Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Smoke and Mirrors

    As I bring this blog to a close I have one last comparison to make. There were two Miss America Pageant Protests organized in 1968,  the women's liberation movement is the one I will discuss (Kreydatus 2008). The women's liberation movement directed their efforts toward the Miss America Pageant because they found it to portray gender roles and a sexist beauty ideal. In order to bring about the change they wanted to see, these radical feminists sought to draw attention to their problems with the pageant. As a result of this protest the idea of beauty and women's liberation were brought to light and discussed nationally. During the protests in a symbolic gesture the feminists threw objects of womanhood such as, their bras, girdles, false eyelashes, steno pads, women's magazines, wigs, and dish cloths into a garbage can called the "Freedom Trash Can" (Kreydatus 2008: 490). Even though there was a lack of fire during this act, the protesters were labeled 'bra burners'.

     These radical feminists had very specific reasons for targeting the Miss America Pageant. In order for a woman to be considered a contestant she had to fit within the beauty ideal of the time, which happened to be white and slim with symmetrical features. The contestants also had to fit within a certain idea of how a proper woman should behave. They had to have spent no unchaperoned time with a male, have any hint of sexual encounter and have spent no time in establishments that served alcohol. The feminists found this to be a way for men to control the rights of women.

    SlutWalk, I feel, would feel roughly the same way about these ideals as the radical feminists did at the time. Though they would support women who choose to abstain from sex, they would be outraged at the notion of men, or even society, dictating the sexual behavior of women. What is interesting is how similar these feminists and SlutWalk are in ideas yet their veiw on femininity seems completely opposite. The radicals use bras as examples of woman garbage and are symbols of their oppression. SlutWalk on the other hand struts around in their underwear as means of embracing of their femininity. This change in attitude could represent a subtle shift in the meaning of feminism over the decades; the idea that women can be equal to men while still remaining completely female.

    With its mix of feminist values regarding sexual equality of women and mission to aid bring about the end of sexual assault SlutWalk has an interesting place in society. It gives women a place to share their stories as well as allows them to proclaim their desire to lead sexual lives without being judged or persecuted. In an effort to take away a means of controlling  the sex lives of women they aim to reclaim slut and turn it into something positive. They primarily use marches and tactics associated with marches to further their message, but have also made use of Facebook and Twitter as a way of raising awareness and gaining support. Though it has been less then a year since the first Toronto SlutWalk there have already been Walks in two hundred other cities and more are planned. For the time being SlutWalk is proving to be a force in raising awareness and getting people involved in the movement against slut shaming and victim blaming.

Courtesy of SlutWalk

For more information:

Reference Cited:

Kreydatus, Beth
     2008.  Confronting the "Bra-Burners:" Teaching Radical Feminism with a Case Study. The History Teacher
     41: 4.

Different History

     Even though SlutWalk seems to be a revitalization of certain parts of the feminist movement, it has still managed to fall into some of the same ruts as its predecessors. One of the criticisms against the Second Wave Feminist movement was that it played mainly to white middle class women. Entire demographics were left out due to this unequal focus and as a result the Third Wave of Feminism was lead mainly by African American women who wanted a movement to address issues that either were relevant or familiar to them. One of the critiques of Second Wave feminism is its assumption that all women, despite ethnicity, age or class, are the same. Instead the goal was equality with men. Though at the time there was an anti-racist feminism movement, the focus of Second Wave Feminism was on the issues of  middle class white women.

     In the article "SlutWalks vs. Ho Strolls", the author explains that she is, like many critics, skeptical of SlutWalk's mission to redefine slut. This is grounded in her experience as a Black woman along with her lack of familiarity with the term slut. She admits that though in Western society Black women are seen as sexually loose or as "sexual sirens" (Woodward 2005: 271 ) and despite being referred to by various derogatory labels, slut is not one of them. So though she finds the shocked outrage of  SlutWalk to be "very much like the protests of privileged white girls who still have an expectation that the world will treat them with dignity and respect" (crunktastic 2011), she is of the opinion that words used to control and harm should be left to those they are used against. Instead solidarity should be shown to movements which are similar in nature but are more specific in the history of the group they support.

Courtesy of Mike Wood

     Black women bear the burden of " four dominant and oppressive stereotypical images... the mammy, the matriarch, the sexual siren, and the wel-fare mother or queen"(Woodward 2005: 271). The mammy characterizes the Black woman as dedicated servant to her White family. The matriarch represents a Black mother in her own home, she works outside the home and this negatively affects her children. She also controls both her children and her husband or partner. The sexual siren image portrays Black women as a "bitch or whore...[who] cares for nothing but her own sexual satisfaction"(Woodward 2005: 272). The welfare mother is said to be too lazy to work and instead lives off the state, usually with her many children. These stereotypes all originate from the the slavery era, yet are still for the most part, continue to be portrayed by the media. Because of the vast difference in histories of those of different backgrounds it can be difficult to completely identify with those of different historical and ethnic backgrounds. During the Second Wave feminist movement White feminists had to learn that they could not always assume that their problems were shared by every ethnicity and that the different ethnic groups could not be clumped together.

