Emmeline Pankhurst said it best: “Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.”
The Los Angeles SlutWalk, held on Saturday, October 1st, is part of an annual movement which began in 2011. The event began in response to a Toronto police officer who stated, “If women didn’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t dress like sluts.”
Women heard him loud and clear and had had enough. That single remark made them want to take action. Instead of modifying their attire or behavior or walking away in silence, they channeled their frustration and banded together. The constructive anger sparked a global movement and “aroused” women took to the streets of cities around the world, from Washington D.C. to Melbourne, Australia. In each city, women march in protest against victim shaming, gender inequality, and our ever-present rape culture.
The Walk of No Shame
Being someone who has experienced relentless shaming throughout my life and sexual assault, I had a powerful urge to participate. It was important for me to stand up and speak out, not only for myself but for the millions of women who cannot or are too afraid speak for themselves. So, I booked my ticket from Atlanta to Los Angeles and made my way to a place where Sluts can freely Unite!
I was nervous about going alone. It was comforting knowing my dear friend and brilliant photographer Victor Lightworship would be with me. He was one of a handful of men attending the SlutWalk. When we arrived on the scene, our initial reaction was—why is this such a somber march? Why were so many people so unhappy? Why am I the only one dressed like a slut? Confused but undeterred, we continued walking only to realize a few blocks later we were marching with the wrong event! Victor and I were marching along for Mental Illness. No wonder why I was getting sympathetic looks from people. They probably thought we were completely nuts!
We turned around and made our way toward Slut Central. Closing in on Grand Avenue, I heard a man yelling something about Jesus through his megaphone. When Victor and I made it to the corner, he started shouting at me, “You whore! Go back to your husband. Repent! You are going straight to hell! You’re nothing more than a bitch, a slut. God does not like the way you’re dressed. Put some clothes on, you Jezebel.” The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. My head was tingling. Then all of a sudden a collection of blocked emotions from all the previous shaming experiences started rushing through my body.
Not this time, buddy! This walk meant I didn’t have to put up with that crap anymore. I eyed the preacher and, without a word, pulled my white body suit down and flashed him my pastie-covered tits. His proclamations for me to go to hell got louder as I turned around flipping the back of my skirt upward to show him my plump ass. I gave myself a nice smack on the bum before leaving him with his distorted megaphone in the dust. He might not have gotten my message, and there will no doubt be confrontations like that in the future, but my reaction to it was different. I was empowered.
We made it to 8th and Olive. Seeing throngs of women (and some men), from all walks of life and ranging in age, proud to reclaim the word “slut” was exciting. All of us were dressed to kill and armed with handwritten signs stating, “My Pussy, My Choice” and “Stop the Shaming!” and “Strippers Have Feelings Too.” There were fishnets, sun-dresses, tiaras, corsets, and body paint. Some women were completely topless with only a piece of colored tape covering their nipples. Seeing so many like-minded women was inspiring! We fed off of the positive energy. Many attendees were survivors of sexual assault. Part of the event included an open mic stage. The event organizers invited victims, like me, to share our stories and experiences without fear of disbelief.
The main stage was phalanx with eager women waiting for the SlutWalk’s star, Amber Rose. A swath of pink and white balloons arched high above the stage, swinging in the wind. The music, blasting from the PA system was energizing. Groups of women were smiling from ear to ear while posing for selfies. Young teenage girls had poignant messages written all over their bodies.
Finally, the ambassador made her way to the stage, and the crowd went bonkers. Amber Rose looked beautiful standing above her star-struck fans. Dressed in a black waist cincher and body suit, she welcomed everyone with her electrifying personality. To me, Amber Rose is the embodiment of feminine grace and beauty. Throughout the years, people harassed and ridiculed her for being open about having sex with rap stars and for being a stripper. Instead of cowering or lashing out, Amber embraced the insults and now serves as a pop cultural icon for the sex-positivity. Her celebrity status lends incredible visibility to the burgeoning SlutWalk movement. Not only that, she is also extremely vocal about violence against women, gender equality, and does not pull and punches calling out slut-shamers.
Hand in Hand
The crowd separated for Amber (and her hulking bodyguards) as she began leading the way to Pershing Square which was only a few blocks away. Women of every color, shape, and age started walking in unison, and I was proud to be a part of it. Armed with our signs and voices, we marched up Olive Street and yelled, “Stop the shaming!” at the top of our lungs. As we got closer to the park, the preacher’s megaphone was shouting out more vile comments. Women stopped in front of him to have their pictures taken, which hopefully pissed him off even more. We crossed Grand Avenue, and each of us stopped to acknowledge a job well done.
It’s a Party
I felt fully present and soaked up the adventure. My favorite part of the event was all the people watching. Everyone there had a unique sense of style and worth. One girl, in particular, looked like she was in her element. Completely topless and dressed in hot pink panties, she twerked her way through the crowd. Some of the women winced while others egged her on. It was hard to determine her age because of the braces and pigtails. All I cared about was getting my picture with her, and luckily for me I had a world-famous photographer in tow.
Signs still looming against the LA skyline women congregated in the square. Some of the messages were funny, and some made a critical point. But the emotionally moving part was seeing that the signs were being held by women unafraid to stand up for their rights. Everyone was important no matter their message. From my perspective, it was a safe place. The women were respectful, leaving their attitude and judgments at home.
The temperature soared, but I forgot all about the heat when slam poet Savannah Brown was introduced. Her poem “Hello I am a Slut” went viral a few months prior to the event, and she was there to recite it live. A bit timid at first, she took her place on stage. The crowd stood respectfully silent. We were held captivate by her powerful prose. When it was over, the applause was overwhelming and I began crying. Every word she said washed over me. It felt like an emotional purge.
Here is what I say when people ask why I marched with a group of sluts—I am marching for my granddaughter, my mother, my grandmother, my sister, my niece, my girlfriends. I refuse to remain silent. By marching, I am more than just reclaiming my sexuality. I am part of something much bigger than myself—kind of like a sisterhood of sluts. By marching, we are showing a future generation of young girls and women that we are more than just compartmentalized body parts meant for pleasuring others. I marched because it’s important for women and men to unite and stop shaming each other for the choices we make.
I did it because I am a woman—hear me fucking roar!