Why I Don’t Care to SlutWalk

posted in: CASS Updates | 41

The big feminist debate over the past few past months has been: to slut walk or not to slut walk. There have been opinion pieces on all major feminist outlets, alternative media and even some mainstream outlets showcasing differing opinions of what these SlutWalks mean to the larger discourse of sexual assault, empowerment, safety, and, let’s face it, fashion. What started as a comment by a police officer in Toronto has spun into a larger, what SlutWalk organizers consider, a movement.

Leaving the word “movement” alone, because I question organizations self-proclaiming their works as movements, when the likelihood is that smaller organizations and community activists have been working on similar issues in collaboration or on an individual basis for decades and didn’t consider themselves as a movement, the name of these rallies “SlutWalk” doesn’t bother me. It’s not that I’m pro-slut or anti-slut. It’s another way to make a march “sexy” and “hot” and “unique.” Granted, it gets young women and the media behind the rally, but to what degree are we watering down something that should be held at a higher discourse? And, truth be told, sexual assault is neither hot, sexy, or unique. Neither is public sexual harassment, even if one of the speakers of SlutWalk DC believes it may be due to what a person wears:

“ ‘If I’m wearing thigh highs and a short skirt, I’m inviting somebody to look at me. And I’m probably inviting some catcalls. But that doesn’t mean I’m inviting somebody to have sex with me against my will,’ said Erin Sherrange, 30, of McLean, who’s scheduled to speak Saturday.”

This every day harassment on the streets, in our bookstores, restaurants, or walking through a park is not based on what people wear. Rather, the harassment is happening for a wide variety of reasons—mostly related to the theories of power and control. I harasser, want to control this space, harasee. I, harasser, want to control you, harasee. I, harasser, want to make you feel good when I stare at you, harasee. I, harasser, don’t understand why you ignore me, harasee. I, harasser, am going to curse at you now because you didn’t give me [fill in the blanks] which I wanted, harasee.

Public sexual harassment is complex. It’s not simply based on clothing or being a female sometimes. There are so many reasons why women and LGBTQ individuals face this type of exchange every single day in Washington, DC (the real, non-Mall places of DC).

And, as one of the only pro bono sexual assault civil attorneys in DC, I have yet to hear an MPD officer blame a survivor’s sexual assault on her clothing. I’m positive it happens. It has to happen. But, most of the comments I hear second hand from my clients or others who were present during the police questioning, are around judgment based on alcohol and/or drugs. There is a lot of “hmmming” if the victim was drinking and/or using recreational drugs, or if s/he was drugged. Again, not EVERY officer pauses, but it is a frequent enough complaint that I think MPD should have consistent trainings on working with sexual assault victims, particularly around these issues. I wish this march was related to things actually happening in our systemic oppression of women and LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault here in DC. Does a march change the policies at MPD, the minds of rapists, men and women who don’t get it, jurors, prosecutors who don’t “have enough evidence”?

I don’t think so.

Much like Take Back the Nights, what this march does is gather people together, and preach to the same choir. I’m tired of that. I want more community involvement, more accountability, and more of these marchers and the organizers of these marches to take time off from work or school and sit in court rooms and hold judges and juries accountable. I want the choir to attend hearings at universities and colleges demanding change. I want these individuals to donate their money to organizations who have been doing this work of anti-victim blaming/anti-violence work for years.

What we need are marches in our own backyard. We need to have dialogue with our community not at them about sexual assault and harassment. We need to engage harassers and ask them why they harasser. We need more safety in our community so lesbians can be lesbians without being attacked. What we need is to talk to youth and ask them how is harassment affecting them. We see this as a problem that needs to go beyond the normal discourse of clothing, semantics, and superficial victim-blaming. We need a higher discourse looking to dismantle and equalize power and control by individuals, communities, agencies, and the system. As we shouted earlier this year, these are our streets, too!!

by Chai Shenoy, co-founder of Holla Back DC!. This piece reflects the author’s own opinion and not the opinion of the organization and its members. 

41 Responses

  1. Vanessa Green

    Thank you for the insight Chai. I’ve always felt there was something off for me with the “SlutWalk”, but didn’t have the words. My gut was telling me it was off, but you so eloquently put it into words with this article. When I disagreed people in the movement would question my commitment to ending mens violence against women. Thank you my Sista for your words and know your not alone. “A successful movement always listens to those who are from the oppressed/marginalized community.”

  2. Anonymous

    Chai – I’d wager that many of the SlutWalk attendees DO talk part in the other, more engagement-oriented activities you listed. (Why not ask them tomorrow?) Many do engage in volunteer work, donate money, work to change policies at their schools, etc. I don’t understand how you realistically expect these attendees to “sit in court rooms and hold judges and juries accountable,” how that would work, or whether that’s even permissible if you’re not a pro bono sexual assault attorney. Nor how you can ask a just-out-of-college, barely-getting-by young person to take time off work to do it. Some people can’t afford to.
    I get that we need more diverse engagement, but I also get that we need to be shouting loudly at the powers that be. There are private and public ways of participating in change. This one is public.

  3. Erin Sherrange

    Hi Chai. Nice to meet you, even if it is through the computer. My name is Erin Sherrange, and I thought that because you claim to know what I do and don’t believe about street harassment, I might want to formally introduce myself before I set the record straight.

