June 6, 2011

What Being at Slutwalk Taught Me About My Activism: SlutWalk LA

Filed under: Event,Sexuality — Tags: , , , — Sarit @ 9:57 pm

I attended Slutwalk in my jeans and Converse, a flower in my hair and a camera posed before my eye. Frankly, I didn’t feel like I needed to be adorned in something revealing in order to take back my dignity. In fact, I don’t even think the word “slut” has the qualities of empowerment, and when folks started chanting “I’m a slut, so what,” I didn’t participate. Still, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I jumped on board with the Slutwalk movement viewing it as an opportunity to shed some light on the darkness and bring awareness to those witnessing the march itself.  For the most part, I still feel that way, but actually being there, immersed in the energy of the march, I did find myself struggling with an internal rift.

I started to pay attention not only to the list of remarkable speakers (Zoe Nicholson, Shira Tirrant, Morgane Richardson, Hugo Shywzer, councilwoman Lindsay Horvath, and several others), but to the varied media presence. I’m skeptical by nature, so when I noticed the CBS camera paying the most attention to the scantily clad Forest Nui Cobalt or the adult film star Alana Evans, I felt the familiar frustration I always have with the media’s propensity toward exploitation: Would the media actually “get” why we were really there in the first place? (Note, fortunately, the CBS footage ended up being pretty well-edited and the seriousness of the event was captured. In this case, the media did the right thing.)

It was empowering to listen to the likes of Zoe Nicholson encourage a passionate call-and-response: “Just because I breathe…” “…you may not touch me.”  Her fervency alone made me proud to be there. It felt good to hear so many survivors stand courageously before a crowd of cheering allies to share their incredible stories. In many ways, this was the reason I was there, as I’d kept my own mouth shut for too long. For a moment, I even felt remorse in not volunteering to share my own story! Nevertheless, there were some things I wish I had heard: Perhaps a more varied perspective on rape and sexual assault: spousal abuse; men who’d been victimized by sexual violence. Maybe next year.

I knew from the beginning that there might be a conflict of interest. I knew there would be a presence of sex-worker advocacy, and therefore sex-workers, and while I have no issues with sex itself (seriously, it’s fantastic, I just don’t want it to be my primary identifier), I do have issues with pornography. For me, there’s too much of a divergence in ideologies between stopping violence and a business that feeds on violence and rape culture. Do I think someone who works in the adult industry deserves to be victimized by rape or sexual assault? No, of course not—I don’t believe that anyone deserves that, regardless of their job, their attire, their level of intoxication, their sexuality, or their flirtatious nature. Their body is theirs, no question about it, but I do have to ask why one would continue to work in that same industry after being raped.  Alana Evans, one of the speakers who courageously shared her story still works in the adult industry. In fact, she says, “It’s just a job.” But is it, if it’s a job that continues to subjugate and objectify women? Is it, if its job is to feed the male fantasy of women always being “ready and willing” to suck, fuck, and be submissive?  Sadly, it only took me about 3 seconds to find an image of her on her own site where she’s victimized by violence. While sex workers certainly deserve the same legal protection against rape as I do, I’m still not inspired or intrigued by their career choice.  If anything, I feel it’s contributing to the problem we’re trying to eradicate. Regardless, there is something to be said for a movement that brings vast awareness to the issue of rape. As Shira Tarrant said in her recent interview for Ms. with Melanie Klein:

“SlutWalk is imperfect. All political movements are imperfect. Human beings are imperfect. But while we’re fighting amongst ourselves, sexual assaults keep happening.”

I can’t agree with her more.

As a photographer, I’m often asked why I won’t photograph certain things. Fellow photographers have told me, “Sometimes, you just have to do what the client asks” or “You can’t always pick and choose your clients.” But the truth is, I won’t sacrifice something I believe in for a paycheck. Heck, if I were offered a huge payout to photograph the likes of Dov Charney, I would decline. I feel this way about porn as well.  My role as a photographer is collaborative, and subjugation is never an option. Sometimes, being an activist and believing in something means sacrificing the convenience and the luxury of having something at the cost of retaining something inherently more valuable: dignity, morals and self-respect.