    SlutWalk does indeed focus mainly on slut shaming and the like, which could be seen as White woman issues. Though SlutWalk's other messages may seem relatively universal, maybe not everyone can relate to their message. Instead, like  'SlutWalk vs. Ho Strolls' suggest it maybe more effective that they march with those who relate to their message and show solidarity to those who may not be able to relate exactly with their issue, but are working toward a similar goal.

For more information:

References Cited:

      2011. SlutWalks vs. Ho Strolls. The Crunk Feminist Collective.

Thompson, Becky
      2002. Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism.
      Feminist Studies. 28: 2.

Woodard, Jennifer and  Teresa Mastin.
       2005. Black Womanhood: "Essence" and its Treatment of Stereotypical Images of Black Women.
       Journal of Black Studies. 36: 2.

Social Media

     A boon to social movements everywhere has been the flow of information and ideas provided by the internet. Those groups and individuals who once thought themselves isolated in their certain beliefs and ideals have been able to come together to create an arguably bigger impact than they would have without the support of others and solidarity of community. The use of social media has also given movements the ability to provide a constant flow of ideas and reminders of why their movement is necessary, as well as being able to network with other groups to create a bigger impact.

     SlutWalk has used social networks to great advantage. They have both a Facebook account and twitter page dedicated to SlutWalk in general, and in addition most cities have their own in order to organize walks and for local members to network more easily. I have been monitoring the SlutWalk Facebook group for the better part of a month now in preparation for this blog. Not only do the organizers of the group post links to SlutWalks all over the world, but they, as well as supporters, actively post links and images that relate to sexual assault, women's rights, and other articles relevant to the goals of SlutWalk. This has allowed members to be aware of the solidarity available to them as well as showing solidarity to similar organizations.
Courtesy of SlutWalk

References Cited:

Graeber, David.
     2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. AK Press. Zine Library.

Warf, Barney and John Grimes
      1997. Counterhegemonic Discourses and the Internet. Geographical Review. 87: 2.

Picture Perfect

    As I have been researching SlutWalk I have come across images and posters created and shared by the organizers, participants, and supporters. These images range from pictures taken during SlutWalks to  cartoons with captions relating to the issues SlutWalk wants to tackle. Some of these images contain humor, others are heart wrenching.

Courtesy of Andre S. Belcher-El

Courtesy of Sharnell BBiscuit

     Like in media texts many of these images have different layers of meanings and thus one "cannot take texts at face- value" ( Gamson 1992: 381). The point of many of the images relating to SlutWalk is first to either make the audience laugh or feel shock, and then reflect on the implications of such an image. The implications are not just about the values of the movement, but what this means about society.  The first image I give as an example very much embodies the message of SlutWalk, in this case it says 'lets have crazy sex, but only if we both consent first'. Yet this still warns against rape or at least the attempt or threat of rape. The second image is one rejecting victim blaming, and the speaks to how we treat women after an assault based on their appearance and history. SlutWalk uses its Facebook group to share these images, as I will discuss in a later post.  

 These types of images help to further the message of SlutWalk in many important ways. To begin with, they have the ability to reach people in a deeper way than just hearing or reading about SlutWalk, or any other cause for that matter. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, so by circulating photos such as the one above those who wish to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault can reach people in a way speeches never will.  It also allows those observing SlutWalk to stop and think about what they are seeing, much the way signs do in protest.  

For more information:

References Cited:

Gamson, William A. and, David Croteau, William Hoynes and Theodore Sasson
      1992. Media Images and the Social Construction of Reality. Annual Review of Sociology. 18.

The Pornification of Protest

     I have already looked at some critiques of SlutWalk in relation to other topics I have discussed, but I thought it important to look at a few arguments that I have yet to cover. I also wanted the opportunity to bring some of my own skepticism to the table.

    One of the issues a critic reported was the SlutWalk had engaged in the "Pornification of Protest" because of some marchers choose to dress in very little clothing; this occurrence means men seem to inevitably show up to watch the spectacle.  That being said, SlutWalk is not saying that women should dress up in skimpy clothing as a way to get what they want. Instead they do it to make a point, women should be able to dress however they want and not have to fear being victimized.

    My concern is the portrayal of sex in relation to women. I do not disagree with the message of SlutWalk and their goal of sexual equality for women. My concern lies with the message we are sending adolescents about sex. SlutWalk supports a women's right to sleep with as many men as she want as well as her right of self expression through the clothes she chooses to wear. For women who are already sexually active and enjoy having sex, this is a perfectly reasonable ideology. But what about those who have not yet had sex?

