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SlutWalk - you're not sick of that yet, eh? - Tactical Ninja

May. 24th, 2011

09:52 am - SlutWalk - you're not sick of that yet, eh?

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Wellington's chapter of SlutWalk Aotearoa is walking on the 25th of June. For those who've been living in a cave for the last couple of months, the SlutWalk movement started in Toronto after a police officer was quoted in the media as saying "Women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don't want to be victimised."

Hilarity ensued, in the form of a bunch of women going WTFingFUCK? And SlutWalk was born. It's been controversial, naturally - but not just in the ways you'd think. I mean the obvious controversy is the age-old one - the people on one side going "Women should be able to wear whatever they want and still be safe" and on the other the people going "Well it's just common sense, init?" But wait there's more..


So what were the other controversies? Well for a start, there's the part about reclaiming the word 'slut'. Some quick etymology for you - in Ye Olden Tymes, a slut was a young female dog. "Aye, she's a nice wee slut" was a statement you'd apply to your young heading pup just starting out when she showed particularly good potential. There was a saying - "It takes an old bitch to make a young slut" which came about, I believe, from the transformation of the word 'slut' from a descriptor for a type of dog to a descriptor for a type of woman. Add in the age-old mother-daughter scrapping through the teenage years, and hey! A whole new level of insult-comebacks is born! Yay!

So anyway, in feminism there are those who think the use of gendered insults is wrong and should be stamped out - these people object to the name of SlutWalk, because the implication is that as women, we cop enough of that stuff already and to embrace it is to give others permission to use it. On the other side, we have those who believe that women should be free to behave in a manner labelled 'slutty' and still be safe - that being a 'slut' does not make it ok to rape us.

(Short aside here - yes I know that men are raped too, and that rape of men is often seen as a joke, and I think that's abhorrent. The experience of rape is one nobody should have, and male rape victims have the right to be taken seriously. However, I'd also like to point out that this is SlutWalk, in response to a particular statement about women. Slut is a gendered insult, and I have never heard "Well what was he wearing?" brought up as if it's a valid point when discussing cases of male rape. So I'm not erasing men's experience here, but SlutWalk is primarily about women.)

Anyway, back to the point - both sides of this debate are valid. People on both sides are still feminists. Why? Because they are both coming from the point of view that women are human beings capable of choosing for themselves and who should not be subjected to rape for their choices, and that's what feminism is about.

So that's one controversy. Another is a fairly common issue with any large organised movement, in that the voices of the marginalised tend to be erased. For example, the idea of reclaiming the word 'slut' and proudly yelling "Yes we are sluts! We like sex! Rah!" is problematic for those people who are not in a position of privilege, who do not have the choice to label themselves 'slut' because society has already done it for them regardless of their behaviour because of their race, or who are engaging in behaviour labelled 'slutty' through the reduced options of poverty and marginalisation or through force. And then there are those whose culture requires modesty of dress and behaviour, who would not be comfortable in the SlutWalk context and therefore would be excluded. There's a piece that covers this way better than I could here. The writer is a Latino man. Only one thing he says I take issue with:

".. there’s a painful history in which Black women were the sexual property of white men as legacies of slavery, which white women don’t have as part of their collective memory."

I mean, he's right in that the type of slavery to which black women were subjected is something that white women did not experience, and that should not be diminished. However, white women have a pretty solid collective memory of being the sexual property of men, in fact apart from the bit where marriage was supposedly (but in reality often not) a thing the woman entered by choice, any woman's existence in those times could be described as a form of slavery. She could not own property, her children were her husband's, she could not vote, and she was obliged to obey her husband - if she didn't he was legally allowed to beat her (but only with a stick no bigger than his thumb OMG). If she left she was ostracised. If he left her she was ostracised - and I don't mean 'society' didn't talk to her, I mean she was left to starve with no help because she was 'undeserving'. Marital rape did not get outlawed in NZ until 198fucking4 ffs! So yeah, I feel fairly strongly about this guy's dismissal of the 'collective memory' of white women as 'not slavery'.

But anyway, a bunch of mostly white women yelling about how they're sluts is definitely an expression of white privilege, and I am not sure how to address this. I don't know who the organisers of SlutWalk Aotearoa are, whether the voices of minorities here will be heard or not. I get the feeling that, as I said above, any large-scale event is likely to suffer from this and I have no reason to believe this will be any different. The voices of the majority tend to be the loudest and in NZ as in Toronto, white people are the majority. White people are generally ok with dressing in short skirts and exposing skin and yelling about being sluts because their privilege keeps them safe(ish). Will this erase Maori/Pasifika/Asian/South Asian/Middle Eastern/African women? What about non-hetero sexualities? And transgender women? It's a question worth asking and I think every participant should consider this when deciding their own approach to SlutWalk.

