As my husband and I were scooting from the Printer's Row Lit Fest to the Chicago French Market Strawberry Festival this past Saturday, I was reminded of an important event that I failed to highlight: SlutWalk.
If you're not familiar with SlutWalk, please read below. If you are familiar, read below anyway. It's a really great article.
SlutWalk offers outlet for a dressing-down of perception
June 6, 2011
It was an intriguing emailed invitation:
Mom, do you want to go with me to SlutWalk?
Hmm. Well, over the years I have accompanied my daughter to playgrounds, petting zoos, hiking trails and nail salons. But for someone who spent years trying to keep two daughters in the equivalents of pinafores, SlutWalk sounded like a questionable mother/daughter outing.
However, my older daughter, 22, had sent a link to the explanation. The SlutWalk, held Saturday in the Loop, was a response to a Toronto police constable's remark that women would be safer from sexual attack if they avoided dressing like sluts.
The comment ignited protests in Canada and the U.S. Women at the marches dressed scantily and vowed to reclaim the word "slut" as an expression of sex-positive freedom. My daughter, who just graduated from the University of Iowa, where she headed a women's group, intended to march with several friends. Would her old mom like to dust off her feminist credentials and join in?
Her old mom has long been on the journalistic observer side of things. But in that role and for the glimpse into the thoughts of her generation of young women, why, I'd love to.
Waiting to meet her at the Thompson Center Plaza, I watched young women gather and get ready to march. Rape was no distant cause for them. One of the friends my daughter would march with lived in a sorority house outside of which a young woman was raped last year. Now her friend carries a sweater to throw on top of sleeveless dresses when she walks home, which she does with an escort.
No one was wearing a sweater here. Some women had dressed in lace-up corsets, black stockings and exposed bras. One was bare-breasted except for hot pink pasties and decorative rhinestones.
Most, however, were dressed in clothes that would have earned a grandma's approval. And the modest were no less committed to the message — that women should be able to dress any way they want without being sexually attacked.
Women are still being blamed for being victims, said Megan Captaine, 24 (sundress over swimsuit top and capri leggings).
"We teach women, 'Don't get raped.' Personally, I feel it would be a lot more effective to say, 'Don't rape'" to men, she said.
She and her friends, who work in theater or hope to, are proud to take up the women's rights cause.
"I call myself feminist any day of the week," said Arianna Soloway, 19 (strapless-in-a-cute-way dress over shorts).
But for women embarking on adult life now, what does that mean?
They and other marchers listed causes not yet won: equal pay for equal work, firm guarantees of reproductive rights, safety from sexual assault.
Soloway, who is studying directing at Columbia College, wonders whether she will face obstacles in her work life.
"Even in theater, where there are a lot more women working, a lot more directors and artistic directors are men," she said.
Being a woman has its advantages, said Captaine, an actress and set-builder. She just started a dog-walking business and finds that her nonthreatening appearance makes her feel safer on the streets than her male colleagues do.
On the other hand, she gets peeved when she is at the hardware store looking at power drills — "because I like power drills" — and "a guy will come up and say, 'Honey, are you lost? Do you want gardening?' And I'm like, 'No, I'm going to build a fake house on a set.'"
Will they someday face the conflicts between work and family, and men and women, that bedeviled the lives of women before them?
Laura Stratford, 24, a writer, actress and small-theater founder who also works a day job, suspects that she might — and she was raised by an at-home dad and a working mother.
"You want to be that perfect mom who spends a lot of time with the children but not give up on the things you want for yourself," she said. "Even now, trying to balance work and art, I'm beginning to see the problems."
The march began to coalesce. I met up with my daughter (perfectly respectable shorts and a tank top) and off we marched.
Avon breast cancer walkers nearby cheered. A CTA bus operator held her hand out the bus window and the ebullient marchers lined up to slap five. It was supportive, it was a good cause — but for a mother, it was not completely fun.
I still find the word "slut" repugnant. And I was uncomfortable with the number of men taking pictures — and at young women seductively posing. Sex positivity is grand, but the leering it can inspire is creepy.
Of course, as the marchers insisted, a rape victim should not be blamed for wearing too little or drinking too much. Still, I never wanted my daughters to do either. There is a place in life for erotic dress, but I would hope there would also be a place for prudence, self-respect and social context.
And by the end of the marching and talking, I had a feeling most of these young ladies have that balance down just fine.
It's their turn to make their ways in the world. What will their lives look like? What will feminism be for them?
"I think there are a lot of conversations to be had," Captaine said.
I think the conversations are in good hands.