I am really humbled by the number of people who showed their support today at the anti-misogyny demonstration against a slut-shaming pro-lifer and her peers. Both friends and strangers assembled just a few minutes past noon, and stood peacefully at the same corner. Their signs dwarfed the pro-lifers’ sandwich boards. They took their body-policing rhetoric and pamphlets with them when they retreated back to public transit before a half hour had passed.
I know that the likelihood is low that some of the strangers who stopped to talk to me, or who honked their horns at us while passing the intersection where we stood, will be reading this. I also know that the likelihood is astronomically lower, that the pro-lifers who were there today will ever read this, because they aren’t interested in dialogue. That was apparent when I faced one of them, staring her straight in the face while I held up my sign. She looked at me in my cape and tight-and-bright underwear, and I looked at her in her cardigan. She said “How are you comfortable like that?” I answered her with “How are you comfortable like that? Passing out these pamphlets? How do you sleep at night? How do you live with yourself?” as the man at her side reached to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
I can write until I’m blue in the face and developing a back problem from shitty posture. But if I’m never visible as an activist, the difference I can make is limited. If you don’t know where to find my blog, you won’t read it. But if I stand nearly nude and walk up and down an intersection with a sign and a clown horn, you’re going to notice what I’m saying even if you don’t agree with it. But many people do, and that made it all worth the effort.
Some people shook my hand after reading my sign. One guy stopped about six inches from my face, made exaggerated gestures of checking me out, and then walked away — I honked my horn about a half an inch from his ear. Lots of people driving by honked their horns. Some people joined us and held up signs. I got a lot of silent nods. One guy stopped to talk to me and ask me how pro-life rhetoric and rape constitute taking women’s rights away (he also gave my armpit hair a 2-second scritchy without my consent, so I’m going to suggest here that he hasn’t thought about what he said before). Some people shouted at us (mostly at me). A few people stopped me and asked why I’m dressed as I was. I asked them why it matters, because no one deserves to be slut-shamed or raped, and I should be able to walk down the street naked without being slut-shamed or raped for it. One woman quietly asked me to show her my sign, and after reading it, she told me she had a similar experience last week. And I also was able to tell a few people that pro-lifers accomplish nothing if they stop fighting for people’s rights as soon as they are born.
So What Did Our Signs Say?
Our largest sign read “These people want Stephen Harper in your vagina.”
One of the most powerful signs, in my opinion, was held by a woman who walked back and forth across the crosswalk whenever the signal changed. It read “My abortion was fabulous. Thanks.”
And quite possibly, one of the most effective signs was held up by a man who stood next to the pro-lifers, that said “And God said let us be bigots.”
The woman involved in the inciting incident brought a sign that read “Our community is about inclusiveness. * Your ignorance is not welcome here.” She held it facing the pro-lifers, and engaged in debate with them until it was cancelled out by our crowd chanting “HEY HEY! HO HO! ANTI-ABORTIONISTS HAVE GOT TO GO!”
We also had many signs that said “My mother is pro-choice” and “Pro Choice = Pro Rights”, as well as a very well-written sign that declared “There is no pro-life and pro-choice. There is only pro-legal and pro-illegal.”
Mine read “Misogyny is hate speech!” on one side, and on the other, it read “A pro-lifer here publicly slut-shamed a woman in a sundress, and told her that a rape survivor should be forced to carry the child if she conceives. This isn’t social justice. Keep pro-life rhetoric in private! Sincerely, a friendly neighbourhoood rape survivor.” (I know, it’s a bit long)
See the entire array of signs we created and the faces of the people we were there to chase back to the drawing board in this Flickr set by Sydigill.
It Wasn’t About Bravery — It Was About Anti-Misogyny
A lot of people have been saying “that’s brave.” But it isn’t about bravery, or having brass balls that clank when I walk, or mustering up courage and strength to do something radical. It’s about placing a higher importance on the message, and seeing those people go back to the drawing board, than what people think of me. That’s the same decision the UBC student made when she took off all of her clothes and sat patiently until Genocide Awareness Project took their signs down at the end of the day. And the same decision that the woman involved in the inciting incident made when she made the call for people in the community to stand with her. All of us at that intersection today made that same decision, and that counts for the pro-lifers too.
Demonstrations like what I took part in today are about building community. I was able to tell people about a local meeting taking place on May 26th to discuss the possibility of re-branding SLUTwalk. I was also able to tell people about a local walk being arranged by a non-profit organization, that is taking place on May 27th, as a demonstration to end male violence (including rape) against women. I have no doubt that the people I was demonstrating with were telling more people about their plans to create a troupe of anti-lifer protesters who can show up in front of abortion clinics around the city, whenever these and other pro-lifers re-emerge from where ever their lair is. The point is, the demonstration was about uniting people as a community and inciting them to speak out against social injustice.
Many women feel ashamed to be having an abortion as is, but the presence of these pro-life protesters can be enough to prevent them from accessing one safely. Today, we won just one extra day of better privacy this week, for women who are seeking an abortion. We won one extra day of keeping the pro-life propaganda off our streets.
Slut-Shaming, Rape-Victim-Blaming, And Body-Policing
There is nothing a woman can wear that makes her a slut, or a target for sexual harassment, or a target for gendered violence. Not one thing. Not even her bare skin, no matter what colour it is, or if there are piercings or tattoos in it, or if there are implants or scars or stretch marks or muscle tone. It doesn’t matter what any woman looks like or dresses like — a woman simply cannot “dress like a slut”. There is no such attire.
No one ever deserves to be raped. There is nothing a woman can do that changes this fact. Ever. No one is sexually available to anyone they haven’t explicitly made themselves sexually available to. Making oneself sexually available to another person is not a permanent obligation, either. I can change my mind if I want to, and so can you. If we’ve had sex before, I don’t owe you sex again unless I want it too. If we’ve never had sex, it’s up to me whether or not I am ready. If I haven’t said yes, it means no.
My body belongs to me, and that means it is mine alone to give to who I want, or to treat the way I want, or to dress up the way I want, or to access medical treatment as I need it and as I choose to access. It is never someone else’s duty or right or responsibility to tell me what to do with my body. What I do with my own body is always my choice, whether I’m (consensually) fucking someone else’s body with it or making love to myself, dressing or un-dressing, getting an abortion or getting pregnant. It’s my decision. There is no such thing as The Body Police.
You Can Do Demonstrations Too
Have you had enough of slut-shaming and victim-blaming? Talk about it. Write about it. Take your message to the streets.
I guarantee you, if you stand for long enough at a busy intersection with a sign, someone will ask to shake your hand for letting them know they aren’t alone.
Buy sidewalk chalk and write on sidewalks.
Take part in creating and organizing a demonstration of your own, and use lots of glitter.
Put on a costume and a sandwich board and take a walk on a busy street.
Take part in demonstrations in your neighbourhood. I know there’s only so much of each and every one of us to go around, but every high five you give goes a long way for peer support. Just think about how far those pro-lifers went with a hand on a shoulder from one another. And think about how far I went with what started out as just one person to hand me a cape, with nearly two dozen other people showing up within ten minutes after I dropped my shorts and stuffed them into a second person’s backpack (you could be that person too if you’re not as comfortable in your skin as I am completely unashamed in mine). It doesn’t have to take all day, either. I was outside for about 2 hours, and the weather was fantastic. No one was arrested or even bothered by the police, and no one’s property was damaged.