    If you look at my quote, I say nothing about harassment, other than to mention that I, personally, might be inviting catcalls if I wear a short skirt and thigh highs. I don’t know you or anything about you other than that you decided to take issue with my quote and only put up half of it so that you could make your point and not have to address the second half of what I say, but I, personally, do intend to be looked at if I am wearing thigh highs and a short skirt. I like sex, I like flirting (OMG…did you just read that?!?!?!), but I do not like being raped, touched when I didn’t ask for it, or being hounded. If I am going to go around wearing next to nothing, then chances are I am hoping that some boy or girl is going to look at where my clothing isn’t. Now, that’s just me. Maybe when you walk around half-naked (assuming that that is what you do, because, again, we know NOTHING ABOUT EACH OTHER) you expect people to avert their eyes and pretend that they don’t see. That’s fine, I guess, if that is what you want.

    Now, the second half of my quote, which I guess you just didn’t get when you cut and pasted, is:

    “No one is going to look at a jewelry store and say, ‘Oh, of course they got robbed; they deserved it because they had all their jewelry out in the window where people could see it.’ ”

    In this portion of the quote, I address the fact that even though a jewelry store might have items in the window for people to look at and want, it would be a crime, as would be sexual assault, for someone to go in a grab things without the owner’s permission. If someone tries to touch me or harass me, that is wrong. Maybe you just missed that part when you were reading or maybe you simply couldn’t make the leap in logic. And before you “go there” and say that I am commodifying sex (look it up if you don’t know what it means http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/commodify) I am not. It is an analogy, a literary device, not meant to imply that my sex or the sex of anyone else is for sale or should be.

    And now that I am done talking about me, I have a little quote of yours that I would like to pull out of your article. Luckily, if anyone wants to see the rest of what you said and get a wholistic view of your thoughts, they can simply scroll up and read the full article instead of having to search for the remainder of the quote which was left elsewhere.

    “I want these individuals to donate their money to organizations who have been doing this work of anti-victim blaming/anti-violence work for years.”

    It seems to me that you are just angry because our “cause”, or “movement”, or “thingy”, or whatever you want to call it so that you don’t have to take issue with the term we use to describe the international force behind our march and protest, has money (or so you assume). Is that correct? We don’t. It is a grassroots movement and I know many people including the wonderful woman Samantha Wright and her awesome husband who have put up their own personal money for a cause that they believe in.

    Your personal anger and apparent disdain (and possible jealousy) of our movement aside, I do have to say that it is a shame that you aren’t going to be at the walk. Any support is welcome, and I would love to dialogue with you personally about your views. Luckily, I have heard that one of the board-members from Hollaback does not agree with you on your opinion of me or the walk, and they are going to be there along with the majority of Hollaback. I look forward to speaking to them, and I would love to see you if you change your mind.

    • friday jones

      Your jewelry store analogy needs work, Erin. It’s fine to look in the window of the jewelry store, and dream about what we’d do if we had store credit there, but a lot of street harassment is basically dudes demanding that women hand over their jewelry and often getting violently angry when the jewelry isn’t handed over immediately. In the case of a jewelry store being subjected to an analogous condition, imagine owning that jewelry store and having a customer come in who keeps asking for free jewelry over and over with mounting aggression. Even if they don’t touch the merchandise they still severely disrupt the business and make the shop owner’s day miserable.

      • Marty Langelan

        Hi — your deeper analysis of the jewelry store metaphor is exactly right — and it’s not just one “customer” doing it. Thanks for your insight —


      • B.

        I agree– While I do appreciate the original jewelry analogy, and will use it in the future when dealing with victim-blamers (as I think it’s a very clear and concise example that *might* actually cause them to pause and think), I really, really appreciate that this extended analogy speaks to the non-physical aspect of harassment.

        It’s so much easier for me to convince victim-blamers that it’s not okay to “touch the jewels,” but I find it nearly impossible to convince them that it’s not okay to verbally harass the jewelry owner.

        I might use this next time I find myself in a position of arguing with someone about verbal harassment. Which will happen soon enough, I’m sure.

  4. Chai

    @anon- i’m sure they do. all i’m asking is that we take it a step further. i know many activists i am friends with who are attending tomorrow. these activists dedicate their livelihood to eradicating gender-based violence. but, that doesn’t mean i can’t challenge marchers to do more, does it? and, yes, barely out of college folks can and should sacrifice a day of work to sit in court for a victim who is barely out of college to understand how systemic oppression works. to me, we all must feel the pinch to understand why justice needs to be breath we breathe in and out.

    @erin- i know that samantha has been under a lot of pressure from different activists and groups. this isn’t about her. this isn’t about NOT having a march. i think marches have their place (geographically, socially, politically). however, erin, i disagree with you whole heartedly on many of your points. first off, when you are quoted in the media, get used to your quotes being torn apart. it’s part and parcel of journalism. what you said really irked me, as an activist and as a human. just because you wear something, you PERSONALLY can feel sexy and flirt all you want. but, as a spokesperson for SlutWalkDC, you have to be cautious of what you say. you’re statement unravels the decades worth of what a person wears doesn’t invite a person to cat call them. it just doesn’t. secondly, i don’t “attack” you or Slutwalk. i say why i’m not going.not everyone has to agree with the march. that’s the beauty of democracy. you should applaud the fact that we live in a country and in a feminist community where if we don’t agree on the means, we agree with the ends: to end gender-based violence. at least, i hope that is the ends you are seeking. and finally, sadly, there is no jealously at all. ha. far from it. i want more attention on this issue of victim blaming. at least it makes me feel less crazy when i’m one of “those activists” at dinner parties questioning oppression through gender and racial lenses. anyway, i digress, i don’t care that slutwalk is a grassroots movement with no money. and i’m not even suggesting that people donate to HBDC! (which is why i intentionally didn’t like to HBDC!’s donate here button). and i’m confused with your connection to finances and movements?

    erin, i’m not angry. if you called me apathetic, i may have agreed. but anger, i am not. i have a lot of love for sexual assault activists, survivors, and those seeking to make this a better world. and if you want to continue the discussion, you can always email me.

