SlutWalk Chicago is having with various communities is limited and on SlutWalk Chicago’s own terms.

The above might not be so problematic if SlutWalk Chicago were flexible. However, in the ten days that have followed the letter I sent on the 17th the SlutWalk Chicago organizers have not bothered to correct my view that all major decisions regarding SlutWalk are made by an unelected board. Skolnik might have hoped to quell this concern when she wrote, “We need and value your input! There are only five of us on the organizing team, and we in no way want to be the figureheads of a movement (what kind of egalitarian movement has figureheads, anyway? We’re all leaders!)” But how can there be a community-based dialogue regarding marginalized people’s concerns if not so much as a forum will be held until after the march? And what incentive will there be for the board to start taking oppressed folks’ concerns to heart, if we have neither voting power nor access to the board’s deliberations? If “we’re all leaders”, why do so many people who were initially interested in participating in SlutWalk now feel alienated by the board and its process?

While SlutWalk Chicago’s organizational board may have in some important sense the right to organize in an undemocratic fashion, if it wants to, it is rather disingenuous to do this while claiming that it wants our “input” and “does not endorse tokenizing minorities”. I find it telling that SlutWalk Chicago has told the readers of its May 17th post that it is “making SlutWalk Chicago an inclusive event” by making its words accessible to marginalized people (as by “putting together a Spanish language flyer”) but without telling marginalized people how we can overcome barriers to contact them or have influence over the decision-making process. Currently it does not appear that SlutWalk Chicago will be a march for people who believe in grassroots organizing.

I hope that in my posts I help my readers become aware of not only my views on SlutWalk but also the views of many other people throughout the world. To that end I will close by linking to other recent posts about SlutWalk:

“SlutWalk, Rape, White Supremacy”—The Chicago activist who gives us The Body Electric shares hir thoughts.

“Slutwalks v. Ho Strolls”

“SlutWalk: To march or not to march”

“We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with SlutWalk gets rocky.”


An Open Letter to SlutWalk Chicago

2011 May 16

Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines“. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:

  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.

If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless