At Slutwalk NYC: Are We Ever Safe?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unfortunately, although my experience of SlutWalk last weekend was powerful and gratifying, I can't say that it was perfect. There were some women who chose (as was their right) to be completely topless in the march. One woman in front of me was doing just that, chanting with the rest of us and having a generally good time. Until a man who wasn't part of the march came right up in front of her, basically halting her in the midst of the crowd, and tried to take a picture of her breasts.

The man was heckled out by the woman and people around her, but the incident sent a shiver down my spine. It reaffirmed why we were out there, yes, but it also made me wonder: how do we ever feel safe if we can't even be safe in that setting? And, perhaps even more key, how do we protect/aid each other in feeling safe and restoring safety?

NYPD were flanking the march the entire time, and when they saw this man, yes they kept him out of the area, but he continued to follow the march and snap pictures from afar. The protection clearly wasn't coming from them. The message of the march, that no one can violate someone's bodily autonomy, was shattered and there was no one on call to help. Support, I conclude, has to come from within the community.

And it did. There were people around this woman that came to talk to her and check in, came to push the creep out of the march space, but I remember feeling helpless. I've felt that same lack of safety before, and it makes me freeze up like a rabbit before darting away. It all comes down to that moment: do I fight or do I flee? One of the chants during the march was "What do you do when you're under attack? Stand up, fight back!" but I don't believe that's always an option. I know that I myself do not have the tools necessary to help in that situation, whether it were myself or someone else I needed to help, and it makes me sad that I don't have a sufficient toolkit that can help me learn.

How do we keep ourselves and others safe? I don't have all the answers. If you have more thoughts on this than I do, let me know in the comments.

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