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?
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.