  5. Kate

    You have absolutely no idea what speakers are scheduled for tomorrow and what they intend to say. This is not a party. There will be plenty of call to action and all the organizations participating will be there with booths to get people involved after the walk day. This isn’t going to end with the SlutwalkDC on August 13. And, by the way, isn’t Hollaback having a booth there? I also believe one of your board members is speaking. I just don’t understand your apparent anger about this.

  6. Jennifer

    your so right I support the call and not the NAME, I feel they do or should have come up with a more subtial name,We have been called this for yrs so why make a mockry out it, I have changed my mind thanks for this post.. thanks and god bless I look forward to hearning more, I like them on facebook and asked how I could get involved because I am survior of this you did your homework and I everyone needs to read this post.. thanks and god bless..

    • Samantha

      It disheartens me to hear that because of a name that’s usage in this event is directly correlated to a specific comment you would chose not to be a part of something that is mobilizing thousands and thousands of people towards the mission of eradicating victim blaming. Many attendees do not feel comfortable with the name, and that is some what of the point.

      The language of victim blaming and rape culture is not pretty, it’s not pc, it’s not sugar coated. It’s raw, hurtful, vulgar, and cringe-worthy. The name forces people to confront their opinions about victim blaming. The name also serves as an incredible marketing tool, which (let’s get real here) is a completely genius concept that needs to be incorporated into promoting causes.

      I am aware that HollaBack DC did their own march a month or so back, and that is wonderful that they were able to provide the 30 or so attendants with that outlet. However, the only reason that I am aware of this march is because I was personally asked by HollaBack DC to promote it THROUGH SLUTWALK DC. I can bet that if you walked down the street today and asked people about Our Streets Too! no one would know what you were talking about, and you may have a brief moment to describe it’s purpose – But if you were just about anywhere right now and you asked someone about SlutWalks, they would know exactly what you were talking about, whether they support it or not, and you would have a very deep and complex conversation about victim blaming while confronting the views that you also hold about the issue. If it wasn’t for the “Slut” part of “SlutWalk”…would we really be talking about sexual assault on this grand of scale in the news? at the bar? in schools? in blogs? on a complete GLOBAL scale? Of course not.

      I haven’t seen a demonstration about sexual assault covered this heavily in the news in my lifetime. If “Slut” is what makes that happen, then so be it. Don’t hate on the means that lead to an end that we both agree on.

      • Golden Silence

        Is that a backhanded compliment about the June march? Just because there wasn’t a strong turnout doesn’t mean the meaning of the event itself was small.

      • Begla

        Samantha, that march wasn’t a HollaBackDC march. It was by a wide variety of people, some of whom happen to be involved in HollaBack. Nor was it initiated by HollaBack. It came from local community members who felt that SlutWalkDC’s marching on the Mall rather than through the city missed the spots where we get harassed/attacked as well as the opportunity to go past a police station (as initially in Toronto this was about police. Given that MPD recently ignored an attack on five queer women in Columbia Heights and their continued denial that their reaction was based in homophobia and heterosexism, it reinforces the why of it all).

      • Zosia Sztykowski

        Hi, I took the lead on organizing Our Streets, Too with the generous co-organizing power of Hollaback DC and my friends, but not under the umbrella of any organization, global or no.

        You’re right that the name goes a long way as far as publicity, and Chai is right that discussions in the bar, in schools and so on are about as far as this movement will go to converting people who are not already on our side. Which is not to say that that’s not valuable. It’s the reason that I’ll be going tomorrow.

        And, on a personal note, it is OUR side. In your words, don’t hate.

  7. Golden Silence

    Why are people attacking Chai here? She has the right to not attend the event just as others have the right to attend it if they want to. It’s called a choice.

    Everyone should just agree to disagree. This back and forth is disheartening.

  8. Erin Sherrange

    We don’t have to agree, and that is okay. Obviously we come from two very different parts of the world of thought. Sadly, though, when one organization or a person in an organization starts speaking negatively about another (whether you will own that or not, because I will), the entire point gets lost and it all ends up looking like a childish pissing match. And my connection to finances and movements was simply to say that I don’t understand why you even brought it up. It took what could have been a very interesting opinionated piece and made it look like a petty whine on the internet, as you chose to put that in the second from last paragraph as your proposed call to action. I am speaking tomorrow to own my rape and to let other women (and men) know that they don’t have to take the blame for what was done to them. That’s all. I’m not a political activist nor do I care to be. I am a victim of sexual assault and a mother. I did not claim to speak for SlutWalk DC and I still do not. I am speaking at their rally ABOUT MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE and I am honored to do so. You don’t have to like what I say, but it is mine to say.

  9. Emily R

    I think Chai has made a lot of valid points, and I can see how she arrived there. While I disagree (insomuch as I would attend SlutWalk if I were able to be in DC), I think there is a lot to be said for wanting more, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also appreciate that she is willing to start a smart and respectful dialogue.