     In our society, for the most part, we teach our youth how to have safe sex or to stay away from sex until they are absolutely sure that they are completely ready.  But deciding whether or not one is ready for sex is a huge decision, one that not everyone knows how to make, or make correctly. When we wait until we are ready our expectations for both the relationship and the sex are unreasonable. This is because we are told that when we wait, everything will work out.

    So now teens have SlutWalks adding its voice to make the decision more difficult. As a young woman it is refreshing to hear harmonious voices saying that just because a woman has sex, with one partner or many, there is no basis for harassment. This may lead young women to be more comfortable making the decision to have sex, but are they really ready or are they simply responding to a media craze. SlutWalk does support women who choose not to have sex, but that portion of their message has never seemed very loud. I worry that a young girl will look at SlutWalk and decide to have sex, not because she is actually ready, but because of the lessened social stigma and because everyone says it is okay. That being said, maybe it is actually impossible to really be ready for sex that first time, so if nothing else it can be seen as a learning experience and one can then decide if they are ready to continue having sex or wait until they feel truly ready.

Courtesy of Heather Mallic

    Whatever can be said about SlutWalk, good or bad, it has become a powerful voice in modern feminism. It has raised awareness for its cause and inspired thousands of people in two hundred cities to speak out against slut shaming and victim blaming and aim to bring about sexual autonomy for women.

For more information:

References Cited:

Ashcraft, Catherine.
     2008. Ready or Not . . . ? Teen Sexuality and the Troubling Discourse of Readiness.
     Anthropology & Education Quarterly. 34:4. Wiley Online Library.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Take a Walk

        Marches and rallies are common tactics used within social movements. Though Graeber mentions in Direct Action that marches and rallies tend to not bring about change themselves, they do have a place as a means of protest. He uses the example of the march on Washington prior to Martin Luther King giving his "I Have a Dream" speech, which has become a symbol for the "culmination of years of struggle, involving boycotts, sit-ins, and every sort of civil disobedi­ence and direct action... it was that march and rally that stuck in the popular imagination"(Graeber 2009: 363). He goes on further to explain that this claiming of the spot light by one charismatic individual after local activists anonymously organizing a multitude of other events is what anarchists tend to object to. Anarchists also find rallies and marches to be the opposite of direct action as they are primarily legal forms of protest and thus require the acknowledgement of the state to organize the events. Aside from these quibbles over the usefulness, purpose and effectiveness of marches they are still used as one of the many diverse tactics employed during a single action.

      SlutWalk itself is a good example of the effectiveness of a march to further the message and goals of a social movement. Though SlutWalk uses other a few other avenues to get its point across, it is primarily an organization which marches to raise awareness. If people had not marched in streets across the globe proclaiming to be a SlutWalk, those who were not aware of the prevalence of victim blaming in our society may not ever have been engaged. Because of marches like SlutWalk, this movement for women's sexual freedom has more support and certainly more awareness generated by the media coverage it has received.

Courtesy of Graeme Davis

References Consulted:

Graeber, David.
     2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. AK Press. Zine Library.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Song to Sing

    Songs, signs, and chants have long been part of the make up of protests and actions. Holding signs allows those who are marching or protesting to show their audience, as well as the cameras, why the are there. This ensures that any photographs taken of the action will not simply look like a group of people standing around or walking in the streets. Instead it conveys the message of the movement to those who only see photos of the action, whether in the newspaper or on the internet. This means that anyone interested in the movement can look back and know the intent, thus allowing the movement to, in a sense, transcend time.

    Chants and songs are also incredibly important, though more for the activists themselves than for the observers. According to Graeber, chanting with hundreds of other people "provides the most immediate and powerful experience of sociality" (2009:484). It allows participants to stop being individuals and be a part of a whole. This seems to create a greater sense of solidarity than simply walking down the street with a group of other people.  This phenomenon is not limited to social movements and protest, chanting at a game in support of a sports team or during religious services. I experienced this during first year orientation at my university. The faculties all have their own set of cheers and, as the first years were being given campus tours, anyone could begin a cheer and anyone from the same faculty within earshot would join in. It would get to the point where one would find themselves unconsciously repeating a response to a cheer that one barely registered hearing. It was like in that one moment individuality was stripped away, leaving one as only part of a collective.

     SlutWalk also makes use of chants and signs. For example, during the Toronto march they chanted "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no" (Loriggio, 2011). In addition, SlutWalk also uses a variety of signs and slogans to proclaim their intent. Some of the main points or messages on the Toronto signs were: the fault for a rape does not lie with the victim, the type or style of clothing a woman is wearing should not be the determining factor of whether or not she is raped, and if anyone says no to sex it means no, no matter how many sexual partners they have had previously. Other signs were the personal accounts of rape victims and how they were either blamed for their rape. These provide an account of what SlutWalk represents and what it wants to see changed in our society.

Courtesy of Graeme Davis

References Cited:

Graeber, David.
     2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. AK Press. Zine Library.

Loriggio, Paolo.
     2011.  Thousands march in Toronto 'slut walk'. MSN News.