SlutWalk, Bahia-Style

Early this summer, I was in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, directing a five-week study-abroad program for Spelman College students when I began to hear buzz about the upcoming Marcha das Vadias, or SlutWalk.

The first SlutWalk was held in Toronto, Canada on April 3 as an outraged response to a Toronto police officer’s comment that, in order to prevent sexual assaults, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” SlutWalk marches have since swept the globe, but media coverage has focused on those in North America, Australia and Europe, paying much less attention to the Global South. The Marcha das Vadias provides a striking example of how a transnational feminist movement can be adapted to local realities.

The march was scheduled to take place during the Bahian Independence Day parade on July 2, which combines civic and historic celebration with social protests by political parties, unions and marginalized groups. As the day approached, more and more Bahians I knew were talking excitedly about marching with the Vadias. These enthusiastic would-be participants ranged from white Brazilian university feminists to black movement activists; from devotees of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Elsewhere in the world, the SlutWalk movement has garnered mixed reactions from feminists and non-feminists alike. In her article “Slut Walk: feminist folly,” New York Post writer Kirsten Powers ridiculed the march:

While the so-called feminists are tarting up themselves to reclaim a vile, misogynist word, perhaps the rest of us should fight to reclaim the word ‘feminism’ and return it to its roots of working for true equality.

Perhaps if Powers had seen what I witnessed in Salvador on July 2, she would have changed her tune. The signs waved by the protesters underscored what SlutWalks’ original Canadian organizers have said: that reclaiming the word “slut” is secondary to the movement’s primary goal of speaking out against violence, sexual assault and victim-blaming. Here are excerpts from a few signs that I saw:

Prostitutes are also victims of rape.

Danger: Machismo kills.

The skirt is short, but it’s not for you.

If being a slut means being free, then we are all sluts.

A life without violence is a woman’s right.

We are not sex objects, we are desiring subjects.

Neither saint, nor whore. Free and the owner of my body.

We are black lesbians – we are women in the struggle.

Five women get beaten every two minutes.

On the Marcha das Vadias Facebook page, the organizers point out that all women have been called vadias or vagabundas (whores) at some moment, especially “when we dare to be who we are, to do what we desire. This word marks our personal histories.”

Íris Nery do Carmo, a 23-year-old Bahian sociologist and feminist activist who participated in the Marcha, told me that this event was important for Salvador because of the image of the city as “sexually liberated” and because of the

representation of the Bahian woman–the black woman in particular–as a sexual object, sold on postcards and tourist packages as part of our landscape. Given this patriarchal mentality, the high index of violence against women is not surprising.

Speaking to this point, many marchers carried a poster of a black woman that read: We are owners of our voice, of our bodies, of our history. Black women: for a life without violence. The poster is from a campaign of the Project Crossroads of Rights: Race, Gender, and Confronting Violence against Black Women in Bahia, that was launched in March 2011 by black feminist sociologist and activist Vilma Reis and journalist Céres Santos of CEAFRO, an organization that promotes racial and gender equality through educational programs.

I couldn’t help but smile at the beauty and power of seeing Brazilians of diverse races, genders, classes and sexual orientations coming together under the banner of ensuring that we can all live lives free from sexual violence. You can witness that diversity in this video of the march, by Alex Oliveira:

Aline Moreira, a 24-year-old Afro-Brazilian law student at the Catholic University of Salvador and member
of the Brazilian Union of Women, commented on the SlutWalk Salvador Facebook wall the day after the event:

 

Congratulations to us! The march was very beautiful and representative. I was happy to see the diversity of women in our society well-represented. Artists, students, intellectuals, union organizers, doctors, domestic workers, housewives, professors, black women, white women, indigenous women, thin women, full-figured women. … It is all ours! Message given.

Photos from Marcha das Vadias courtesy of Instituto Adé Diversidade.

Comments

  1. Thaddeus Blanchette says:

    I have enjoyed the recent spate of Brazilian slutwalks, but one thing has disturbed me about them: the signs – apparently made and distributed en masse by some group – which read “I am not a whore”.