    What I find problematic is that people who disagree with her diminished the dialogue by making personal attacks and arriving at misguided conclusions – that because Chai disagrees with some of theory behind SlutWalks that somehow she’s angry, jealous, trying to get people’s money, or stupid (seriously – linking to the definition of commodify to someone who has a JD, has a background in feminist theory and has been actively working in DC with other leaders of the anti-sexual assault/harassment movement for years???).

    Part of what I hear Chai searching for is the step *beyond* the call to action – the follow through. In talking about what Chai wrote with friends/family, the big question I’m asking myself now is: how can we as organizers/activists see others through the follow through? If we get people paying attention, energized, and have calls to action – how can we ensure that “next steps” happen? How can we have conversations on a more personal level with people who may not totally agree with us, but are willing to listen, who aren’t a part of the population that SlutWalks attract? How can we use the momentum created by walks/marches/events to enact systemic change? What I got from reading Chai’s reasoning is that, in her eyes, SlutWalks and other related marches are merely the first step. It’s common to see lots of excitement and motivation at the marches, but we need to get people committed for the long haul. (And then I come back to my earlier question: how do we get there?) I don’t think that, overall, the anti-sexual assault/harassment movement does a very good job of that. And no, I don’t know what SlutWalk DC has planned, but I am absolutely open to hearing about it.

    I don’t have the answers, but I’m really glad that Chai shared her personal decision with us because it’s making me ask myself how I can be a better activist and better serve my communities. And hopefully it will do the same for others, that we can continue to dialogue, share ideas, theories and best practices as part of a movement that has been going on for decades.

  10. B.


    For what it’s worth, I know exactly where you’re coming from.

    The idea of a “Slut Walk” hasn’t sat well with me for weeks for a variety of reasons, some simply related to my personality but others right there in line with your statements.

    Erin: I have been in DC 5 years, and get verbally sexually harassed about an average of 5 times per day, every day, with that number being higher in the summer time.

    I have also been physically sexually assaulted twice, with one of those times being extremely aggressive to the point where I’m confident I would have been raped had I been alone.

    I can tell you that I get harassed whether I’m wearing sweats or a mini-skirt, a baggy turtleneck or a skimpy, low-cut top. Granted, if I think about it, I probably get more harassed when wearing less clothing.

    No matter what I’m wearing, my body shows. And men here seem to react to my body. However I realize that just because they react to my body, their verbal harassment is about much, much more than the way my body is making their groins feel. The same way that their verbal harassment when they see my body in skimpy clothing is about much, much more than my sexy fashion in that particular day.

    What it boils down to is this: I agree with you 100% that wearing skimpy clothing in NO WAY invites someone to touch me. Wearing skimpy clothing that I know I look good in in NO WAY invites someone to have sex with me against my will.

    BUT: It also in no way invites someone to cat call me. I’m sorry, but I am absolutely NOT inviting anyone to cat call me just because I wear something revealing and sexy. And I’ll take it a step further: Yes, I realize that if I’m wearing something revealing, people will notice me. People will look at me. But the fact is, we all know there’s a way to notice someone, and look at them, without LEERING at them. I notice and discretely LOOK at people all the time, whether because they are attractive, odd, or any number of reasons. But I never leer at them, and I always try to look at them without them realizing I am, because I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.

    I get leered at CONSTANTLY, and it makes me feel disgusted. I get cat-called CONSTANTLY, and it makes me feel scared.

    The point is this: I should be able to wear a short skirt and a skimpy top and thigh high without being leered at and without being cat-called. I should be able to wear those things simply because I want to. And I’m entitled to wear them because I feel I look attractive in them. I have a right to wear these things without the leering or the catcalling.

    Most women I know are NOT actually “inviting” ANYONE to leer at them or cat-call them. Rather they feel mournful that men see it as an invitation. And because men see it as an invitation, and police frequently view it the same way, many of my friends frequently dress down when they’d really like to dress up simply because dealing with all the cat-calling (based on the assumption that dressing up in an invitation or gives someone a right to verbally harass you) isn’t worth how attractive they might feel that night. The cat-calling and leering feels too awful to bother looking their best.

    –And that is AWFUL. It takes away our basic rights.

    I respect the fact that you were making a statement representative only of your views. I understand and respect the fact that you were not speaking for any other women out there. I hear that. I really do.

    But when you are part of a “movement,” and a speaker at a rally fueling that movement, you are representing that movement. And unfortunately, simply by default, once you are in that position your comments will be viewed as representative of the movement, and of others involved in it.

    I appreciate hearing the second part of your quote:

    “No one is going to look at a jewelry store and say, ‘Oh, of course they got robbed; they deserved it because they had all their jewelry out in the window where people could see it.’ ”

    –However, honestly? It just further supports my point: You’re right, no one is going to look at a jewelry store and say that they deserved to get robbed, physically violated, just because their jewels were on display. It’s a brilliant analogy, and you’re right– Likewise, no one should look at a scantily clad woman and say she deserved to be physically violated just because her “goods” were on display.

    BUT: People DO think it’s okay to say “Oh, of course she got cat-called; she deserved it because she had all her goods out there where people could see it.”

    –I don’t deserve to be verbally harassed if I have my body on display in a sexy outfit. Verbal harassment is menacing, it’s bullying, its at times terrifying and it’s part of rape-culture.

    As a speaker at this rally, I think it’s unwise to make statements that suggest that wearing sexy clothing is inviting verbal harassment.

    It kind of goes against the entire point that women should be able to wear what they want WITHOUT being verbally harassed.

