Over 500 Turn Out for San Diego Slut Walk

Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine

Over 500 Turn Out for San Diego Slut Walk

June 11 Event Targets Sexual Violence and “Rape Culture”


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Over 500 people turned out at the San Diego Community Concourse Saturday, June 11 for San Diego Slut Walk, one in an international series of demonstrations targeting sexual violence and what organizers called the “rape culture” that allegedly encourages it. Called in response to a January 24 statement by a police representative in Toronto, Canada that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized,” the Slut Walks encourage people to attend in stereotypically “slutty” attire — skin-tight tops, short skirts, sheer dresses, tight pants and the like — to make the point that simply because a woman dresses in a way that highlights her sexuality, that does not give men the right to rape or assault her.

Slut Walk San Diego consisted of an opening rally at the Community Concourse, a march downtown along Second Avenue to Broadway, up to Fifth and then back down B Street, followed by another rally and a chance for participants to hang out and be photographed with the Slut Walk banner. The leaflet handed out to people as they arrived also offered a list of local clubs for people to party after the march, and announced a “VIP Party” at the House of Blues from 6 to 11 p.m. with a limited number of tickets available for march participants. This odd mixture of militant activism and promoting the club scene reflected the dual purpose of Slut Walk: to project a sex-positive message while at the same time taking a hard line against sexual violence and the rationalizations used by police and authority figures to treat it far less seriously than other major crimes.

Most of the participants dressed relatively normally, but a few followed the advice and attended in so-called “slut wear.” A group called the Naked Bike Riders came and stripped to the legal minimum; the women had their nipples covered but were otherwise topless. One man came dressed in a pink negligee, though he wasn’t otherwise in drag and didn’t make any attempt to look female. Another man, wearing a black sash labeled “Marsha” (as were several other participants), came dressed as an S/M slave, with a collar and leash around his neck — though no one else was holding the leash — and it was he who steered the main body of the march back to the Community Concourse after the lead marchers overshot the turning point by one block.

March organizers had arranged with the police to close Second Avenue for the walk but to stay on the sidewalk on Broadway. A woman in the march had other ideas. “Fuck the sidewalk!” she said. “I’m marching on the street!” As soon as she took to the street, the marchers behind her followed, and the police changed their plans and closed off the south side of Broadway to accommodate the marchers until they made the turn at Fifth.

The speakers both before and after the march covered a wide range of ground. At least two told their own experiences as victims both of sexual assault and the belittling attitude with which authorities frequently treat sex-crime victims. A woman identified as Foxy Lidé, a dancer who five years ago enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, told the story of how she had felt a “family bond” in the Marines until “I was raped by my platoon guide, a man whom I had considered a friend. Like 90 percent of all rape victims in the military, I didn’t report it. The first person I told was my husband — now my ex-husband — who blamed me and said, ‘How did you let this happen to you?’”

After that, Lidé recalled, she made a belated report to her superiors and discovered that the same person had raped a Navy servicewoman. She continued the training program she’d been in when the rape occurred, was assigned to duty in San Diego ¬— and then was informed that the paperwork and evidence in her case had disappeared. When three other women who’d been raped by the same man came forward, he was “administratively separated” from the Marine Corps but was not punished in any other way. “He still lives in Texas, goes to school, boasts of being an ex-Marine and had the nerve to friend me on Facebook a few weeks ago,” Lidé said.

Liz, a Transgender woman, was technically on the program representing the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.), but the story she had to tell was her own. After saying she was “pretty fucking terrified” to be speaking in public — she’s already suffered employment discrimination for being Transgender and was afraid of losing her current job — she told about her experience as the victim of a sexual assault.

“A year and a half ago, I was at a club with a friend,” Liz recalled. “I was approached by a stranger who wanted to dance with me. Then it started, an all too familiar deal: ‘You’re a guy, right?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Then you’re all girl — I mean, down there?’ I said, ‘None of your business.’ Then I felt a hand reach down and grab my crotch, and I realized I’d just been sexually assaulted — by a woman, a Lesbian, part of my so-called ‘LGBT community.’ [To the rest of the world] I’m a sex toy, a curiosity, a sexual deviant, a fetish, a slut. Even the court clerk who took my report thought it entirely reasonable to ask what my genitals look like.”

Echo Zinn, a former co-president of UCSD Voices for Planned Parenthood, tied in the so-called “rape culture” with current Congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood and funding for women’s reproductive health in general. He cited the New Jersey Congressmember who has introduced language on the House floor to ban private health insurers from paying for women pregnant from rape or incest to have abortions unless the rapist “used force.” He also mentioned a Congressmember from South Dakota who said he would only want insurance to pay for an abortion for a rape victim if she were “a religious, unmarried and brutally sodomized virgin,” and quoted the infamous statement from Congressmember Pete DeGraaf (R-Kansas) that women rape victims who get pregnant shouldn’t expect insurance companies to pay for their abortions because, “We do need to plan ahead for things, don’t we, in life? … I have a spare tire on my car.”

“To rape apologists, and to those who seek to strip women of control over their bodies, rape is a ‘natural disaster’ and women should ‘plan ahead’ for it,” said Zinn. “That attitude is why we need Slut Walks. People have a right to express their sexuality without having to fear that it will be used against them.”