A March to End Rape Culture and Gender Inequality in Boston this past Saturday

Ed. note: This post is part of the second round of the Feministing “So You Think You Can Blog” contributor contest (background here). Stay tuned all week as our six finalists take turns turns covering the blog and giving us a sense of their personal contributor style. The winner of the contest and newest member of the Feministing team will be announced next week!

I share this story to illustrate how Boston Feminists for Liberation, who organized this march, moved us through the constructed landscape of the city to engage tangibly with intersectionality and to approach the challenge of dismantling rape culture from several different vantage points, literally.

Starting place: The Boston Common. One of the organizers introduced the march. She stressed movement-building without using “the word that may empower some while disempowering others.” Then a survivor spoke out: “I am not ashamed to say that I was sexually assaulted.”

We started marching.

On the gate: Massachusetts State House. On the poster: End Rape Culture/ Boston Feminists for Liberation.

First stop: The Massachusetts Statehouse. Pointing down the street, one woman recalled, “I came here 40 years ago to get underground referral to abortion services before the US allowed legal abortions.” Shifting topics, she spoke about violence and rape in prisons and urged us to find ways to fight sexual violence without building up the prison system.

We kept marching.

Second stop: Outside of a well-hidden crisis pregnancy center. Massachusetts has three times as many such centers as it does clinics that provide the full range of reproductive health services. These centers use lies and manipulative tactics to scare women away from contraception and abortion. This systematic manipulation, shaming, and blaming of women is part of the same system we call rape culture.


Third stop: The big Macy’s at Downtown Crossing. Two women spoke out against fat-phobia and their experiences of shame, degradation, and abuse from individuals and institutions. Companies “make billions of dollars off shaming women’s bodies.” Women are literally told not to take up space. And so, daring to take up space, daring to survive brutality, daring to be strong, is resistance and rebellion embodied.

We kept marching.

Fourth stop: The financial district. A speaker called for economic justice, valuing the labor of raising children, and looking directly at racial disparities. Equal pay for equal work. Paid parental leave. Paid sick leave. Jobs. Housing. Health care. We need all of these things in order to have autonomy, equality, respect, happiness. We ALL need all of these things. This movement to end rape culture, this movement for reproductive justice, this movement for our bodies must also be a movement for our homes, our jobs, our children, our paychecks.

Bottom left poster: Free abortion on demand. Far right: Slut 4 Consent. Top right: Destroy hetero-sexism, both!! (Bank of America sign in the background).

Last stop: Dewey Square, former home of Occupy Boston. Open mic time. Twelve people stepped up to speak. The first three were people of color. Before this, all of the speakers looked white and had not addressed racial injustice directly. The first speaker asked us to stop the use of the word “minority.” She finds it insulting, dehumanizing. A high school student told of street harassment. Others shared personal stories and expressed their anger.

We sat together.

We gathered in groups to debrief and talk about ideas for moving forward: more of this conversation about intersectionality, more voices for people of color, more communication, more connection, more outreach. And, next year, maybe a shorter name for the march.

I found myself left with one thought on repeat: Why weren’t more people here? I know hundreds of people in this city who want to dismantle rape culture. Maybe it’s something about marches—why don’t more people come to marches? Maybe the task feels too big. Maybe they’re already so engaged. Or maybe it’s because spending several hours on a Saturday afternoon at a march like this one may feel exciting and empowering and is also totally scary and draining and exhausting. I don’t know. But I wonder what that means about how we build a movement together.

Shout-out to the organizers, the speakers, the sign makers, and all who joined together to weave through the streets of Boston and proclaim how our city physically, institutionally, and systemically upholds rape culture and hurts us all.

Center: Teach “Don’t rape,” not “Don’t get raped!” Right: Consent rules! Rape culture drools! Hold up these signs at Miami University, please.

Mimi Arbeit is currently a doctoral student in child development, with a focus on adolescent sexuality and sexual health (read more in her Academic Feminist interview). In her research, she asks questions such as, “what are the features of positive, healthy sexuality for teens?” and “how do college students understand consent?” She is also involved in community-based projects in Boston and throughout Massachusetts to promote and strengthen sexuality education in public schools. She has over a decade of experience in teaching sex ed with young people aged 10 to 40 years old and designing and implementing queer feminist sex ed curricula and programming. She started her own blog four years ago at sexedtransforms.blogspot.com, which includes a series on wedding planning while queer and feminist, in addition to many other personal and professional explorations of feminism. She tweets @mimiarbeit.

