They couldn’t have picked a better day: sunshine, 28 degrees, a gentle breeze. Everyone would be outside on this last weekend of summer, so why not walk through the city and make a statement?
Having missed out on this summer’s Slutwalk in Berlin, which drew a large amount of people and even more media attention, I was excited to find out that Paris would have its own Slutwalk and that I would be able to participate. I was curious to see how it would turn out, what impact it would have in the city where Second Wave feminism originated in Europe.
Unfortunately, my first impression was disappointing. Not many people had shown up (sixty to eighty perhaps, not counting the press(wo)men) and the gathering of young women in short skirts wearing heart-shaped balloons resembled more a birthday party than a group of militant activists. It stood very much in contrast to my memory of the protest against the media response to the DSK affair, which had been a lot more energetic, unifying and angry, though not aggressive. The cause had been quite similar: fighting sexism and violence towards women, stop blaming victims and trivializing rape. So what went wrong?
I certainly appreciate and applaud everyone taking on the responsibility of organizing such an event, but in the case of Slutwalk Paris it could have been executed a bit more cleverly. What struck me as particularly odd was that hardly any of the well-known and well-organized feminist associations in Paris seemed to be present. Ni Putes Ni Soumises had sent some delegates; others such as Osez le Feminisme and La Barbe did either not know about it or ignored it deliberately…(?) The inclusion of these as well as other activist groups would certainly have been beneficial, not just regarding the number of participants but also to their diversity. The homogeneity of the protesters (most of them young, white, slim and able-bodied, myself included) does not represent the vast majority of victims of sexual violence, which subtracted from its potential significance.
But there we walked, down Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard St. Michel, where we did get some attention from pedestrians, including spontaneous participation. When a middle-aged woman asked about the motive for this demonstration and it was explained to her, she immediately expressed her support. Those were the highlights of a protest, that could have benefited from a couple of inspiring speeches to create the passion and energy needed to really get the movement started here in France.
Overall, the atmosphere was good and everyone seemed to have good time, even though I am not sure that that is the desired effect of a protest. In the end, everyone let go of their balloons in an attempt of symbolism, satisfying both the photographers and curious tourists. In any case, there is room for improvement and I hope that next time I can contribute more than just post-event criticism.