There is the idea that women will use it as an opportunity to play dressups in a way that will likely attract the attention of men, and some believe that is buying into the ongoing view of women as objects for the pleasure of the male gaze. "Hey guys, we know what you like to look at, here it is!" Others say that that's kind of the point - "You can look but that doesn't mean you're also allowed to touch."

And finally, in a controversy unique to New Zealand, the organisers have given exclusive interview rights to TVNZ's Close Up. This bothers me on a personal level because I'm up in arms about copyright at the moment, and sensitive about the idea of a 'rights-holder' getting exclusive access to anything. I wonder why they need exclusive rights, and how SlutWalk benefits from providing them. Excluding other media from access to the organisers of a public protest doesn't seem much like civic spirit, you know?

So anyway, that's a fair bit of controversy. So what is Tats doing to be mindful of these things?




That picture sums up why I'm walking, regardless of the controversy. I don't care about the label. I have read The Ethical Slut and I try to incorporate my own take on its principles into my relationships and behaviour - but I don't call myself a slut. Other women are free to choose to, but it's not my thing. I am a feminist, a title that I worked hard to accept about myself. My feminism is not reliant on labels or the approval of others. That's kind of the point for me. So I won't be one of the ones yelling about how I'm a slut.

I will not be playing dressups - at least, not in the traditional sense. I will be wearing pyjamas and slippers, and a sign that says "This is what I was wearing."

Because for me, it's not about whether or not I'm a slut, or whether or not I dress sexy and how this applies to my feminism. It's about how what you wear has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you're raped and the world needs to understand that. I will wear sexy clothes when I want, but in this case my point is better made through wearing what I was wearing when I was raped, no?

And I hope that other women, regardless of race or sexuality or identification as feminist, slut or whatever, if they choose to walk will walk with the aim of making their own point, personal to them. I also hope that my somewhat modest dress will make others feel more comfortable to do the same, and be a contrast to the loud voices yelling "LOOK AT ME I'M A SLUT!" Because they will be there - but they aren't the only voices that need to be heard.


So, um, yeah. I'll be there. Because I think it's important. Feel free to flay me for my privilege now.

Comments:

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From:tyellas
Date:May 23rd, 2011 10:12 pm (UTC)
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Just because Slutwalk is chiefly discussed by white women here in Aotearoa, doesn't mean that it's about white women around the world.

When I lived in Philadelphia there were certain parks that women of all identities avoided because of the male catcalling and eye-raking that went on if you walked through them. Socioeconomic status of the area where these parks were had little to do with it - one of the worst spots was, and still is, affluent Rittenhouse Square.

One of the things that has struck me about New Zealand is the far greater freedom to wear whatever I want without being the recipient of that depth and frequency of street harassment. People just don't SAY anything. In Philly, women draped themselves in oversized sports or college sweatshirts and cultivated invisibility to avoid it. The street-harassment issue is different from the "dressing like she's asking for it" issue, but they're deeply intertwined.

So, I'll be at Slutwalk too, not as dramatically as some, but thinking of women everywhere.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 23rd, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
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There has been some discussion about the demographic of the SlutWalk in Argentina, where the message is less about reclaiming the word and more about "Just stop harrassing us damnit" but I'm not familiar enough to comment educatedly about how it plays into race.

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From:thesecondcircle
Date:May 23rd, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I will not be playing dressups - at least, not in the traditional sense. I will be wearing pyjamas and slippers, and a sign that says "This is what I was wearing."

OMG this is so powerful. You should share this suggestion with others who may want to do the same. For me it would be jeans, boots, and a t-shirt.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! ;-) I've been placing the idea in various forums in the hopes that people will pick it up, but I'm not sure how pushy to be about it because I believe every woman needs to make her own choice about this issue..
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From:syn_abounds
Date:May 24th, 2011 06:27 am (UTC)
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I've seen a lot of signs along these lines in photos of SlutWalks from around the world.
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From:syn_abounds
Date:May 24th, 2011 08:51 am (UTC)
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Rhi says: I don't fit the clothes I had when I was six any more, obviously, but I reckon some of the bogan stuff I had when I was with my first ex will still fit. So I'm stealing your idea.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:May 24th, 2011 01:59 am (UTC)
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Yes I loved that when I read it. I hope more people do the same, if they feel safe to share something like that.
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From:khaybee
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
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Wow. I am awed by the power of dressing as you were when you were raped. I would like to join you in that if I may.

The clearest memory I have of the night of my stranger-rape (sad that I need to clarify which rape) was the policeman who drove me to a friends house since I was afraid to stay home alone for the remainder of the night. He asked me out on the drive to my friend's house and couldn't figure out why I was upset by that.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
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Whoah. I am utterly gobsmacked at that guy's level of insensitivity. O.o

And I would be honoured if you'd join me.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:May 24th, 2011 12:50 am (UTC)
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"Wow. I am awed by the power of dressing as you were when you were raped"

This.