Read more about Mimi

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/sabelson/ susan

    Sounds like a wonderful march .. what will the follow-up be? Great description of the process and proceedings! I love the sign you showed: “Teach ‘don’t rape’ not ‘don’t get raped'”. If we could only do that, it alone would be a good day’s day’s work .. and there was so much more!! It is painful that there are so MANY ways of marginalizing people. What is wrong with us??

  • http://feministing.com/members/whollyfoolish/ Matthew

    Thanks for reporting on this. I was in attendance, and definitely moved by the personal testimony, and the linking of rape culture with locations in downtown Boston. It felt like an important outlet for people who need to express and send this message… at the same time, I agree with you that the march (which clearly had a large Occupy Boston/anarchist contingent) seemed like it was trying to get a conversation started that is already happening on many college campuses and through organizations like BARCC. So, it can be good to get out and protest every now and then, but actual institutions can play an important role in smashing rape culture and cultivating a culture of consent.

  • http://feministing.com/members/samanthajess/ Samantha

    The way that you have captured the various stops, speakers and feelings of this march makes me feel as if I was there and am there as I read your words. What struck me the most about this post is the fact that there would have been a single organization or march for sub-group of marginalized people at each of the stops. Each of these injustices against which women find themselves fighting each day is a movement in and of itself. I got chills (the bad kind) thinking about not only the fact that all of these stops are necessary to illustrate and fight against the rape-culture but about what others could have been included. That all of these speakers; with different motivation, different histories, different background, faced with different forms of injustice; are fighting the same fight is both powerful and painful. How can we as people allow for a culture that marginalizes half of the population?

  • http://feministing.com/members/suzz/ Suzanne

    This is a great recap of a cool event. I want to offer my own perspective on “why don’t more people come to marches?” Besides not living in Boston, I am not a marcher; For me to come out to an event like this, I need to be presented with a very clear and transparent connection between the format of the event and the bigger-picture of goal of ending rape culture. While I love walking outside on a nice day as much as anyone (and it looks like you had great weather) or even more so (sometime I spend money for this privilege for 5k), the marching aspect needs to be articulated to me. Is there really a need to be standing in front of a crisis pregnancy center to discuss why their tactics are harmful? Is it just some elaborate form of visual aid (like animations during powerpoint presentations)? Is the goal to increase visibility to the general public that might not be aware? Is it because of opportunities for casual discussion among attendees? Is it because people don’t want to pay fees for a venue? In the absence of a clear communal purpose for marching, I find it hard to get engaged. The idea of marching for an afternoon does indeed seem “scary/draining”, but if the more immediate outcome were clearly specified I’d be more enthusiastic about making the commitment – ending rape culture is a worthy vision, but not concrete enough as an outcome of a march.

  • http://feministing.com/members/andejoh/ John

    I’m usually torn when it comes to these marches. That’s because they usually perpetuate one aspect of rape culture and that is that only men rape. That doesn’t seem to be evident at this march. If I had to take a guess as to why the turnout was low, I suspect that it’s due in large part because men did not support the march. That’s disappointing. I think even MRAs could have supported this.

    • http://feministing.com/members/whollyfoolish/ Matthew

      Hi John– I attended, and can attest that there were definitely a fair amount of men present. As a male I felt included by the march’s goals and the content– I did not feel blamed, but rather welcomed.

      • http://feministing.com/members/sammy/ Sammy Sass

        Thanks for the comment John! And thanks for the response Matt!

        John, I think you bring up a really awesome point – though it’s embedded deeply in what you wrote. I’m glad tou brought up the apparent lack of men at this rally. You’re right that Mimi doesn’t talk about men being there. But to be fair, Mimi also doesn’t talk at all about the gender make-up of the rally. Gender is mentioned only 2 times – 1) one of the speakers was female (or at least used she/her/hers PGPs), and 2) when Mimi addresses ways that women explicitly are structurally oppressed, dehumanized, or disenfranchized.

        I think that your comment reflects that you read gender into this post in a way that wasn’t originally intended. Namely, that all of the speakers and attendees were female. I actually think this is a phenomenally important thing to point out and address head on!! Because I doubt that you’re alone!! In fact, I read gender into a lot of this post…but it wasn’t ultimately there. And, I think, a lot of people probably did the same.

        SO, why do we do this?! Why do we talk about rape and sexual violence and see WOMEN as victim, MAN as oppressor? Why did I read this post and assume that most of the speakers were female? Why did you read this post and assume all of the attendees were female?

