On Slut(Walk)-ShamingUncategorized May 12, 2011
If I didn’t think “slut” was a powerful word before becoming a part of SlutWalk, I certainly do now.
I knew we had our work cut out for us. I knew we would take it on the chin from people who misunderstood. I just didn’t think it would come
from people I should consider allies. Yeah, that’s right. I’ll say it: we’re being Slut(Walk)-shamed.
“Dance for us, ladies!”
I remember at SlutWalk Toronto, just as the march was about to start. There were two attractive young women at the march, dressed in a manner many would perceive “sluttish” or provocative. They danced and held up signs, with a bank of 15-20 cameras snapping away (“Dance for us ladies!” said one photographer). I smiled as I watched; I thought these women were bold, brave and exemplified feeling empowered about who they were and how they presented. I still do.
As I was watching the photo op, another volunteer nudged me and said, “You know that’s going to be ‘the’ photo, right? That’s what they’re going to write about.” I waved her off at the time; I was too busy watching with joy the as the hundreds of supporters beginning to assemble turned into thousands. The demonstration itself was likely one of the most inspiring activist events I’ve attended, and I’ve been to what feels like a million of them in the past 15 years.
My fellow volunteer was correct. Almost every Canadian major news outlet used a similar shot in their reports about SlutWalk. CNN used it. The Guardian used it. Not to say that me in a pair in my (PMS) yoga pants with a walkie-talkie was a particularly hot-shit visual, but it’s useful to understand that less than 5% the 2000 in attendance of those attending SlutWalk Toronto were dressed in anything more “exciting” than a t-shirt and jeans. Because really, SlutWalk is about dressing and expressing however you like.
The photo wouldn’t be worth talking about had a striking amount of media coverage about SlutWalk Toronto been, well, fair. Or even factual. Most focused on the issue of the reclamation of the word “slut,” and what some of us were wearing. Next to none focused on the other bases for SlutWalk: challenging our protective services to do their job and do us justice. To call an end for victim-blaming and slut-shaming everywhere, from the homes and schools to the courthouses and police headquarters. To challenge rape culture. You know, the boring stuff.
I knew the media would get it wrong. When did they ever get a movement right? Just about never. But we know that. We’ve all read, blinking with confusion, about demonstrations or events we’ve attended and wondered if the reporter was at the same gathering. A few years ago I took a fact checking course at Ryerson University; I’ve forwarded a couple of these articles to my instructor to use as examples of bad reporting. I’m not kidding.
Taking It From All Sides
So yes, I expected silly media coverage. I even expected SlutWalk Hamilton’s Facebook event page to be flooded late one evening with abusive words and images after a link to our page showed up in a 4chan forum and two “men’s rights” (read: anti-woman) blogs. We spent 4-5 hours deleting hundreds of posts. My jaw didn’t hit the floor when some asshole sent me an abusive message to my business email (edit: make that three at press time). I didn’t bat an eye when some of the committee’s younger members complained that some of their friends or parents weren’t happy with their involvement. I admit I was a little shocked when two progressive community credit unions wouldn’t give our organization a bank account, but hey, I get it.
I expected those things. I did. But I’m comforted in the fact that there are hundreds that are going to stand with us at our hometown SlutWalk. We’ll gladly take the rough with the smooch, because we’ve also enjoyed some overwhelming support.
But what I didn’t expect was to be shamed, dismissed, attacked, and so brazenly misunderstood by some of my sisters. I’m meant to wonder if it’s on purpose. At first I didn’t think I should add my voice to the pile-on, but I felt I should as someone that had not only attended a SlutWalk, but is helping to organize one.
Not unlike the coverage in popular media, almost all of the critique lobbed in our direction from some feminists surrounds our reclamation or reinvention of the word. To some, this element is viewed as reactionary, apolitical, silly, lacking in analyses, or a poor use of “valuable feminist resources.” A few make some good points, but most read like they’re directed at a Ke$ha video, not a mass of thousands united across the globe and actively organizing in their communities.
Truthfully, if SlutWalk was just about fighting for the right to express one’s sexuality and call oneself a slut with pride, it wouldn’t be what it is today. It’s not a one-dimensional movement, and it never has been. SlutWalk is certainly about sex positivity and taking the sting out of slut-shaming. We’re taking the opportunity present or express ourselves and demand our right to respect and consent, not disdain, abuse and isolation.
But SlutWalk is more than this — something some of our sisters are failing to address, or even acknowledge. To encourage conversations in our community about how rape culture, slut-shaming and victim-blaming works in various settings in our day-to-day life. We’re asking our elected officials to evaluate our protective and judicial services and commission a federal inquiry into sexual assault. Because everyone deserves respect, protection and justice when faced with sexualized assault and harassment — no matter how we dress or express ourselves. Every SlutWalk has carved their mission statement a little differently, but these are the broad strokes. So to speak.
If you don’t believe me, here’s the proof: Go to a SlutWalk website or Facebook page and read about it. Talk to people who have attended one, or are organizing one. Really, it’s that simple.
Is SlutWalk perfect? No, and we know it. We recognize a need to work better with other communities and organizations that came long before us, earn their trust, and work alongside them. We need to enrich our analyses and praxis. We’re hoping more feminists and allies will come to the table and add to the conversation.
Here at SlutWalk Hamilton, we’re making considered attempts to approach other local progressive spaces to learn, to make partnerships. We recognize that because of the controversy surrounding us, some publicly funded organizations can’t risk putting their names alongside ours. We’re attending community events in groups to start conversations. We’re doing these things not out of guilt, but because we realize it’s the bread and butter of good activism. We’re trying.
We appreciate and invite fair and constructive critique, but lines are crossed when so many of those so criticizing us aren’t bothering to engage us first, or even taking an honest look at our writings and materials. That’s not fair. I’ll go one better and say that sometimes I’m meant to wonder which side some of these self-styled “feminists” consider themselves to be on. Because some of them are beginning to resemble the jeering gazes SlutWalk was organized to actively confront.
In many ways, SlutWalk came out of nowhere. To my eyes, and many others, there hasn’t been a movement in far too long that has captured the attention of prospective feminists and allies, many of whom had never been inspired to put their foot in the activist door before. We’re not a big city, but we built an organizing committee of more than 30 people in less than three weeks. There’s more than 400 people signed on to attend our SlutWalk, and the event is more than three weeks away. That’s worth something to me.
With all of this comes a rare opportunity. It’s our choice as to what we can build from it.