Bottom line: I’m glad I was at Slutwalk, despite the fact that I will never claim “slut” as a title.

Photograph by Sarit Photography. For complete SlutWalk LA photo album, click here.


  1. Occasionally I am asked why I keep going. I am asked by my “older” feminist sisters why do I still carry a sign, learn new definitions, expand my understanding of GI & SO. You are why. You are why I get up in the morning, why I write at night and WHY I BREATHE. You touch me. Thank you.

    Comment by Zoe Nicholson — June 6, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

  2. I’d never heard of Slutwalk before. The way you raise crosscutting issues makes me want to think and inform myself more. If anyone can suggest more sources about this movement/school of thought, please post here.

    Comment by Cecilieaux Bois de Murier — June 7, 2011 @ 5:23 am

  3. Isn’t there an element of ‘victim blaming’ in this post, when the victims of sexual violence are sex workers/pornographers/porn actors?

    Saying they contribute to the culture that causes their own victimisation sounds like ‘victim blaming’ to me. Sex workers are at high risk of sexual violence and a higher risk of murder than many other groups, than many other women.

    I think they should be supported not criticised. Why do women continue to work in the sex industry even after being raped? The same reason they continue to do anything after a trauma. Life goes on.

    Comment by Quiet Riot Girl — June 7, 2011 @ 5:31 am

  4. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate what you have to say. My intent was certainly not to give the impression of victim blaming, and I don’t feel that this is really the case. When I say, “Do I think someone who works in the adult industry deserves to be victimized by rape or sexual assault? No, of course not—I don’t believe that anyone deserves that, regardless of their job, their attire, their level of intoxication, their sexuality, or their flirtatious nature,” I am sincere. The fault should never fall upon the shoulders of the victim. I also went on to say, “While sex workers certainly deserve the same legal protection against rape as I do, I’m still not inspired or intrigued by their career choice.” This is an opportunity to critically think about the fields we choose to work in so we can begin to look at things from a broader, more open point of view. The issue I am bringing up is the choices we make in relation to our livelihood and whether or not it’s helpful or harmful to the world at large. You might also want to check out Robert Jensen’s book “Getting Off.” He talks about the negative impact of pornography from a male perspective.

    Comment by Sarit — June 7, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  5. This is a great post Sarit and thank you for sharing your ideas. I, of course, have a different relationship to slutwalk as a woman of color and also find some issues with the movement on a whole.

    But, I do want to mention that I also felt there was a slight trace of victim blaming in this post though I imagine you did not mean to do that. Knowing your stance on porn, I was just mostly shocked by this line, “but I do have to ask why one would continue to work in that same industry after being raped,” as one’s profession should have nothing to do with being a victim of rape. In this situation, Alana wasn’t raped while working, she was raped outside of her office. In her workspace, all the sex and photographs being taken are consensual. She is saying yes whether or not we agree with her line of work. For her, she is not being disrespected.

    That line kind of sounds like what my Freshman year roommate said to me after I had a Swastika written on my door, “Well, maybe if you stopped protesting and making that your ‘career,’ people wouldn’t be do things like this.”

    Just letting you know… but again, I think you addressed it in your previous comment.

    Comment by Morgane — June 7, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  6. We have a responsibility as individuals to make wise choices in regard to the things we do. I clearly state in my piece that her rape was not her fault. I am aware that she wasn’t at work when she was raped. I am also aware that there is an image depicting violence on her site that is jarring, particularly in light of what happened to her. There are free porn videos of her gagging and choking and feigning pleasure all over the web. It saddens me that as victims of sexual violence, so many of us subconsciously lower our worth. Her value is far higher than being on her knees.
    I make an effort to practice wise speech, wise actions, wise livelihood in my life. That means if I am participating in something that has the potentiality of causing harm or placing me in danger, I’m not going to do it. I was married to a sexually abhorrent, abusive man for 10 years. I suffered at his hand more times than I care to admit. Was it my fault? No, not at all. Was it my fault that I had a hard time getting out? No. Did I continue to build upon the chain of abuse by marrying someone who’s characteristics are the same so I could continue the violence? No. Why? Because I’ve made ardent efforts in my life to ask myself repeatedly if my actions and choices are helpful or harmful. I will reiterate what I said in my piece and in my other response and that is, my intent was not and is never to victim blame.