        I think that we did this because this is how rape culture works. That fact that we both made these assumptions is another manifestation of patriarchy, and sadly, violence against women. When we continue to assume that the only people who would show up for this rally are women, we erase the stories of male victims and feminist men against sexual assault, as well as the stories of trans* and gender non-conforming folks. When we assume that only women would share their stories, we do the same kind of erasure.

        So thank you for posting, and thank you for bringing up this really important issue. And thank you Matt for being an incredible feminist voice. We all need to remember, and be reminded, that our assumptions can be wrong at best, and enabling at worst.

        • http://feministing.com/members/andejoh/ John

          Thanks Mathew. That was good to know. I’ve considered doing that walk a mile in her shoes things to raise awareness about domestic violence against women. I guess it just seems more comfortable because it’s focused on male allies of women so whatever shaming may be involved by way of painting men as perpetrators not by wearing women’s shoes, seems to get washed away.

          I identify as MRA, but talk to a lot of feminists and am by no means anti-woman. I remember having a discussion with some feminists and many people in the MRM concerning VAWA. I concede that the name is problematic as it may lead members of law enforcement to believe that the protections only apply to women and there are some aspects were funding is restricted to organizations that primarily assist women, but I challenged the MRM to find a portion that actually hurts men. They hadn’t come up with anything. I challenged them not to be against things that benefit women. Only oppose those things that hurt men. If we could end violence today, that would be ideal, but if we could end violence against women today, that would be awesome.

          I know I think differently than most. When I read about the De Anza case, I was infuriated by the number of men who violated her. How could all of them not have a conscience? How could guys, who didn’t rape her, just stand there and watch? Once I mentioned that, other people started questioning it. I would have wanted to start dropping people, but hopefully would have realized that it would be smarter and more effective to call the police. That’s what brought up the walk a mile thing. A feminist friend told me that if I didn’t oppose it, I’m basically one of the guys that watched the De Anza rape and did nothing.

          I don’t know how I’d get this almost 200 pounds to walk a mile in high heels, but I could have supported this march.

      • http://feministing.com/members/annaa/ Anna

        Thanks so much for this post, Mimi, and to the organizers of this amazing-sounding march for organizing such an amazing event! I’m thrilled to hear of a discussion of rape culture that takes such an intersectional approach. I often feel that these causes seem fragmented from each other, when they would be so much more effective when thought about as a whole. I’m thrilled to hear that this wonderful cause was supplemented by including the perspectives and realities of all–including men. I look forward to hearing more about Boston Feminists for Liberation!

  • http://feministing.com/members/radfemme2012/ Autumn

    This is a youtube video of one of the speeches made on body acceptance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qg7Vxrztjg

  • http://feministing.com/members/thebestplain/ thebestplain

    I considered attending but decided against it. Ultimately I think the march title threw me off – long and jargony it sent the message that only really advanced, academicy feminists would be comfortable and that entry points for those who didn’t know all the jargon already wouldn’t be available. If the title had been simpler and more accessible I would have probably gone and felt more confident that I wouldn’t feel ‘outside’ the group.

    Sounds like I missed a great event though!

  • http://feministing.com/members/mtgoldma/ mtgoldma

    “Women are literally told not to take up space.” So true. I love the idea of organizing outside of Macy’s! It’s cool that this march had so many stops that addressed such different components of the movement-without-a-name.

    I think you’re onto something about hesitancies about marches- I think a lot of people (myself included) are very selective when it comes to participating in marches. I wonder if it’s the time commitment or an ability thing or that it’s cold outside? Or that the objectives are not clear? I have no idea.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jpayn11/ JP

    I wasn’t there because somehow I missed the news. Could the less-than-stellar turnout have been an issue in getting the word out? Had I known that it was happening, and also that it involved the depth of conversation/speaking that you summarized, I would have been there. Thank you for taking thouse of us who missed it through the journey.

    • http://feministing.com/members/emkatz2/ Emily

      I think it is also important to stress encouraging friends to join you. Many people may feel uncomfortable or not know what to expect even if they personally believe in supporting the cause. Let’s encourage everyone to invite friends and make the effort to rally as many people as possible – a personal ask to join really does make a difference!

  • http://feministing.com/members/sarahevelyn/ Sarah

    Thank you for a great blog post! I’m a member of the Boston Feminists for Liberation (BFFL) and one of the organizers of the march, though the opinions expressed here are my own, and are not necessarily representative of our entire group.

