“Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no, and yes means yes.”
This chant was heard by anyone near downtown on Thursday evening by a group of people wearing dresses, skirts, fishnets, and bras, all yelling and walking to fight for a cause. Who were these people? They were participants of the first ever SlutWalk of Iowa City. As soon as I heard about this new opportunity for public expression, I knew I wanted to get involved.
The SlutWalk is a movement that began on April 3, 2011 in Toronto, according to Christina Carberry, the president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance student organization. On this day, police said that the best way for a woman to keep from being victimized is to ‘avoid dressing like a slut.” Since then, hundreds of thousands of women have taken to the streets to argue against this mindset. People now take action to stand up against the culture that blames the victims for the crimes against them.
“I think Iowa City is the perfect place for it because there is contradiction for wanting women to be sexual and then shaming them for it,” said Nicole Loisi, a UI 2011 graduate.
This opportunity to support this cause meant a lot to some students and community members. Melanie Harrison, a UI senior, and Chloe Brigl, a UI freshman, went to support their friend/sister, Maggie Brigl, a UI senior, who is a rape victim.
“I was really happy that we were going to bring awareness,” said Chloe Brigl.
“No more victim-blaming, no more slut-shaming.”
The event began at College Green Park with an introductory speech, a skit, and then directions on what we, the participants, should chant and where to go. The group of around eighty people was then lead down the street to the pedestrian mall, curving throughout downtown, and returned back to College Green while screaming and carrying signs.
Upon arriving back to where it began, a series of speakers shared their perspectives and opinions on the movement and issues related to it. It was really inspiring to hear how some of them were directly affected by sexual abuse and how they are overcoming it.
“I want to create a culture in which female sexuality is appreciated rather than shamed,” said Carberry.
A representative from local advocacy group, Domestic Violence Intervention Program, spoke along with the owner of a new business, The Tool Box, a sex-positive shop that opened downtown last fall. Hannah Altman from Cornell spoke considering she participated in the feminist conference and organized the Philadelphia SlutWalk. Another speaker was Kate Vohs, a former FMLA member who knows a lot about the issues involved.
There were three hundred people confirmed planned attendance on the facebook event page, so Carberry thought around two hundred would come. However, she was still pleased with the number of people who showed their faces at the park.
“I was very impressed with the enthusiasm of the people who came – they were fantastic,” said Carberry.
The SlutWalk movement is the start for a new generation of feminists. Participants believe this movement is at a good time in history because there are still issues within society dealing with the term “slut” and how it is used. A sexual double standard still exists for women. There have been debates over calling a woman “slut” for believing in or using contraceptives, let alone having it covered under health insurance. Laws have been proposed that would cut funding for programs that help women and children with health care with lower income. Women who have premarital sex are frowned upon and told that if you save yourself, you are more valued. Men have it in their heads that if a woman puts out, that means she is not good girlfriend material. Finally, the number of sexual partners isn’t a big concern for men, but for women it is a huge deal.
“We are not excluding male rape victims but I don’t think they experience the same victim blaming even though their experience is just as horrific,” said Loisi.
The movement fights against equating a woman’s morality for their sexual actions and opinions as well as her choice to wear revealing or seductive clothing. A part of society thinks if a woman wears something scandalous and then gets harassed and assaulted, it was her own fault.
“The length of my skirt doesn’t change my worth.”
Carberry is a senior at the University of Iowa who is graduating in a couple weeks with an American Studies degree with a concentration and minors in Sociology and Political Science. Before declaring her major, she was passionate about women’s issues. Now, her studies have informed and shaped the way she talks about them.
“I’m generally interested in social change and social movements, which is why I chose the areas of study I did,” said Carberry.
Carberry initially thought to bring a SlutWalk to Iowa City when she participated in the Des Moines SlutWalk last July. She decided to go after discovering her mutual facebook friends were RSVPing to it.
“It’s definitely the reason I felt like I could bring SlutWalk to Iowa City-I don’t know if I would’ve felt like I knew enough about it to bring it to this community if I hadn’t already been to a SlutWalk and seen how everything went down,” said Carberry, “I’m really interested in the topic of sex-positivity in general, so I thought bringing an already well-known movement to Iowa city would be a great way to raise awareness and get other people fired up about the issue.”
Margaret Vohs, Kat Williams, and Kate Canter helped Carberry organize the Iowa City movement. There were different efforts they had to take. They had to coordinate with speakers, find ways to market the event, send press releases to local news outlets, get permits from the city, ask for support of other local groups, find a date that would work well, and get general logisitics figured out.
“It was a lot of work, but we had a solid team of four or five of us who’d meet every week in addition to our normal group meetings, and that made the process easier,” said Carberry.
Around ten members of FMLA and other interested students helped with organizational efforts.
Williams was motivated to get involved with the SlutWalk because of her experience in India. The cultural differences there involved women’s clothing; they were not allowed to wear shorts or many clothes that showed a lot of skin. After running in shorts one of the days, she was harassed by a group of men so much that she feared for her life.
“We’re protesting a wide range of things, it’s important to pay attention to sexual assault because that leads to more things like rape,” said Williams.
Because this is a topic that people should take time out of their day for, Williams was a little disappointed with the amount of people who showed up. She thought the day went very well, she just had high expectations after talking to a lot of people and not seeing them there.
Carberry plans to move to Minneapolis after graduation, but hopes the remaining FMLA members do the event again next year. She encourages people to bring awareness by talking with people and changing their thoughts on the topic. The negativity affects everyone of all genders and sexualities.
“Instead of getting mad, I want to take action,” she said.
“Join together, free our lives, no one will be victimized.”
The funny thing is, when I left College Green Park thinking about all that I heard and now support, a truck honked at me because I was wearing a skirt—how more ironic could the day end?