The End of Silence: Slut Walk and the June Movements

In May, a friend of mine invited me to the Facebook event Marcha das Vadias 2013—Porto Alegre (“SlutWalk 2013—Porto Alegre”). The SlutWalk protest marches started in Canada on April 3, 2011, and since have become a worldwide, annual event. In Brazil, the event happened in all the major capital cities: Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, Belo Horizonte, and so on. The SlutWalk in Porto Alegre was happening while other public demonstrations were beginning across the city. Judging by the dates, I thought it was just a coincidence. A friend of mine even joked about the fact that we had a busy schedule that week; there were a pro-marijuana rally on Saturday, the SlutWalk on Sunday and camping to protest the cutting of trees during the week. It was only in June—when the protests got bigger nationally—that I realized there was no such coincidence.

As the protests that were initially about the bus fares grew (along with their agenda), feminists themes reached the surface. Of course, feminism is always a public interest, but common sense dictates otherwise. Feminism is sometimes seen as nagging, as complaints of unhappy and annoying women. And during the protests in July, themes such as abortion, Estatuto do Nascituro (“Statute of the Unborn,” a strong pro-life bill) fit right in with the new complaints. There was no dualism between the “feminist issues” and the “popular issues.” At last, they were the same.

The common denominator in both cases was the secularity of the state. Marco Feliciano (a racist evangelical minister and federal deputy) was chosen as head of the Minority and Human Rights Commission. This same man came to public with a bill project that would allow psychologists and psychiatrists to treat homosexuality as a mental illness. The public nicknamed the bill the “gay cure.” The phrase “Marco Feliciano não me representa” (“Marco Feliciano doesn’t represent me”) hit Facebook all over the country and became a meme. And the SlutWalk and the July movements were both demanding political answers to those questions.

In August, part of public money was used to finance the World Youth Day (a Catholic event) and Pope Francis’s visit to Brazil. The SlutWalk in Rio de Janeiro waited for the beginning of the World Youth Day so they could protest alongside. Of course, by August the protest numbers had come drastically down. However, the bus-fare riots and the SlutWalk still echoed the same complaints.

From a complete system revolution to a revolution in the bus-fare prices, I heard the word revolution so many times. From complaints about better schools to better gender understanding, I read the word education so many times. From jokes in posters (“If the Pope smoked weed . . .”) to actual demands for its legalization, I saw a reference to marijuana in both protests. For this last part I don’t have much of an explanation, but it’s noteworthy.

The SlutWalk theme this year was “End the Silence,” a means to encourage women to denounce rapists. The protesters demanded the end of the oppression caused by the abuse that isn’t talked about. In other words, the protesters wanted to show who was in charge. In the end, all these social manifestations sought that same solution that is just the start of a solution. They say admitting the problem is the first step to fix it. In this year’s social movements, it became clear that the first step to fix the problems was breaking the silence about them.

The SlutWalk was certainly the most celebratory of any march I’d ever seen, with samba drums, “adapted” carnival songs and instruments giving it a carnival street-party atmosphere. And that captures the spirit of the June–August protests. Even though there were complaints, there was joy to break out and let yourself be heard, at least once.