    I appreciate the way in which the author drew attention to the use of physical space throughout the march. Doing so emphasizes an assessment that is central to our organizing mission – that the pervasiveness of rape culture demands feminist action and organizing outside of electoral politics and non-profits (while appreciating and working with allies in both settings). This includes reclaiming space that has been kept from us, used against us, and in which our bodies and sexuality have been policed.

    I’m glad that one of the commenters above brought up the issue of male inclusion. BFFL decided against any policing or censoring of signs, so the signs to a certain extent represented the wide range of messages and political viewpoints present at the march (I’d also like to mention that there is a wide range of political perspectives within BFFL itself). Men were involved in our organizing from the very beginning, and our mission statement reflects an understanding of rape culture that affects all people, not just women. To that end, we are opposed to narrow, binary forms of gender that position men against women while rendering invisible and oppressing anyone who doesn’t identify as one or the other. I’m happy to hear that Mattew had a positive experience at the event.

    I hear the concern about the long name, and I’m sorry to hear that it dissuaded some people from coming. Picking a name that was both inclusive of all of the viewpoints in our group and conveyed part of our message was a tough process, and I don’t think anyone is 100% thrilled with what we chose, in part because of it’s length. The process choosing a name, though, offered a great opportunity to think critically and more practically through our mission as a group and the purpose of the march.

    Lastly, publicity is always a struggle, especially when you aren’t an official group and don’t have any funding. We did our best to reach a broad audience, but ultimately didn’t have the organizational capacity to devote a ton of human resources to publicity. This is unfortunate, but we are also committed to remaining independent of institutions at this point. Any suggestions on how to better publicize in the future are greatly appreciated!

    BFFL will be having a meeting Oct. 23 (check out our Facebook page for more details: http://www.facebook.com/Bostonfeminists4lib?ref=hl) to debrief about the march and strategize how we want to move forward. Please come to share your thoughts and join us in organizing!

  • http://feministing.com/members/mimiarbeit/ Mimi Arbeit

    I’m loving this conversation. Please continue back at the version of this post on the main site– keep it going at http://feministing.com/2012/10/15/a-march-to-end-rape-culture-and-gender-inequality-in-boston-this-past-saturday/

  • http://feministing.com/members/stephanie42/ Stephanie L

    Not sure how I missed this march! I would have been there had I known about it. I really appreciate the acknowledgement of intersecting identities and power dynamics brought to the fore by the march organizers. How much outreach was done to organizations working specifically on those issues? And how much to the Occupy folks in Boston? I think it is generally hard to get folks to come out to a march that is not time-specific (ie, about a war that just started) but think some more behind-the-scenes pre-march conversations with other organizers might have gotten more folks out in the streets.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bostonlibrarian/ talya

    I think the comments about the lack of publicity are really interesting. I heard about this march through a friend, but otherwise would not have known about it. Despite the lack of publicity I was very impressed with the organization of the actual event. As evidenced in my username, I am a librarian so I appreciate good organization. Mimi definitely captures the feel of the event, marching and stopping, listening and cheering (or booing at some points.) The structure of the event made it incredibly powerful because I knew what was to be expected when we slowed down and I since I knew to expect a powerful speech, I was able to anticipate and get excited at each stop.

    Another thing I really REALLY appreciated was that the first speaker gave a trigger warning before they shared the story of their sexual assault. I did not realize when I decided to attend this march how many memories it would rustle up that I had almost forgot even existed. The fact that there were so many people at the march available to talk to about sensitive and potentially triggering topics (ex. reps from BARCC) was really comforting (even though I didn’t talk to them at all!)

    Mimi, I think you did a great job capturing how powerful the rally was and my hope is that next time we will see even more people attend.

    Also, it was great to see so many high school students at the march. It brought me back to my own high school days of marches and rallies!

  • http://feministing.com/members/feministmom/ feministmom

    I was very moved by your blog post describing the women’s march that took place last Saturday. It’s so important that we have articulate and powerful voices such yours writing about the challenges that woman continue to face in 2012. When I was in high school in the early 70s, it seemed so obvious that laws needed to be changed to protect the health and well-being of women. Now, 40 years later, it’s frightening to think that half of the population is under attack. Luckily, we live in a time where social media such as the feministing blog, can have a far-reaching impact so that woman’s voices, and those who care about them, are not silenced.