Many "This is what I was wearing" signs would be seriously hardcore memetic jamming. Maybe even worth contacting the organisers with that angle.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
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How can they give exclusive interview rights to Close Up? Will they be making participants sign a form? It's fine if the organisers want to only talk to Close Up, but they can't force that on other people.

Regardless, I hope it goes well and the message is heard.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
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They have only given the rights to interview the organisers - the rest of the protest and participants are still available.

My question is why? Why does Close Up want exclusive rights and how does granting them benefit SlutWalk? Did money change hands (because clearly TVNZ thinks it'll get more money through exclusive coverage), and if so, how will that benefit SlutWalk and why is this information not freely available?

I'm sensitive about 'exclusive rights' right now, having just been made into a criminal because of the priority given to rights-holders (in my case also TVNZ) over access to media for the public.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
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I guess the other side of it is that it makes it much more likely they'll get interviewed instead of ignored by the media?
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From:tatjna
Date:May 23rd, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC)
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The media appears to be very interested in the whole thing - it's even been covered in national news over a month in advance. I'm guessing the train of thought went "Women dressed provocatively? That'll up the ratings! Better get in quick and deny everyone else!"
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From:almostclever.wordpress.com
Date:May 24th, 2011 01:36 am (UTC)

Slutwalk

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Hey, thanks for linking to my blog in your post. Excellent point of view on this issue, and I agree with the others about the powerful imagery you brought to me when you said you'd be wearing your pajamas. Brings tears to my eyes because it brings it to reality, more than any short skirt ever could.

Best of luck to you, and I hope your message is heard when you walk.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 24th, 2011 01:52 am (UTC)

Re: Slutwalk

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Thank you. ;-)
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From:polychrome_baby
Date:May 24th, 2011 01:36 am (UTC)
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I don't want to go into a whole back story on this.

The Atlanta one is going to be on or around June 25th. I plan to go. I doubt I'll dress "sexy," though I do think of myself as happily embracing the term and word "slut." It's on my own terms, though.

For me, it's not about being a slut. For me, it's about the fact that my sexuality is not an excuse to hurt me. It's not a free pass. It doesn't give permission or make it okay, on any level.

I don't really wanna get bogged down in my personal stuff here, so I'll just simply state; I have been raped twice. This is personal to me.

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From:tatjna
Date:May 24th, 2011 01:52 am (UTC)
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Yeah, this is why I think people should be free to decide for themselves what it's about - so many women have a personal backstory they may not want to share. Thank you. ;-)
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From:polychrome_baby
Date:May 24th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
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I don't really mind sharing. It's just, not everything is about me, yano? I feel strongly, I know other people do, too.

I tend to have a loud voice. In person, and in writing. I have a tendency to be the loudest, most heard voice in the room sometimes. I don't really want to be that on something that is so personal for so many people.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:May 24th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
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For me the whole dressing sexy issue has extra layers as well, because of being asexual, and more drawn to women anyway. Even if I was dressing to attract someone, it wouldn't be a man!
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From:tatjna
Date:May 24th, 2011 03:46 am (UTC)
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I am interested to hear your take on SlutWalk at some point if you're willing.
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From:guaparella
Date:May 24th, 2011 02:40 am (UTC)
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I will not be playing dressups - at least, not in the traditional sense. I will be wearing pyjamas and slippers, and a sign that says "This is what I was wearing."

I agree that this is so powerful. This has been bringing up so much for me. Thank you for this post and the link.
<3
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From:anna_en_route
Date:May 24th, 2011 10:49 am (UTC)
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This was an awesome post.

Thank you =)
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From:wildilocks
Date:May 29th, 2011 01:18 am (UTC)
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Melbourne had their yesterday. I didn't go as I was working. This may also be the case for Welly, but I think your approach and your courage is incredibly laudable and I hope it makes at least ONE neanderthal think.

*applauds*
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From:sanat
Date:May 31st, 2011 01:56 am (UTC)
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It's probably a sign of who I associate with that I'm hesitant to participate because I don't freely identify as a slut (the way many of my friends do, without guilt or shame) and don't want to be seen as a poseur, if anything.

Also, dammit it's gonna be cold!
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From:tatjna
Date:May 31st, 2011 02:06 am (UTC)
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Yes, the pyjamas have a practical purpose as well as a message - I can wear my longjohns under them!
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From:guaparella
Date:October 4th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
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Do you mind if I link to this post?
You say things so much better than I can.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 5th, 2011 07:16 am (UTC)
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Bloody hell that's high praise! Thank you, and of course you can.
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From:guaparella
Date:October 5th, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
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Okay, cool. I figured since it was open. I hate people's attitudes about this whole thing.
<3
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From:tatjna
Date:October 5th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
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Yeah me too. I can understand some of them, but I wrote this after getting sick of people taking the "I'm too social justice for SlutWalk" stance. Way to erase my experience guys.
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