By Emeline Boehringer, Haley Parsley, and Kory Sanders
It’s not common to see brave, empowered women strutting the streets of Baltimore carrying signs and sporting little to no clothing. No, this rare gathering is reserved for one day out of the year, the day of SlutWalk Baltimore. On this day, September 6, 2014, amid enthused college students and the leaders of influential organizations such as Maryland NOW and Hollaback! Baltimore, we stood with other girls who write for our zine, “Beast Grrl,” strategizing about whom to interview about the day’s event. As high school sophomores, we started “Beast Grrl” as a forum for our feminist ideas, but before we went to SlutWalk it was just us, a small group of teenagers, excited about feminism and Riot Grrl. We knew there were other feminists around us, but we hadn’t connected or formed a community with any of them. SlutWalk changed all of that. We were awestruck at how many people around our age were excited about feminism, just like us. When we’re talking about our zine, we are more often than not trying to pitch feminism, to convince people to care, so it was a welcome experience to be surrounded by people who we knew believed in feminism and would be supportive of those beliefs. Despite the slightly controversial nature of the walk, the women there made us feel comfortable and safe.
SlutWalk started in Toronto, Canada in 2011. The Executive Director of SlutWalk Baltimore, Rachel Perry-Crook, says of its beginnings that “[SlutWalk] started when a police officer addressed a group of college girls saying that in order to not be victimized, they shouldn’t dress like sluts…. The goal is to end victim-blaming and rape culture.” SlutWalks are organized in many major cities, as far apart as Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington, D.C. In Baltimore, armed with signs and chants, the march circled past Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, through the Red Light District, and ended with a series of speeches in front of City Hall. Though we were intimidated when we first arrived, during the walk we started to connect with SlutWalk and its mission in a visceral way. Yelling chants such as, “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!” and “Whoever you are, whatever you do, rape should never happen to you!” we felt connected to the cause in a way that sitting in a small circle and writing articles about feminism simply hasn’t supplied. It’s hard to articulate how much of a difference SlutWalk made in our relationship with feminism. Writing a zine is a great way for us to talk about our ideas, but it pales in comparison to the tangibility of marching and chanting next to sisters who are there to accept and support each other.
SlutWalk not only provides a forum for women excited about feminism to share ideas and take action, but also helps survivors of rape and sexual assault to find support. Once all the participants had arrived at City Hall, people began to give talks. After speeches by powerful women including the president of Maryland NOW, Sara Wilkinson, one of the site leaders of Hollaback! Baltimore (an organization dedicated to stopping street harassment), Mel Keller, and Mriga Rao, the chair of the Young Democrats of Maryland Women’s Caucus, the mic was opened to all walk participants. Many people came forward to speak to the group about how SlutWalk gave them the confidence to share their stories of sexual assault. A student from Goucher College told us that when she was raped as a freshman, her report of the attack to the college was denied. Her rapist received no punishment and is still allowed to attend school with her. Another Goucher College student, a freshman male, stated “I’m not okay with the fact that in our society my gift as a college freshman was a forty-pack of condoms, and my sister’s gift was a siren, a whistle, brass knuckles, and pepper spray.” As students who will be entering college in three years, fighting sexual assault in colleges has become incredibly important to us, and is another reason why SlutWalk’s message is so crucial for young women.
As young writers, SlutWalk changed the way that we think about activism in our community. SlutWalk sends a powerful message to women and men to end rape culture and victim blaming. If there’s any one thing that someone should take away from SlutWalk, it’s that whatever you wear, no matter where you go, yes means yes, and no means no.
This article was written by Emeline and Haley, two young feminists in Baltimore City who write for and publish “Beast Grrl”, a feminist zine with original art, poetry, and essays.“Beast Grrl” is sold at Red Emma’s in Baltimore City. If you wish to purchase a copy of “Beast Grrl” or would like to contribute to it, you can contact the zine at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check “Beast Grrl” out on Facebook or at beastgrrlzine.tumblr.com.