    At the end of the day, we’re all fighting the same fight here. I can appreciate what everyone has posted here, because of that fact.

    And for what it’s worth, I am a regular poster on the HollaBackDC site, and I can assure you that Chai is DEFINITELY fighting on our side. Every day.

  11. an observer

    My attention was directed to this post through friends of Chai. I wanted to say that upfront. However, I have never met her personally, and while I do consider myself to be a political activist, my knowledge of feminism is slim. I was sexually assaulted and physically abused several times before the age of 25, raped in January 2010, and experienced an attempted rape three months later. I still dress provocatively sometimes, and I know that I’ll be looked at. Since 2010, I’m definitely more cautious and get can scared more easily. I get hollered at and hit on A LOT. Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes it doesn’t. Even though these negative things have happened to me, I am resilient and happy with my life. I’ve accomplished a lot and grown a lot as a person in the last year. I won’t be attending a SlutWalk, because I don’t personally feel a connection to its mission, and I haven’t found any of the articles or arguments in favor of the event to be very compelling. (When I say compelling, I am generally referring to well-reasoned analysis backed up by incisive thought and/or data, whether it be quantitative or qualitative). This is my personal opinion. I want to mention this because the comments on this post, particularly from Erin, do nothing to make me want to explore the SlutWalk idea further.

    This: “What I find problematic is that people who disagree with her diminished the dialogue by making personal attacks and arriving at misguided conclusions – that because Chai disagrees with some of theory behind SlutWalks that somehow she’s angry, jealous, trying to get people’s money, or stupid (seriously – linking to the definition of commodify to someone who has a JD, has a background in feminist theory and has been actively working in DC with other leaders of the anti-sexual assault/harassment movement for years???).”

    is a very good summary of my own reaction. So much word to this! Chai’s post wasn’t an attack on SlutWalk, and it was certainly not an ad hominem attack on Erin (I trust that anyone who needs to understand “ad hominem” can Google it themselves). In response, I’m baffled by the people who responded to Chai with an incredible amount of disrespect and defensiveness. It isn’t Chai who comes across as “petty” in this case. And my saying this is less a defense of Chai personally and more a defense for adult, rational disagreements as opposed to the name calling and passive aggressive insults that I see here.

    As I said in the beginning, the politics of SlutWalk, victim blaming, feminism, etc. are not really my forte (or cup of tea, really). But I do believe in intellectual debate — and SlutWalkers, you’re not doing a great job of representing here. Perhaps there are others in your contingent who can offer a more refined view.

  12. Anonymous

    Anonymous here again. Chai, thank you for your work. No doubt it is of critical, even life-saving importance. However, your comments were condescending. It’s not very feminist to assume that others DON’T “understand how systemic oppression works.” You are surely doing great things, but I really don’t like your blanket characterization of this march’s organizers and attendees as non-activists, non-engaged, non-understanding of oppression. We all wish more people would be more deeply involved. This march is a chance to get it to “click” for some future activists.

  13. Josef

    I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it forever: I am so proud of Holla Back DC! for being true to its cause, and not its brand — something I’m not sure I can say about SlutWalk DC.

  14. L

    This is a very well-written piece and I agree with you, Chai, entirely. I have a huge issue with Slut Walk and an even larger issue with the organization of the DC Slut Walk. After reading the commentary that was written as a result of this article, I am in complete AWE and it has further solidified my belief that Slut Walk is more about being “hip” and “edgy” than it is about stopping sexual assault and victim-blaming.

    Slut Walk creators (especially the satellite ones) have credited themselves with creating this unheard of movement. This could not be further from the truth. While the Walks are huge and the media does enjoy them, to try to credit themselves with opening a dialogue that was closed prior is simply ridiculous. RAINN, DC Rape Crisis and other smaller organizations have worked on this very issue for years. They did not create a huge hoopla over it (for many reasons) but they did their work sufficiently and continue to work around the clock for survivors. I, myself, have worked at a campus crisis center since the beginning of my education and have more experience with sexual assault prevention and treatment than most of these organizers. To use a controversial word like “slut” to stir up the media and get attention may be smart from, as Samantha said above, a marketing standpoint but it also has created a mass confusion and has turned this self-proclaimed movement into a bit of a joke (not to mention that this isn’t a business to promote, it is an extremely sensitive topic). People dress in fishnets and tank tops but do not understand the underlying message of anti-victim blaming. Who could blame them? The signals are easy to cross. The original creators try to distance themselves with feminism and have been quoted as saying ridiculous things about the feminist movement (but I will leave that alone as it does not fit into the scope of my current upset).

    Erin’s comment about Chai being jealous over the success of Slut Walk is offensive, ignorant and seriously misguided. That is an extremely childish and petty (using Erin’s word here) thing to say and something that I would only expect from someone who makes comments about how an individual’s attire invites stares and is simultaneously a speaker at a so-called anti-sexual assault and harassment rally. Hypocrisy.

    We all know, or should know, that numbers at a walk mean close to nothing if there is no follow-up. That follow-up is what crisis centers, civil rights attorneys and the like have been doing forever without grabbing for attention by any means necessary.

    I agree with “an observer.” If any of you SlutWalk organizers have an intelligent, adult opinion or belief, it is not being represented well in the media and *absolutely* not here in this forum.

  15. Jillian

    I too would like to second this: “What I find problematic is that people who disagree with her diminished the dialogue by making personal attacks and arriving at misguided conclusions – that because Chai disagrees with some of theory behind SlutWalks that somehow she’s angry, jealous, trying to get people’s money, or stupid (seriously – linking to the definition of commodify to someone who has a JD, has a background in feminist theory and has been actively working in DC with other leaders of the anti-sexual assault/harassment movement for years???).”