    This is a problem for me as a sex worker rights activist, because it seems to presume that if a woman IS a whore, then she deserves whatever treatment she gets.

    Thankfully, there were few of these signs over all in walks in Rio and São Paulo. Disturbingly… well, guess which signs were repeatedly shown by the media? The effect this sort of mass-distributed image has in out country, where women are still classified primarily as “whores” or “good girls” probably goes against what most slut walk organizers intended.

    I would suggest that, in the future, slut walk organizers the world over invite local prostitute rights organizations to have a very visible place in the walks. That or, minimally, organizers should talk to people carrying signs that support the whole whore/good girl divide.

    • Erica L. Williams says:

      Hi Thaddeus,

      I agree with you about the “I am not a whore” sign, which is why I was particularly impressed with some of the signs in the Marcha das Vadias in Salvador that were moving away from that. Thanks for your comment!

    • Hi everyone…

      I was in the march… I´m on the video passing by with red lipstick.

      All we where singing about sexual freedom, and we talk about prostitute also… talk good about it ´couse we know how much equality we want and for how it will be get…

      I´m a LGBT actvist and I agre to the moviment ´couse I believe in the natural famelle´s love , I love my X cromossome… and I know all we are doing revolutinos, breaking gods and evils slowly, but truely.

    • I agree with your post, but I would like to add that women are also sex workers clients, thus, the thing that the feminist movement often leaves out. I am lesbian and had sex with female sex worker, however, no one seems to notice women who are sex worker’s clients. I believe that sex workers should have equal rights as other workers. Still, if the movement tried to include women as sex workers clients, it would greatly change the perception of sex work in general as well as other people’s attitudes.

  2. This phenomenon just keeps going and growing. And, despite some negative reactions, it IS a phenomenon. What other march movement has had these kind of international legs in years?
    Thousands of participants in nearly every march across Canada, the U.S., Australia, Europe, South/Central America, the globe.

    I was very proud to be one of the few media reps covering and promoting the Los Angeles SlutWalk. It was strange to see/hear almost no coverage outside marginalized feminist circles on the event, except for a couple news outlets that showed up to sensationalize versus actually discuss it.

    Andrew Pari, L.C.S.W.
    andrew@andrewpari.com
    Host-Chasing the Why; KOSS NewsTalk 1380AM
    http://www.tunein.com

  3. Gabriela says:

    This is the first I have heard of Slut Walks, and while I am often skeptical of historical attempts to reclaim and redefine formerly derogatory terms (like the “N word”), I find value in movements and symbols that can help to bring light to problematic assumptions and associations. I say all this to say I am moved by the message that is coming across with this movement and I hope that it will help encourage our men and women to embrace love and sexuality without this kind of unrealistic judgment, and be supportive when someone has violated our bodies, without judgment or assumptions. Thank you for this amazing article.

  4. Nami Kim says:

    Erica,

    This is great! Thanks.

    FYI: The Slot Walk also took place in (south)Korea on July 16.

  5. Vitória says:

    Erica, this is wonderful! I was also ambivalent about SlutWalk, but articles like this have made me change my mind. If there’s a marcha here in Brasília, my hometown, I’ll surely be there!

    That said, I hope everyone attends, INCLUDING straight men

  6. perfect :)

  7. Traci West says:

    I’m so grateful for the information that this article provided. It gave us a glimpse of amazing, inspiring activist women in Bahia. Obregada!

  8. Male “slutwalk” supporters need to come forward. Further validate the movement and bring on the boys who understand kindergarten rule number 1…you can look, but don’t touch.

  9. I wish we could organize slutwalks here in my country too. Unfortunately it’s a really conservative place and people are terribly skeptical and conformists. I am trying to support these actions by posting and raising awareness about it. Hope as many people as possible find out about it!

  10. Renaissance Education Foundation is working on women rights, recommended to stop violation and straggling to restore their rights.Good Luck to get your rights.

    Renaissance Education Foundation is standing with you on your right side.

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