Update, July 3: See photos from SlutWalk Denver
Given that its very name is designed to provoke, it's not all that surprising that SlutWalk would be creating some controversy. Set off by a Toronto police officer who had no idea what he was getting into when he suggested a group of women avoid rape by not dressing like sluts, the concept has been blowing up around the nation and the world, with its message that women -- no matter how short their skirts -- are not to be held responsible for rape. Seems like a no-brainer: as SlutWalk organizers point out, there is not statistical correlation between attire and assault, and even if there were, rape is rape, and it's pretty pig-headed to blame the victim. Nevertheless, there are evidently some holdouts to that hoary old "she was asking for it" adage, and they are making their views loudly -- and kind of creepily -- known in a surprisingly public forum.
Moreso than the Facebook page for the SlutWalk group itself, it's the group's event page that's been bearing the brunt of the controversy -- possibly because it's getting circulated by more people. "We had over 8,000 people RSVP to our event page," notes Samuel Schimmel, one of the organizers of the Seattle SlutWalk, which happened last week, and the guy whose job it was to moderate the comments on that page -- and, as it turns out, he had exactly the same problem. "Pretty much everybody in Seattle got invited, and it was just this constant barrage of trolling. One of my biggest jobs, actually, was just moderating the Facebook page. It was kind of a full-time job."
As far as what kind of timbre the comments took, Schimmel adds, "There were really two directions: There were the misogynists who say that women should not be allowed to dress as they wish, and then there's the whole radical feminist take, which is just a whole 'nother beast -- I had a discussion that ended in a barrage of fruitless attacks."
It would appear that, in Denver at least, the criticism is coming mostly from the former group. Because the event page is essentially a public forum, we've elected to give some examples in the form of unedited screenshots. And some of them are pretty shocking.
And that's actually one of the tamer ones. The best, below, were probably the ones that subtly and unintentionally implied that the commenter himself had rapist inclinations. Seriously, Dillon? Are you for real deconstructing the conditions under which you might hypothetically rape? Because that is creepy, dude. Another comment (which was later deleted) suggested the organizers of the Denver event were "not rape material," while elsewhere, an event (which was also deleted, presumably by the Facebook mods) called RapeWalk Denver was created for the same time and place as SlutWalk.
For their part, the organizers of SlutWalk Denver were reluctant to discuss the comments directly, wishing instead to keep the focus on their goals as an organization. Via email, they issued a terse statement:
Our take on the 'comment war' is that the explosion of comments reiterating victim-blaming thought patterns only proves the necessity of a movement like this. It is disheartening to see so many who feel that the victim of sexual assault is to blame or that men do not have to (and shouldn't have to) control themselves around women in skirts. We at SlutWalk appreciate those who have come to our aid in explaining our point to dissenters. We are also open to positive and constructive dialogue to further advance the cause[s] behind SlutWalk. Lastly, we will continue to repeat ourselves to dissenters that SlutWalk is about more than girls in short skirts and will continue informing the uninformed with facts supporting our claims ... that is all we have to say on the 'comment war'.
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And that's perhaps understandable. "You start to feel isolated when you get criticism from both sides, especially when that criticism comes from people who you would think would be your allies," Schimmel admits. "That started to wear on me." It was worth it in the end, though, he adds; the event itself went down (aside from the minor inconvenience of an appearance by the Westboro Baptist Church) smoothly, and "it was really powerful."
Still, as Schimmel himself observes, you can't change everybody's mind, and the point of the event at least in part is to force the issue into public discussion -- the confrontational name of the event handily accomplishes the task of drawing attention to the cause, and some of that attention is going to be positive, and some of it isn't. "With a name like SlutWalk," he cedes, "that's kind of the responsibility we take on."