Philadelphia's SlutWalk draws hundreds

PHILADELPHIA--Chanting echoed through the city streets at SlutWalk Philadelphia on August 6: "Yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go!"

After a stall in the permit process that postponed the event originally scheduled for June, over 500 people marched to City Hall here as part of the global SlutWalk movement--protests against sexual assault and victim-blaming that have drawn thousands of women and men out in cities around the globe, including in places New Delhi, India, and Sydney, Australia.

The first SlutWalk was held in April 2011 in Toronto, Canada, after a police officer there told a group of young women at York College that they should "avoid dressing like sluts" if they wanted to prevent rape.

Philadelphia's march is the 82nd demonstration of its kind. Many of the "SlutWalkers" were women in their 20s and 30s who previously were uninvolved in politics.

Philadelphia protesters held signs that read, "Not asking for it" and "My dress is not an invitation." In clothing that ranged from stilettos and fishnets to jeans, flip-flops and T-shirts, they made the point that women and men should have the right to wear what they want, when and where they want, without apology or fear of harassment or assault.

SlutWalk came to Philadelphia at just the right time--in the wake of a highly offensive article published by local writer and Broad Street Review editor Dan Rottenberg, in which he asserted that women should be responsible for living their lives in a way that "prevents" them from being sexually assaulted. Rottenberg suggested that women should wear modest clothing, and not trust their male friends and colleagues to be alone with them.

He also suggested that CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was brutally sexually assaulted by a gang of men while covering the Egyptian revolution, had a habit of dressing "provocatively." "Earth to liberated women," Rottenberg wrote, "When you display legs, thighs or cleavage, some liberated men will see it as a sign that you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. But most men will see it as a sign that you want to get laid."

SlutWalkers took Rottenberg head on, chanting, "Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Dan Rottenberg has got to go!" and "Who reads the Broad Street Review? No one--they've got a rotten point of view!"

Philadelphia SlutWalk featured a diverse set of local and visiting speakers, including Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach, feminist activist Stephanie Gilmore, Philadelphia-based advocate and transgender activist Qui Alexander, and Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a prominent African-American lesbian filmmaker and social change agent who directed and produced NO! The Rape Documentary: Ending Sexual Assault and Violence Against Women.

Also featured was Kate Rush Cook, a rape survivor. In a poignant detail, Cook described her horrific experience of being kidnapped and then raped--only to later have her attacker acquitted after jurors overheard her laughing during a conversation over a trial lunch break. If she had been so damaged by the incident, they argued, she wouldn't have been laughing.

International Socialist Organization member and Rutgers University Professor Deepa Kumar spoke about the significance of the SlutWalk protests as a sign of an emerging women's movement in the U.S. "It's about time we had a women's movement in this country," she told the crowd.

She drew important connections between the SlutWalk protests and the regime-changing uprisings around the globe, saying, "We are entering an era of revolution around the world. The demand for respect and dignity share much in common with the revolutions and uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East." She called the tendency of critics to dismiss the SlutWalk movement "a mistake."

The speakers' talks, many of which are available in full at the Philadelphia SlutWalk website, reflect the universal relevance of these issues across differences in color, gender, sexual orientation and nationality. The organizers of the event are already in the planning stages for SlutWalk Philadelphia 2012.