    Comment by Sarit — June 7, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  7. Why is going to back to a career in pornography more problematic than going back to say, astro-physics or the culinary arts, after a rape/sexual assault?

    Here’s why – pornography is a field in which the objectification and commercial exploitation of human sexuality is the sole selling point. The positions, the situations, the environment are all triggering because they all have to do with human sexuality and dominance displays.

    Comment by Common Sense — June 7, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  8. Thank you Sarit for your post. It was a beautiful experience bearing witness to the pain of those who have been blamed for the crimes that have been committed against them. Being the victim of rape and molestation myself, I know the immense value of bringing light to the shame and guilt attached to such crimes. It’s time that our society firmly places the blame for rape and sexual assault where it belongs.
    I too was struck by the Alana Evens’ tone of, “It’s just a job” and by the crowd’s passive acceptance of such a statement. I for one am sick of this excuse for doing work that causes harm in the world. Whether it’s drug dealing, combat, porn, or junk bond trading, if you are working in a trade that causes harm, you are part of the problem. Yes, it is ironic when someone who causes harm through their actions is hurt by the very thing they supported, such as when a politician who supports the second amendment is shot by a crazed gunman. Only the most fallacious of arguments, however, would state that they are responsible for the harm they received, as seems to be the rhetoric of those accusing you of victim blaming. Although I was moved by Ms. Evens’ courage to speak out about her rape, I don’t see how one can call themselves a feminist, speak out against rape, and then voluntarily perform in violent pornography that encourages the rape culture. No, she is not to blame. Yes she is a hypocrite.

    Comment by Joseph Rogers — June 7, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

  9. I enjoyed your perspective and hearing about your experience at a SlutWalk. I do agree that it reads to me to include some aspects of victim-blaming. I think this is something we all can often do without the intention of doing it so please hear these comments as a perspective, not an attack. Alana Evens went back to work after being raped. As you pointed out, some stay in a relationship after they’ve been abused in it and by it, some engage in kinky and consensually ‘demeaning’ play and sex and it has nothing to do with experiencing abuse and violation but many people make that argument, some go back to the workplace or social space where they were assaulted, some see that family member and still hug them after the were abused by them, etc. I dont think it’s helpful to judge a survivors choices to engage in or return to consensual activities and spaces. You’re not them and you don’t know what’s good and supportive for them, and what they can or can’t choose.

    I also wanted to say that I commend you for having the conviction to not participate in some things you find morally abhorrent and wrong. I think everyone needs to make more of these choices. However, we all participate in things that support violent, exploitative, and oppressive institutions and cultures, unless you detach yourself from our communal-based and interactive culture and live disconnected from all these systems out there. The police are a violent and oppressive force, as is the military and the upholding of our prison systems and national borders that violently exclude and position people unequally. Think about all the things we all purchase – clothing that supports child labour and huge oppressive and exploitative labour systems, or the food you buy that allows corporations to dehumanize workers and enact violence over and over for profit (think bananas, sugar, coffee, etc.), and it goes on. I’m not saying that just because you support some or any of these things you can’t have a critical reflection on what you want to NOT support but it’s important to recognise the things we still are supporting and the choices we make to not support some systems. Any choice against a violent system could be a good step. What I am trying to say is acknowledge that you are participating and supporting some very violent and oppressive systems and try to be aware of the judgment you place on others supporting other systems. Still have criticisms? Great, share them but also listen as there are always more perspectives and criticisms of other actions, inactions and choices. Further, it’s very important to recognise that some have a CHOICE and some do not. You have a choice to not take a certain paying job, some have choose to buy organic food, to participate in something better instead of the first option? That’s a luxury and privilege many people don’t have.

    Comment by Owning your own decisions and judging less — June 8, 2011 @ 6:30 am

  10. I don’t agree that questioning the validity of an industry that portrays sexual aggression, violence and female degradation so often that it has become normalized (and basically expected) is at all victim blaming. Sarit made a point to say she wasn’t attacking Alana or her choices, but the industry that creates the kind of sexual paradigm wherein non-consensual domination and violence are acceptable.

