Why I Participated in SlutWalk D.C.

August 17, 2011

I’ve never been called a slut, but last Saturday, I claimed the name when I participated in SlutWalk D.C.

SlutWalks started in Toronto in April in response to a police officer who said women wouldn’t be victimized if they didn’t dress like sluts. The first walk in Toronto touched a nerve, and people around the world are organizing and participating in satellite SlutWalks to say that sexual assault is about power, not our clothing choices. SlutWalkers also challenge the negative connotation of the word “slut.” No matter how people dress, they deserve respect.

I concur, and so on Saturday I marched from the White House to the Washington Monument with more than 1,000 SlutWalkers. The mood was upbeat and supportive. Some people wore next to nothing, while others were fully clothed. Many people held anti-rape and anti-victim-blaming signs. Tourists lined the sidewalks taking photos of us, many cheering and encouraging us as we walked.

After the walk ended, despite an initial downpour of rain, hundreds of people stayed to hear talks from 22 survivors, allies, and community activists. I was the fourth speaker. The audience supportively cheered and clapped throughout the talks.

My reason for participation was very personal. As I said in my talk, I wanted to honor the many rape survivors I know and love, including my grandmother.

In this photo, my grandmother is 3 years old. Her father was already sexually abusing her. At age 12, a lifeguard raped her. Then as a young teenager, she told her Mormon church leader about the abuse, and he sexually assaulted her instead of helping her. For decades after that, she was silenced by shame and the fear of blame. In fact, some people did blame her when she gathered the courage to share what happened. Its negative effect on her life is still apparent today.

Recently my grandmother wrote the book The Illness That Healed Me with the hopes of being able to help other survivors through the healing process. Because she writes about the abuse by her father, some of her siblings won’t speak to her. She, like all rape survivors, never “asked for it.” They should never be blamed or shamed.

I’m grateful I could participate in SlutWalk D.C. and add my voice to the growing choir of people who are sick and tired of victims being blamed. Instead of focusing on clothing choices, we all should focus on prevention programs and initiatives.

While some people question the effectiveness of SlutWalks, I believe the media coverage helps change societal attitudes. And at an individual level, I witnessed SlutWalk D.C. serve as a healing, empowering, and rejuvenating experience for survivors and friends and family of survivors. That’s powerful.

Some people have dubbed these events the future of feminism, though there are many people who take issue with the walks. This evening at 6 p.m. at our headquarters at 1111 Sixteenth St. NW, AAUW is hosting  Re: Action — A Debate on SlutWalk to discuss both sides. It’s free and open to the public.

Holly Kearl By:   |   August 17, 2011


  1. Avatar Rita Bowles says:

    Yes, thanks for all your hard work, Holly. I’m sure you’re aware of the SL,UT
    T-shirts? My daughter has worn one for years.

  2. Avatar Holly Kearl says:

    Thanks @Carlynne, @JK, @Kate, and @Beckie. @Erin, I’m so glad you came to the panel discussion and shared your viewpoints during the Q&A!

    @Dr. Botting and @Charlotte, I think you both are missing the point of the SlutWalks. Most rapists don’t know what their victim was wearing, yet too many people continue to ask survivors what they were wearing, as if it matters. The walks are a collective outcry to say sexual assault is not okay, blaming a victim is not okay. It’s also a way to create a forum where survivors can feel safe to share their stories and gain support.

    No matter how people dress, they deserve respect, not harassment or assault or victim-blaming. There are cultures where women can go topless or wear bikinis in public and that’s fine and they don’t face harassment, and there are cultures where women face harassment even while wearing burqas (in Yemen, over 90% of women face sexual harassment on the streets). It’s not about what we wear. It’s cultural norms and victim-blaming that are the problems, not our clothing choices and critiquing women’s clothing contributes to those problematic cultural norms.

  3. I am so thrilled about the turnout for the slutwalk. thank you Holly for speaking out for those who have been abused.

    • Avatar Dr Patricia Botting says:

      The next time a random hardworking police officer attempts to complete a traffic stop involving one of these scantily dressed women and is accused of peering down her deliberately plunging neckline we will remember this “Proud to be part of the Slut walk” conversation.
      I for one do not wish to be associated with it.
      P Botting.

      • Avatar Kate says:

        Is this what you’re talking about, Dr. Botting? http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/127981643.html

        This was the entire point of Slutwalk: Stop blaming women for “inviting” harassment and assault based on what they’re wearing. Because it doesn’t matter what we wear; we get harassed and assaulted no matter what. I am proud to be part of the movement that holds the perpetrators accountable, rather than shaming women and their bodies.

        • Avatar Dr Patricia Botting says:

          No,The one you referenced is entirely new to me. I would support an independent investigation in such instances.
          The instances I am thinking of happened in California and involved perfectly normal traffic violations, speeding / moving and parking violations, etc. The response of the woman driver serves as a distraction and invites derision on the part of the general public both men and women.
          Far better to go through the normal police complaints procedure.
          Just my point of view, of course.

  4. Avatar Charlotte Pfefer says:

    You are right that noone should be vicitimized just because of the way they dress. HOWEVER THAT SAID..many young women today do dress in a manner that is not diginifying to them! Perhaps instead of doing walks dressed poorly as well, our energies would be more usefully spent in trying to help women find the self esteem they need so that they don’t feel they need to dress in that manner. Any woman who truly values herself would not want to dress that way and attract inappropriate attention. NO they are not “asking to be raped” but they also are not asking for respect when they dress as some do. And for most it isn’t even flattering to their bodies.

  5. erinprangley erinprangley says:

    Holly, I’m looking forward to the debate tonight. Your story has helped me keep an open mind on this issue. I agree with the goal, but I’m still having trouble with the tactic. See you later!

  6. Avatar jk says:

    Dr. Botting- I think your experience is valid and that your bank teller should consider professional dress in her overall customer service approach, but the point of the SlutWalks isn’t so much that women should dress however they want and not lose customers — it’s that women should dress however they want without worrying about violence or the threat of violence, like sexual assault or rape, or be blamed for violence perpetrated on them because of what they were wearing. There is never an excuse for raping or sexually assaulting another person. There could be, however, a perfectly acceptable excuse for changing banks, as you have shown us.

  7. Avatar Dr Patricia Botting says:

    Last week I went to the bank with my husband. I found myself opposite a young woman with a plunging neckline, revealing much more than is consistent with a professional stance. Her unbuttoned blouse was more appropriate for a bordello than a bank. I was uncomfortable throughout and relieved to get out of the place. I will be avoiding her in future and would certainly not consult her on banking business again. This is not a politico/feminist stance one way or the other. It a customer deciding about where and with whom to do business.
    Dr Patricia Botting

  8. Avatar Carlynne McDonnell says:

    I applaud you Holly, for standing up for women over and over. Feminism is a good thing and too often it has been demonized in the press and by other very vocal groups. The road to equality is multi-faceted and requires commitment, passion and the ability to forge ahead regardless of people’s behaviors or comments. Proud that you are working so hard for AAUW.

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