My breasts are on the internet again. The article a friend linked me to claimed that ‘these powerful images reminded the world that women could change history’. The picture in question had been drawn by María María Acha-Kutscher, a Peruvian artist who has been drawing images of women on demonstrations and, well, there I was. Orange hair, resting bitch face, ‘fuck’ scrawled on my bare chest in lipstick (the full slogan was ‘fuck the police’, naturally). Slutwalk 2012 seems like SO long ago and so much has changed since then – but did we really change history?
Let me take you back: 2012 was one year after 50 Shades had been released. Survivors were questioning how fit for purpose the Met’s Sapphire Unit and the IPCC were after several stories of falsified evidence and failure to record sexual assault reports properly. Blurred Lines had not yet been released. Operation Yewtree would not start until October.
Two weeks or so before I had been a part of the Slutwalk press stunt outside of Downing Street. About thirty women or so – working class women, women of colour, sex workers, students, disabled women, trans women, queer women, migrant women, mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers – met at a social centre, daubed ourselves in lipstick and pulled off our tops as we pulled on our wigs and masks. We shouted, we cried, we shared experiences, we listened. We were photographed. Well, I was photographed. And this was the beginning of the problem with Slutwalk and how it was presented in the media.
That demonstration was what I wish that all demonstrations could be – loads of women coming together and swearing at David Cameron. But the only close-up photos that made it into the newspapers were of myself and the only other young, white, cis woman there. The eighty year old standing next to me was cropped out of frame. The older women of colour and the sex workers who were the driving force behind the demo were totally ignored other than group shots where their faces were covered. Those who had come from DPAC were not, as far as I’m aware, photographed at all. Instead of ‘survivor’ I was reported ‘VICTIM’. In my bra and mask, the normal signifiers which hint that I’m working class were ambiguous. The articles were run and people dismissed Slutwalk as being a posh white girls press stunt. So when the main demonstration rolled around the demographic became majorly skewed towards white, cis women and those dismissals of the initial event were compounded. The women of colour who organised the event were written out of the story. The white supremacy of feminism reigns once more. It’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again.
This picture of me is a part of that. I love that someone drew a picture of me because that’s flattering and humbling and cool but I should not have been chosen as a symbol of that protest. As the photo that Acha-Kutscher based her illustration on was being taken, I was waiting for my phenomenal friend and sister to take the stage and talk about her experiences of reporting rape to the police and how fucking awful they had treated her. All I did that day was jump on the train, whip my top off and have my photo taken because I’m pretty by conventional, ablest, racist beauty standards. There are so many incredible activists who are being monumentally shafted by the mainstream media because they are not cis, white women.
No, I really don’t think that Slutwalk changed anything at all.
So here I am, three years on, sticking my nose out into the Spring air after a long period of hibernation from feminist politics. I’m told that I should ‘lose control’ every ten minutes by 50 Shades of Grey adverts. Sexual offence reports are up by 20%. More white women who look a bit like me but do not talk like me are spouting infuriating shit in the name of all women. Sex workers are being forced out of Soho. Women around the world continue to be raped, murdered and sold.
What can we do? Browsing Tumblr and sharing Jennifer Lawrence GIFs isn’t enough. Marching on Reclaim the Night surrounded by the Met police who are partly responsible for the dismal rape prosecution rates isn’t enough. Reading Julie fucking Bindel on the Guardian website is outright damaging.
There needs to be an escalation. They say that well behaved women rarely make history. Let’s take them up on that invitation.