    Comment by LSP — June 8, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  11. Why would a woman choose to work in the sex industry when there are other options available to her?

    I’m wondering if it has to do with childhood issues.

    Comment by Common Sense — June 8, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

  12. Hi Sarit – Slutwalk LA sister and blogger here.

    As someone who’s been molested (boyfriend’s dad at age 12), date-raped (17) and stranger-raped at knifepoint (19) some might think that I would never want to have sex again. My attitude – damned if I will let those twisted @ssclowns keep ME from enjoying a normal sex life – and I have. I even write erotica.

    Some of my best friends work in the adult film industry. I’ve been on many sets, I’ve talked with the crew, and talent. For many women, ESPECIALLY those who were abused or raped as children, it is very empowering to engage in sex if/when/how THEY choose. I “get” – some p0rn product IS sleazy and degrading to women (and some to men,) absolutely. I’ve only been on set with one director/producer, who is a personal friend, and who is highly respectful of and kind to women. So I can’t speak industry-wide as to what goes on in every set and with every director. But it makes total sense to me that a woman in adult could reclaim her sexuality and freedom by… going back to work.

    Comment by Beverly Diehl — June 9, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  13. HI, Beverly:

    Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate and respect your perspective.
    I, too, have a sordid history of sexual abuse and I once thought I could never have sex again after everything I’d endured. As it turns out, I can and I do. I worked though several years of PTSD flashbacks and have since developed a safe-word system in the event an episode reappears (They rarely do anymore.). I am grateful that I have made it to the other side. I am grateful that I have a wonderful relationship with my husband, both emotional, and sexual, sometimes wild, sometimes not. It’s safe, and that’s what matters. I appreciate your perspective on the adult industry, and I agree with your statement “it is very empowering to engage in sex if/when/how THEY choose.” However, I do grapple with the dynamics of pornography itself. Having had to struggle with my own abuse, I personally don’t find pornography empowering. I find that it’s an industry that fundamentally promotes violence against women. The women in that industry, however, deserve as much protection as anyone else, which is the overall intent of the Slutwalk movement. I don’t have to agree with a career choice to believe in protecting women from rape and sexual assault.

    Comment by Sarit — June 14, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  14. The persons who disrespect women should be hange in public. At least we should think that it is women who give ur birth and we also have mothers and sisters. So all of you please please please respect women, no matter whatever is there in between, you shuld always respect a girl and a women.

    Comment by Anant Raja — June 13, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

  15. I have two things to add here. I came upon this post when I was googling “slutwalk signs” for inspiration for my own sign. (I’m walking in the SlutWalk Seattle tomorrow.)

    I first want to commend the commenters (for the most part) for constructive, interesting commenting. So often the comments get so clouded with grossness, I just cry inside and lose hope. So if there’s comment moderation going on, it’s going really well. Just wanted to say that, and:

    No one has mentioned why a person might work in the sex industry: they might like it! It’s true that some people are “forced’ into it, or “can’t” get away from it for various reasons.. But some people also choose it because they enjoy it, they are good at it, and it is their preferred career choice. I’m not an expert on this or anything, and I agree there are some MAJOR problems in the porn industry–problems I have yet to work out my position on. But I think it’s worth mentioning here, because no one else said it: some people like sex work. Regardless of their lives outside of work, regardless of their childhood issues or lack thereof–there doesn’t have to be a reason to be a sex worker, other than liking it!

    Comment by Hayley B — June 18, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  16. Im an anti-porn feminist, and Id have to agree with some of the others here about victim blaming. While i’s nice for you to say you would quit your job as a photographer etc, notice that you have the privilege to do so. While some prostituted women in the industry also have a choice, most are pressured by varios factors. Your statements are very judgmental and privileged

    Comment by Milou — June 30, 2011 @ 5:52 am

  17. “I’m still not inspired or intrigued by their career choice. If anything, I feel it’s contributing to the problem we’re trying to eradicate”

    Pornography is contributing to a problem you’re trying to eradicate? So you would – if it be in your power – abolish any sort of pornography that you deem aggressive or offensive?

    That’s a ludicrous objective to strive towards. If the problem you’re trying to resolve in society is in some way associated with or partially dependant on a medium that most men enjoy (vehemently – almost religiously) then your interpretation and / or definition of said problem is perverted.

