By Walter Pike
In response to Jen Thorpe’s article regarding whether it is appropriate for a man to lead a woman’s movement.
Certainly soccer clubs are seldom run by soccer players and mines are often run by accountants. In the case of something like a woman’s movement however, where the point is for women to take a voice, I would think that it would be a distinct second choice to be lead by a man. So while I understand Jen Thorpe’s analysis and am largely in agreement I am not happy with some the comments to that post.
Of course this was all in response to a vicious, although incoherent, assault on me by Gillian Schutte who calls herself a radical feminist. I don’t want to deal with the details here other than to say that her core accusation that I was the self appointed leader of slutwalk in Johannesburg is without foundation. I am neither self appointed nor am I the leader. One of my roles though was to be a spokesperson and as such I am one of the two official faces of #slutwalkjhb. I argue that my participation in the slutwalk organising committee and as a spokesman is entirely appropriate and contributes directly to the goals of slutwalk.
Our understanding of slutwalk is that it is a social media enabled global grassroots movement aimed at spreading the idea that no victim of sexual abuse can be blamed for that abuse, the blame always rests with the perpetrator. How this movement spontaneously grew as a reaction to the rather silly utterances of a Canadian policeman into probably the most successful movement of this type in history is well known and won’t be repeated.
Social media enabled grassroots movements are a phenomena of 2011, so there is no surprise that they are misunderstood. Starting with the events in January in North Africa now known as the Arab Spring and finishing the year in Russia and in countless smaller protests the largest being the Occupy movement, they different to older protests we have become used to. For one thing, they are not coordinated, there is no central office, there is no franchising system there are no rules and that means that they are leaderless. The idea which is being spread does coordinate around people but those people can be seen as nodes in a complex social graph. The idea spreads through that social discussion, moving across different media types and into physical face to face meetings and back online.
These movements are all self-coordinated around a simple, popular and remarkable idea, always an idea worthy of being remarked on. Slutwalk, whether by design or by strategy, hit the formula perfectly. The word slut in itself is remarkable because of its commonly understood meaning and it makes sure that people cannot ignore the slutwalk concept and that leads them to talk about it and the idea spreads.
Feminist scholars will refer to Foaucalt in understanding this movement, but its far more likely that it was a gut reaction to what that policeman said and it’s this essence, the feeling of injustice, that many people in society feel that has fueled its spread. In a world where media is no longer merely a source of information but a site of coordination anyone, with or without an organisation behind them can start a meme and if its remarkable and people identify with it then people will tell their friends and when their friends can number thousands and the weak links from them to their friends and their friends friends and so on can reach tens of millions more the spread can be rapid.
Slutwalk has been successful because it is accessible and understandable to everyone, because it does not follow any structured agenda, just because its right.
So whereas it may not be appropriate for a man to be a spokesperson for a woman’s movement it is entirely appropriate for a man to be the spokesman for a social media activated grassroots movement. Slutwalk is not a gender based movement its a movement for everyone – as the original organisers in Toronto put it, its for people.
There will always be a backlash from the establishment, whether that be current structures or current philosophy, and it will be a tragedy if as a result of this onslaught from admittedly mostly one person representing what seems to be conservative establishment thinking, the essence of slutwalk is perverted.
So would a rational group of organisers suggest that I take a spokesman’s role for #slutwalkjhb? That would depend on a numbers of things, genuineness and passion being part of them but clearly also my ability to mobilise people, my role in my social networks and my level of influence.
Do I fit the bill? Well I am rated as highly influential on twitter and that means that I am one of the 0.2% most influential people on twitter in the world. That should help. My actions like encouraging my 14yr old daughter to walk and encouraging her voice, that should help prove integrity. My ability to make the idea accessible to a broad group that should help (proven by the response on my facebook status update) and with the general community support that should be enough.
So yes I believe I do and so do the other 5 of the organising group and I will continue to fight this fight.
I encourage everyone to move on from this red herring. It’s appalling that this discussion sparked by my legitimate comment on radio over the Noord Street harassment should have distracted us from that incident.