    When I saw the words “jealous” and “angry” being thrown out in the comments section, I was offended because it reminded me of the many ways in which women are pitted against each other in our society. We are accused of being irrational, overly emotional (because, you know, emotions are bad), and prone to jealousy — in capable of having discussions – you know, the adult kind where people can disagree with each other.

    To me – Chai’s post does not read as being “jealous” or “angry” (at least not at SlutWalk and its organizers) and I say this as someone that doesn’t agree with her 100%. I can tell she is passionate – yes- but passion does not equal anger. Speaking personally, I know that in discussions, when I am passionate, people often mistake me for being angry. But as the originator of my emotions, I know that I usually am not. That word is used by people who are on the defensive, who are looking to invalidate an argument.

    Even if Chai was angry – she gets to be! That’s her right and there’s a disclaimer on her post: “This piece reflects the author’s own opinion and not the opinion of the organization and its members”. She never attempted to speak on behalf of her organization! She’s offering up her own opinion. As for the jealousy comment – c’mon! We can all be successful! At the heart of it, it seems like we all want the same things. Jealousy only detracts from the mission!

    I’m disappointed that what could have been a great opportunity to dialogue seems to have taken a turn and become a personal issue. Too bad.

  16. Chris O.

    There are beautiful trees showing off their beauty and grandeur everyday. They have green skirts and sexy limbs and are wonderful creatures on our planet. Greedy profiteers are drooling over these trees. They see them and can’t help but think how much they can make with them — money and products. These beautiful trees are grabbed, torn asunder, ripped from the innocence of the ground, ground up — raped like the bodies and souls of earthy women. The trees are destroyed because of they’re beauty and how they can service the needs of greedy CEO’s and developers. Raping the planet continues the mistreatment of how lascivious people rape others. The future of humanity depends on how we treat our Mother, Earth and our treatment of each other is directly entwined within protecting each other and the planet.

  17. Mandy

    There is SO much in this post I am overjoyed to read, Chai. Thank you for this thoughtful and much needed divergence from the uncritical ‘rah-rah’ attention Slutwalks have been getting — particularly from the gatekeepers. (Which is perhaps evidence that it fails to pose a threat.) It is a shame that people who purport to be anti-violence advocates have responded with such defensiveness, snark, and hostility to your informed and considered criticisms, desire for the inclusion of excluded communities’ concerns about Slutwalks, and calls for long-term, macro-level thinking. I read their destructive response (for ex, Erin questioning your intellectual capabilities, which is nothing except a disrespectful attempt to discredit a perspective she admittedly doesn’t understand) as indicative of who is and who is not valued in this discussion/work (e.g., women of color, poor people), which is sadly nothing new for mainstream white feminists who use these privilege-maintaining tropes all the time. (One person’s “jealousy” is another’s rightful resentment of systems of oppression. One person’s “pissing match” is another’s ignored and legitimate grievance.)

    People in these commenters’ circles may know about Slutwalk, but those aren’t the only circles that exist nor are they the only ones that matter. Several of the communities I’m a part of don’t know about Slutwalks at all b/c mainstream feminism isn’t their scene and/or they don’t understand what the message is supposed to be and/or they don’t feel like they’re included in it. For these reasons and more, Slutwalks are irrelevant to them. For example, a conservative friend of mine who lives in Chicago told me about happening across the Slutwalk there when she was out with her husband and two of his male friends (all lawyers, btw). They were all completely baffled by what these “sluts” were on about and what the purpose was of a march demanding women be able to be called “sluts” and wear “promiscuous” clothing. They thought it was ridiculous. So, that’s what a lot of people’s responses are to these walks: bewilderment and ridicule. Whether one agrees or not is neither here nor there because the response of these four people is a legitimate response, and it is also a failing of the organizers and attendees who were unclear about their message.

    So, to that end, I hope folks *at least* take these gems from what you’ve written:

    1) Movements are not self-declared! Esp not by newly formed organizations that lack community ties. If you have to go out to the people to convince them to stand with you (as opposed to the people already being at your side), then you are NOT doing the work of dismantling oppression.

    2) Making this an argument that is simply about clothing misses the point completely and obscures the numerous facets of gender-based violence’s causes and impact.

    3) SlutWalks are preaching to the choir, and the choir is a select and privileged few masquerading as universal.

    4) The media’s focus on SlutWalks overshadows, downplays, and dismisses past and present community-based work to end gender-based violence. This focus potentially draws funds away from established community-based organizations whose goals aren’t sensationalist. (And in that spirit, since Chai won’t ask you to donate to HBDC!, I will! Do it here: http://hollabackdc.wordpress.com/donate/)

    5) Post-Toronto, Slutwalks have had no concrete, attainable goals that hold institutions or individuals accountable in ending gender-based violence. It’s simply espousing abstract and erratic rhetoric — none of which is particularly new — that is easily misunderstood or ridiculed by unconverted and/or unsympathetic bystanders.

    6) All of the needs in your final paragraph!!! Especially the parts about having dialogues WITH not AT our communities, including harassers and the unconverted, that go beyond superficialities and quick fixes to focus on dismantling systemic power and control.


  18. Mandy

    One more thing: having re-read this again, I think Erin owes Chai an apology for the disrespectful things she has said here about Chai’s supposed jealousy, intellectual inhibitions, and childishness. That sh*t just ain’t right.