    It’s not possible for someone to objectively conclude themselves to be “anti-porn”. The very relationship between men and their primative drive to mate would suggest that the expression of sex through symbolism to help satisfy that drive can only be considered an evolutionary requirement.

    The entire problem with any conclusion that includes the suppression of pornography in an evolving civilization is that it cannot exist unless the fundamental desire to mate is deemed irrelevant.
    Human beings are nothing more than advanced animals, and all of us are still slaves to our biology. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to socially engineer an environment where the desire to overcome hunger or fatigue is suppressed, and the desire to mate is no exception. If anything, it is the most powerful force that exists within us.

    It is imperative that one understands the universal truth (if there is such a thing) that we are all victims of our own genetics, and as such, each individual’s perception of the world around them is distinctly unique; a product of their own interpretations of their own experiences. With that in mind, there is no way that any female can completely relate to (and subsequently understand) the fundamental and common biological and psychological constructions that exist specifically in men, just as the reverse is true.

    For all the obsession with “equality” in the circles of self-proclaimed progressives, one cannot escape the realities of physics, of DNA, or of evolution. We cannot bend the will of the universe to meet ours, and try as you might, you cannot and will not escape the limitations of both your species, nor of your gender.

    Put more succinctly, you’re a woman, and pornography is primarily an industry designed for your opposite gender. If you want a better understanding of any solution to any problem that involves men in such a fundamental way, understanding your limitations in any attempt to relate to their perception’s of reality is critical.

    Ask yourself questions like :
    Why do so many men embrace a medium you consider sinister?
    Why does the act of rape happen at all? What is the fuel that feeds a person’s justification – rational or irrational – for something that could inflict so much damage on someone else?
    Is rape unique, or are the influencing factors that trigger a decision to commit rape in any way related to those which trigger other crimes?
    How can you go about getting a better understanding of the reasoning for any action?

    When it comes to pornography, you see submission and violence, whereas I see attraction and lust. The act of either dominance or submission is an innate attribute of sex, not pornography.
    Interestingly, the antagonisation of pornography carries remarkable similarities to the condemnation of video games by certain parties. The same arguments are made, the same logic is carried.
    Ultimately, the same errors in judgment are overlooked.

    Every problem has a solution. If part of the solution is the removal or suppression of pornography, then the problem is poorly defined. I’m no expert on feminist ideology, but if the abolishment of pornography is a critical premise, then self-serving agendas have dictated philosophy.
    Equality only when it serves.

    On a more personal note, trauma can adversely affect a person’s interpretation of the world around them, and unfortunately it seems as though yours has corrupted your perception of men.
    We’re not all rapists waiting to happen.. It takes a lot more than a lifetime of ‘violent’ pornography to trigger a criminal act like that, and your protesting its existence does you no favours. It’s a losing battle; Your objective is understandable but your method isn’t.

    Comment by A Male — July 14, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  18. Hi, Liked your post a lot and the blog as well.
    I have linked your post to my post on the Slut Walk in Delhi, India. I hope that is ok.

    Comment by Prathama — August 4, 2011 @ 7:24 am

  19. I couldn’t picture “Slut Walk” being a feminist movement, but when I read about what it is, I saw the power behind the movement. Our culture glorifies sex in every setting, so the movement to take back the word slut and give women control over their own bodies is powerful. I hate the idea that if we wear a dress or a skirt, or something provocative, it is instantly seen as an invitation for sex. I don’t think it is always appropriate for a women to dress “slutty,” but going out on the town I have worn dresses and me and my friends receive attention we didn’t necessarily want dressing up like that. Victim blaming commonly occurs saying that if a certain way of dress excuses rape. I think calling the movement “slut walk” catches people’s attention, but may be sending the wrong message. I have friends in Santa Barbara and when I stay at their place, in the morning, boys like to yell at girls, saying things like “walk of shame!!” When guys come home the morning after they are high fived and congratulated. I think the slut walk is trying to bring attention to this double standard and also show that how a woman dresses should not affect how she is treated and her right to say no.

    Comment by Samantha H — April 10, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

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