Sunday, September 30, 2012

Slutwalk Chicago 2012

While this is predominately a fashion blog, written about love and the unending quest for it, there are some topics that I just can't ignore.  The lovely blonde woman in the picture above is my cousin Patti.  She is smart, beautiful, strong, and is inspiring me everyday, though it may be hard for me to admit.  I envy her.  She lives the life that I wish I could be living.

Recently, she partook in Slutwalk Chicago.  The concept behind Slutwalk is reinventing the way we teach about rape and women's involvement.  Instead of saying "don't get raped", we should be saying "don't rape".

It's frustrating when we live in a new age of feminism, that we are still objectified as women.  Recently, I had a woman coworker of mine that said something that I can not shake.  My friend and I were complaining about how on the way to the showers, women were getting whistled at by men in the residence hall.  The coworker, without blinking an eye, said to us, "Well maybe they shouldn't be wearing their towels to the showers."  Both my friend and I were struck.  Had she really just said that?  Maybe the men shouldn't be sitting outside of the showers waiting to sexually and verbally harass women.

With my own personal story aside, I would like to share with you this wonderful article that my cousin wrote.  Her experiences are truly moving.

women in the city
slutwalk zine article 2012
patti swanson

I am nineteen, a college student living in Chicago. I love just about everything about the city; it is a world far removed from the small Texas suburb I spent the first eighteen years of my life in. I like to think I am one of the smart girls—the ones who are aware of their vulnerabilities and treat the eggshells they walk on accordingly. I take the long way around to the front of my building late at night instead of cutting through the alleyway, keys threaded through my fingers with the jagged edges facing the pavement. I have a particular love for drowning out the sounds of the train with my music selection of the day, but the headphones come out between the station and home. I am acutely aware of the city sounds filtering around me; I place footsteps, catch the whizz of bicycle tires, piece out the twittering of children in an upstairs bedroom. I can identify in a second the age, approximate weight, ethnicity, and gender of the people trudging home ahead or behind me. I am careful in the choice of which side of the street to walk down, and this choice differs significantly depending on whether I am taking my 9am route to class or walking home at 11pm from my job at an Italian restaurant. I am hyper sensitive to everything and everyone; I spend my steps steadily thinking up evasions from jeering commentary or strangers that follow me for a few minutes more than feels comfortable.
For me, this state of enhanced paranoia seems to exist almost exclusively in the world of the big city, with its public transportation and population density. Yet it is also only here, in the big city, that I feel women push the extremes of their inherent strength and the extremes of their weaknesses.
I have many amazing and life-changing memories of Chicago gleaned from my year here, but lately it hasn’t been one of those that has stood out in my mind. A couple weeks ago, I boarded the Red Line home from work in the early afternoon, as I do several times a week. On this particular occasion, a male coworker accompanied me home. As we talked, sitting in a pair of seats that faced the aisle of the train, I became uncomfortably aware of a man standing entirely too close to my knees. At first I assumed he was leaning forward to make room for someone to pass behind him, but after a short while I noticed that he wasn’t leaning back. He stayed, pressed up to my knees, staring intently down at me. I patiently ignored him, continuing my conversation with my coworker, but he persisted. I can’t swear that it wasn’t my paranoid mind, but at once point I think I felt his slightly erect penis, through his loose shorts, grazing my knee. When I subsequently and hastily went through the motions to get off the train with my coworker—his stop was seven whole stations before mine, but at this point I wasn’t going to remain on that train alone if you had paid me—he taunted me with the question, “this your stop?” I believe I mumbled something back as I hurried off the train with my coworker, exchanging a frenzied “thankyoudearjesusforheadinghomewithmetoday” before getting back onto the same train several cars ahead.
I had certainly been aware of the presence of threatening men on the train before that day; in my first semester of school a good friend was verbally attacked by a hulking man hurling racist insults. She reported the incident to the police, though it is virtually impossible to track down someone heading “south.” I remember her holding up her hands to show a group of us how she was still, thirty minutes later, visibly shaken. It took that incident, plus a terrifying experience of my own, for me to notice these city-specific extremes of femininity. There is this nearly tangible, extreme vulnerability I can sense in womanhood within a city. It is entirely too easy for a man to follow you off the train and pounce when the moment is right. There is no 100 percent safe route home, and there is no 100 percent safe time of day to commute. Perhaps worst of all, it is entirely too easy to jump on a train at a moment’s notice and head “south.”
It is in this space of vulnerability that I find an amazing strength among women. As I walked home one evening, a girl roughly my age walking near me started up a conversation out of the blue. She made an offhand comment about being frustrated about the construction at our local station, and I heartily agreed. We made small talk for about a block before she paused and admitted, “I was just on the train with the biggest fucking creep. He wouldn’t leave me alone and was saying all this shit like, ‘damn girl, I just got out of county and your ass is fine!’ I started talking to you because it felt safer than walking home alone.” Though I’ll probably never see that woman again, her words rattle around in my brain from time to time. We were strangers to one another; two young women with potentially nothing in common, but I certainly would have defended her if someone had harassed her after we’d started talking.
There is this mutually perceived safety in numbers, safety in the proximity to another woman, safety in the presence of someone with the same concerns and fears you feel in your own heart. I rode the train home the other morning next to a woman in a nurse’s uniform. She looked exhausted, but it wasn’t until I sat next to her and pulled out my novel that she let her head rest against the faux wood paneling and fell asleep. The minute I got off the train, leaving my seat for the taking, she woke up.
In Chicago, in any city, I think women are at their peak of strength. We keep an eye out for one another: watching, guarding. We might not acknowledge each other until there is a threat, but if one were to emerge, we are united in gender, in mind, in voice, and even in our unique vulnerability.  

My cousin, and all her endeavors, has inspired me to pursue a Slutwalk for my school.  Women walking to the showers in their towels should not feel harassed or objectified.  Women riding home after classes or work should not feel violated.  Women, although progressing, are still being held back.  Something needs to change.    

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