Last month, Michele Stander-Reimer announced she – along with a slew of volunteers – would organize a SlutWalk in Milwaukee. SlutWalks are marches occurring all over the world during which thousands of people rally and walk to raise awareness about sexual assault. Some marchers dress provocatively to visually demonstrate the point that no matter how a woman dresses, rape is never validated.
SlutWalk Milwaukee is set for Saturday, Aug. 13 at noon in Bay View's Humboldt Park. (Originally the event was set for Aug. 20, but it was recently moved up a week.)
However, blogs are popping up all over the Internet suggesting that SlutWalks are exclusive movements that cater primarily to privileged women. Basically, some believe it's a bunch of over-educated white girls taking the opportunity to make a statement while showing off their bodies.
Stander-Reimer is aware of this growing discomfort among some feminists, activists and people of color, and she took the time to respond to some questions posed to her by OnMilwaukee.com.
OnMilwaukee.com: Do you think traditionally SlutWalks have been exclusive? If so, how? If not, why do you think people of color feel excluded?
Michele Stander-Reimer: It's a little hard for me to speak to the particular issues of inclusion and exclusivity at other SlutWalks simply because there are so many others that are so different, and I haven't worked with any others on their outreach and planning strategies. However, based on pictures we see of crowds at many SlutWalks, there is a predominance of white participants that I think exceeds the ratio of white community members to people of color, and that's highly problematic. That being said, I don't think that this issue was born within SlutWalk particularly, but is instead a reflection of the larger issues within our society that have continually marginalized people of color and subverted social issues that have shaped outcomes for communities of color.
OMC: Is it true that black women are more likely to be sexually assaulted than white women?
MSR: Within Milwaukee, black women are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than white women; transgender men and women are more likely to be sexually assaulted then any other category, and yet when we talk most productively about sexual assault, discussions that raise awareness and don't involve victim blaming on the community level, we most often discuss the sexual assault of a middle-class white women by a total stranger, a rare occurrence, when counted against the many dynamics of sexual assault.
As a movement we need to fight to make sure to include the voices of those groups who have typically been marginalized. I think perhaps some SlutWalk may not have fought hard enough on this end; and, frankly, I believe communities of color should be upset.
OMC: How are you reaching out to people of color to be a part of this event?
MSR: Right now I am working with a few organizations that work specifically with people of color, to engage with community members, promote the message of SlutWalk Milwaukee and invite participants and their voices. Because I am just beginning to work with these organizations, and am not sure exactly what participatory role they would like to take yet, I am not going to name them. We will be happy to include any community organizations interested in raising awareness about sexual assault and victim shaming in whatever capacity best fits their needs.
OMC: What is your response to people who say SlutWalk is the chance for women to parade their bodies and that some are in it for the wrong reasons?
I honestly saw no men involved in the rally who were anything but respectful and in strong advocacy for women's rights, and survivor's rights. And then, the great majority of people at the walk and at the rally were just dressed like you dress on a hot summer day, shorts and T-shirts and tank tops; nothing you would look twice at walking down the street. And yet, every time I saw a news photographer go to take a shot of the "walk" they lowered their camera until someone who was dressed in a provocative fashion walked by. Those are the majority of the news pictures coming in from SlutWalk Chicago, but they don't represent the walk or the rally, they represent the perspective of sensationalists who still like calling women "sluts," and are looking for reasons to claim that a minority represents the majority.
So, in response to the people who say this is just an excuse to dress up, I say that their words are an excuse to not come, not learn about the realities of sexual assault and victim blaming in our community because they are uncomfortable with the pervasive reality of sexual assault.
OMC: Why use or reclaim the word "slut?"
MSR: "Slut" makes us feel like sexual assault happens to "them," deflating slut makes us realize it can happen to anyone. Yes, some people will come for the wrong reasons. MOST are coming for the right ones. And, for those coming for the wrong reasons; if they're naive and just want to dress up, they might receive a good education among men and women with powerful voices, so I've got no problem with that, and if they're coming to ogle or in an attempt to harass, if they are coming to engage in any form of sexual assault, I promise, they're coming to the wrong rally.
Part of the premise of SlutWalk is to re-claim the word slut; to take power over and own something that has for so long caused women so much damage. There have been critiques concerning this. How can you re-claim something that you never owned? I think that's a good argument. This was never a word that was used for good, and has been contorted over time; slut has always been damaging. Our purpose and our function is to dominate slut, in whatever way is most empowering to our participants; illuminate, deflate and dominate the word, so that we are no longer dominated by it.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.