An angry SlutWalk in Detroit

June 20, 2012

Marie Buck reports on the recent SlutWalk protest in Detroit--and the larger fight for reproductive rights in the state of Michigan.

SOME 200 people marched through downtown Detroit as part of a SlutWalk demonstration on June 16.

SlutWalk began in Toronto in 2011, after a police officer suggested that women were inviting rape by dressing like "sluts." The marches, which quickly spread to cities across the globe, protest victim-blaming and sexual violence.

In Detroit, the march happened on the heels of the introduction of an anti-choice bill in the Michigan legislature. The bill, which has passed the House, would "enact mandatory 'coercion screenings' for all women in need of safe abortion care, prohibit tele-med abortion, and enforce several new costly and restrictive...regulations on both abortion providers and clinics," explained Angi Becker Stevens of RH Reality Check. In practice, the bill would likely force the closure of many of Michigan's abortion clinics.

During debates in the House, Republican Speaker Jase Bolger went a step further and blocked Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown from addressing the legislature after she concluded a speech against the bill with the words: "I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no."

Protesters at SlutWalk Detroit carry signs protesting state lawmakers' censure of the word "vagina"
Protesters at SlutWalk Detroit carry signs protesting state lawmakers' censure of the word "vagina"

Many people responded angrily to the idea that the legislature would ban someone for using the word "vagina," which is a correct medical term, in a discussion on a bill about reproductive issues. That prompted Bolton's press secretary to send a defensive email to press contacts stating that Brown and another representative, Democrat Barb Byrum, were silenced not for using the word "vagina," but for throwing "temper tantrums"--a claim dripping with sexist condescension.

SlutWalkers in Detroit were outraged and energized by the events in Lansing. The march began with speeches by survivors of rape and domestic abuse, and then marchers--some clad in jeans and T-shirts, others in hot pants, bikini tops or other clothing--proceeded through downtown Detroit, chanting "A dress is not a yes!" and "Labia, vagina, lips and clits--keep your laws off our bits!" Other chants referenced the scandal in the legislature: "Can't say it--don't legislate it!"--or, more simply, "Vagina!"

At the end of the march, participants gathered in Grand Circus Park, chatting, exchanging personal stories and occasionally yelling "Vagina!" at baseball fans passing by.

Protester Chrissy Toppin said this was her first protest. SlutWalk, she said, "struck a nerve" with people. Another protester, Fields Donegan, pointed out the stigma attached to rape. "Look at what this stemmed from," said Ashley Waterman, citing the institutional nature of the stigma, "it was a police officer."

On the Monday following the SlutWalk, Rep. Brown staged a performance of The Vagina Monologues with the play's author Eve Ensler on the state Capitol steps. The event, titled "Vaginas Take Back the Capitol!" attracted an estimated 5,000 people.

The blatant sexism of Brown's silencing served as the catalyst for the event at the Capitol. But Michigan women's enthusiastic turnout to both the Capitol event and SlutWalk Detroit shows that women are fighting back in a war that politicians are waging against them.

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