  19. restoressp

    I find this discussion very sad. I really support both SlutWalk and HollaBack DC, even though I was not able to attend the former. Chai had some great points, which mostly involve doing more beyond just SlutWalk.

    Up front I want to say that I don’t know any of the people involved here, I came to this thread from WashPost, I have no ‘horse’ in this race.

    Just because someone responds negatively here, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that it’s because the writer is not valued for who she is but because it’s human nature to respond defensively to criticism.

    More to the point, it is incredibly absurd Mandy to say that because *four people*, political conservatives, didn’t agree with SlutWalk, that it is somehow the ‘fault of the organizers and attendees’ for being unclear about the message. The message has been loud and clear. It’s great that there is a lot of resistance to that message, because it shows why we need it.

    All organizations ‘go out to the people to convince them to stand with you’ to some extent. That is what organizing is– it takes work.

    The ‘choir’ is not a privileged few. Do you mean to imply that only privileged people ‘get’ that how a woman dresses is never an invitation to assault?

    I’ve read on the news that specific demands are starting to come out the SlutWalks. A 1 minute Google search will show that there are concrete goals being asked by organizers, depending on the city. For example “SlutWalk Milwaukee has created two petitions. One demands that an advocate be present when police question a sexual assault victim. The other calls for all hospitals to stock rape kits used to collect evidence, and to staff SANE personnel (that means sexual assault nurse examiner). Most hospitals have neither.”

    These statements are so incredible it’s hard to believe it’s not about taking sides. It’s really sad that two organizations with very similar goals want to start a personal pissing match.

    • Erin Sherrange

      Thank you. After I posted my first response I had a friend point out to me that this is not about my personal feelings of hurt at what she said, and that I need to reorganize my thoughts and focus on what I want, which is to let people know that it is not their fault if they are assaulted or harassed. My PERSONAL opinion is that I don’t care if a guy says “hey sexy”, but I care very much if they don’t leave me alone when I say “no thanks”, or they try to touch me in any way shape or form without my permission. I wanted out of the pissing match. I AM out of the pissing match, because no matter how many people want to argue about the finer details of my quote or expand on an analogy that was in response to the question “how would you explain this to movement to someone who says that you are protesting for the right to be a tease (playing the devils advocate)”, my focus and orientation now is on helping men and women speak out and own their lives, beliefs, and assaults, even if others aren’t comfortable with them or don’t agree. I am sorry that the personal passion of two individuals cause strife and a rift where there could have been, and still could be, a beautiful collaboration. We did have a speaker from an anti-street harassment organization at the walk and they received just as much applause and cheers as did I. There was more than enough room on the stage for both of us and others, and I am happy that I shared the day with her.

  20. Anonymous

    I just read the Washington Post article on street harassment and was intrigued and excited to check out the posts on HBDC. Many of these posts are deeply touching, honest, and empowering, and I certainly plan to visit and contribute to HBDC in the future. That being said, I was equally dismayed by many of the exchanges following Chai’s post. Personal attacks and petty competitive statements regarding who’s movement/event/cause is more effective does nothing for the greater cause. While I think these internal debates and discussions are completely necessary in moving forward with a cohesive framework in place, I hope we can take a step back, rise above the turf wars, and join TOGETHER to fight violence against women. Perhaps instead of pouring our energy into responding to each point made by other woman with whom we disagree, we can use our time to talk to more women in our community about their experiences with street harassment, or pass out more fliers on this issue. (Thanks for posting those, by the way. I plan on using them frequently.)

  21. Erin Sherrange

    Chai did have the right to attend or not, and I think that her illuminating her reasoning was perfectly within reason. What I did not feel was within reason was what I perceived to be a personal attack upon and misrepresentation of my beliefs. Not the beliefs of SlutWalk DC, my personal beliefs.

    When I addressed her to clarify my statement, and to point out what I thought were some faults in her own statement, she responded with “first off, when you are quoted in the media, get used to your quotes being torn apart. it’s part and parcel of journalism.” As though it is more than acceptable and should be expected that an organization with similar goals and views could and should slam a person who is speaking on her own personal experience.

    What she said was shitty. Period. What I said back was shitty. Period. That said, I won’t apologize to her because she goes as far as to deny that she even said anything about me on the HollaBack DC Facebook wall. Maybe I should be the bigger person and rise above it, but I’m not. I am an individual who was insulted and felt “torn apart”. She spoke about me and my beliefs without having any idea of who I am and what they are. It is too bad that she did not attend because then she could have heard my speech, and not a 30 second sound bite, and then she would know something about me and what my beliefs are.

    What I typed later is, “Sadly, though, when one organization or a person in an organization starts speaking negatively about another (whether you will own that or not, because I will), the entire point gets lost and it all ends up looking like a childish pissing match.” I am not sorry for any personal grievance that Chai felt or her friends felt on behalf of her. I am not sorry for my personal views (because being sorry for what you believe would be pretty counter-productive, I think). I am sorry any dilution of the message of both HollaBack DC and SlutWalk DC that came about because I chose to take something that was said about me personally and I responded from the standpoint of an infuriated individual as opposed to responding out of love and seeking a greater understanding of the individuals who would detract from me and the cause that I support.

    The walk was beautiful (even though I tripped like the clumsy ass that I am in the middle of the walk and skinned my knees… LOL), the support that everyone gave to each other was without comparison, and the entire experience was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I hold no grudge against HollaBack DC, and honestly, after feeling all the love that was given to each other yesterday, I couldn’t care less what Chai thought or thinks about me. That is not me trying to be petty and snarky by saying that she is not worth my concern, but rather that I would spend my time and energy on to what else I can do as an individual to end the culture of victim blaming.

  22. Mandy

    My example was only one of many I’ve heard from folks whose ideologies run the gamut. I didn’t say these conservatives don’t agree w/ the goals. Part of the irony of the example I gave is that this particular friend of mine certainly thinks victim blaming is a problem. What I meant to convey is that she and her friends didn’t understand what the march was about because they were without any context that would make its message clear. (They weren’t reading feminist blogs or whatever other media coverage the walks have gotten. They weren’t reading the websites or Facebook pages of the organizers. They aren’t unique in this regard.) That is why it is a failing on the part of the organizers. The onus is on whoever organizes a march to ensure its message is understandably conveyed to bystanders.

    As a grassroots organizer with over a decade of experience, much of which is anti-violence work, I understand that different people have different perspectives about what strategies are legitimate and/or effective. Mine is that organizing which claims to represent an entire group yet fails to be representative of that group’s needs/experience/perspective will be ineffective and contributes to the established power hierarchies and oppression. There are many worthwhile critiques of Slutwalks in this regard. Here are a few:
    SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy
    Slutwalk: To march or not to march
    Four Brief Critiques of SlutWalk’s Whiteness, Privilege and Unexamined Power Dynamics

    If SlutWalks are starting to add concrete demands, good for them. Better late than never to learn from past mistakes, and better still when it’s the recent past.

  23. […] might not be how you want to confront this sort of thing in our society – Holla Back DC’s Chai Shenoy didn’t feel like it was a productive thing for her – but the women who stood up and told their fellow DC residents that how they look or dress […]

  24. Mona

    I just moved to DC. I believe in sex-positivity and safety and comfort with one’s own body and the ultimate importance of consent. SlutWalk seemed to represent all of those things, and so I attended. While there I learned about HIPS and Hollaback DC and the DC Rape Crisis Center, and now I hope to volunteer with at least one of these places. I am not white or rich or apathetic. My activism will not end (and did not begin) with the march. I believe in the importance of being an engaged, respectful member of my community.

    I very much understand the frustration of established activists who feel that their hard work is being upstaged by some newcomers with a sensationalist name. I think the organizers could have done a better job of establishing a coherent message and defined goals, and broadcasting to a wider audience. I think the white privilege critiques of the SlutWalks are incredibly important, and no doubt this “movement” (for lack of a more precise term) will be the source of academic and activist discussion for a long time to come.

    But it is not accurate to characterize the Walk as something was purely unproductive and frivolous.

    Also, I have sensed a vague bias in this discussion that people who gain pleasure from dressing in fishnets and tank tops can not possibly be serious activists. I agree that some people were probably drawn to the march more for the costume-party side of it than the activism side, but I do not think the two are mutually exclusive. Isn’t that (one of the things) that the Walk was about – that everyone has the right not to be objectified by their clothing? People who like wearing “slutty” clothing, or even downright ridiculous clothing, can still be intelligent dedicated activists. Just because costumes make marchers more vulnerable to ridicule by onlookers and media isn’t a reason to tone it down. I think people should wear what they want, and then prove their worth through their actions.

    Whether the Slutwalks translate to any concrete improvements remains to be seen, and probably won’t be clear for a while, if ever.

    Much love to everyone out there. Debate is a wonderful thing.

    • Erin Sherrange

      Thank you for being there Mona, and thank you for your thoughts. There is so much room for difference in this world, and that difference, when you can move about the guttural defensive reaction that sometimes crops up like an irritating pimple on the side of one’s nose, is beautiful. I am grateful that the SlutWalks are around because I have never spoken publicly about my rape, and I have never been involved this way (I am a mom and a special ed teacher – I have always been focused on advocating for my students and uplifting my own kids). Thank you again for being there. Much love back to you!!!!

  25. Ariel Dougherty, Media Equity Collaborative

    Make sure that the AAUW sponsored event tomorrow (Aug 17, 2011) is videotaped….so it can be played for a larger audience. NIST.tv is a good place to post it in addition to YouTube, etc.

  26. Erin Sherrange

    Here is the remainder of the discussion for anyone who would like to read it. The discussion ended much better than it started. If anyone wants to see the entire thread, go to :


  27. laura

    Thanks for this! I am a rape victim and I feel the same way.

    I guess that there are cases where victims get “blamed” for their clothing.

    But my experience is that you rather get “blamed” for other things: why didn’t you shout for help? Why didn’t you kick him? Why didn’t you run away?

    I also feel that while slutwalk is getting a lot of attention and press coverage, because of the half-naked participants, the victims are being neglected. The organisations which have been supporting the victims for a long times and which have been making small but significant changes are being neglected.

    Victims need support, such as money for trauma therapy, lawyer etc. You don’t get all that through slutwalking.

    And: of course, a jewelry owner gets blamed for having jewelry on display in the showcase. If he didn’t lock his door, then the insurance company will not even pay.

  28. […] only a handful of SlutWalks have maintained momentum after the march. For Chai Shenoy, author of “This is Why I Don’t Care to SlutWalk” and an attorney for Washington Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), the real problem with SlutWalk […]

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  30. You Walk Alone. « stop! talking.

    […] … criticism of sl*twalks – and not just once, here and here and here and here and here and here.  And these links are just the result of a quick Google search, by the way – […]