Monday, June 18, 2012

Reclaim "Slut"? You Can Keep That!

The organisers [of SlutWalk] claim that celebrating the word "slut", and promoting sluttishness in general, will help women achieve full autonomy over their sexuality. But the focus on "reclaiming" the word slut fails to address the real issue. The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal "madonna/whore" view of women's sexuality that it is beyond redemption.  
- Gail Dines & Wendy J. Murphy, from theguardian
“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this—however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” I doubt Constable Michael Sanguinetti could have foretold that this comment which he uttered at a safety forum at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School would have sparked such a world-wide protest like SlutWalk. His comment (which was apalling to say the least) infuriated young women because it placed the blame for rape on the victim as opposed to the offender. SlutWalk co-founders, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, wanted to redeem or reclaim the world “slut,” hence, the name SlutWalk.

The protests were organized in the form of marches where many (but not all) young women opted to purposely dress in revealing clothes even though they were asked to dress in regular clothing to show that women could be the victims of sexual assault no matter what they wore. (Most of the pictures you find from the marches will be of scantily clad women since they are the ones that capture the attention of the public the most.) The first protest was on April 3, 2011 in Queen’s Park in Toronto where over 3,000 people (men included) participated. It was not long before the protests began to spread from Canada to the U.S. to Europe to Australia and even India. Women everywhere were tired of the blame-the-victim game.

It was not difficult to notice that something was amiss with SlutWalk. They were missing a bit of...color. There very few women of color participating in the marches. Is not blame-the-victim just as prevalent, if not more, in communities of color when it comes to rape? Women of color should have attended SlutWalk in droves, but they did not. Why? Oh, yeah, I almost forgot...women of color have historically been portrayed as loose and easy women, so to parade around calling ourselves “slut” as some form of empowerment would only justify society’s views of us. This is where Barnett and Jarvis missed the mark. They failed to consider how racism, along with sexism, has historically played into the sexual assault of women of color.

First, we need to take a look at rape culture and how it contributes to victim-blaming. A rape culture is one in which sexual violence against women is viewed as normal. It is expected that women will become victims of rape (because, you know, shit like that just happens). I mean, how many men consider the possibility of being raped? Now, how many women consider the possibility of being raped? Rape is always in the back of a woman’s mind, especially when they are alone or when they are the only female in a room. The Women’s Center at Marshall University says that rape culture is perpetuated through misogynistic language (slut, whore), the objectification of women’s bodies (commercials/ads, hip-hop videos), and the glamorization of sexual violence (film/cinema). These images cause the desensitization to sexual violence against women and make it seem as if women are “asking for it.”

Let us not forget how patriarchal religions created this environment of rape culture. For instance, from the moment that the Judeo-Christian male God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, the woman has held a powerless position. Then, the woman became a symbol of temptation and titillation when Eve disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and then somehow convinced Adam to do the same. (Am I the only one who thinks Adam was an idiot for not having a mind of his own? How long are we going to keep blaming Eve?) As a result, women are viewed as both property of men to do with as they please and as wanton individuals who will lead men down the path of damnation if they are not careful. The only good woman is a pious woman; in other words, a woman who devotes herself to her husband (a man), obeys God (another man), stays in her place (second place after a man), and is asexual (the only person who desires sex is her husband). Any other woman is a whore, a prostitute, a harlot, a slut. By the way, many of the mentions of the word “prostitute” in the Bible are in reference to or incited by the female deities (Ishtar/Asherah/Diana) of Goddess-worshipping cultures in which women had personal autonomy and sexual freedom (recommended readings: When God Was a Woman & The Great Cosmic Mother).

The womb of women of color has been pillaged the most after the womb of Mother Earth (land, soil). As with all conquests, the conquest of indigenous civilizations by Europeans could not be complete without the raping of women and young girls. During slavery, black women were treated as livestock (breeder of more slaves) as well as the one who the slave master could take out his sexual frustrations on (because his wife was probably taught to be a “prude”). In India, women who are part of the “untouchables” are frequently raped by men from higher castes. In cases like these, rape is not only used as a sign of power and dominance. It is used to show that the women are nothing but filthy animals (yet men are not afraid to stick their dicks inside them). They are less than the women in their own race (or culture or strata) who are already second class citizens.

Going back to black women, our sexuality has been defined for us since slavery with names like hottentot to jezebel to sapphire to mammy to the proverbial slut. Black women have historically been held as having loose morals (except for “mammy”...she is asexual; she just dedicates her life to the care of white folks). Since the black male is viewed as oversexed because of his oversized sexual organs that would make the black woman, his partner, a sex fiend. Who else is he going to fuck like crazy, right?

When searching for rape statistics, it is nearly impossible to find cases of white-male-on-black-female rape statistics. You are more likely to find statistics for black-male-on-white-female rape cases. It does not mean that white males are any less likely than black males to perpetrate interracial rape. It merely shows that black women are less likely to report the incident and/or that black males are more likely to be apprehended and prosecuted for raping a white woman. Black women know that they will be blamed for the rape or that the case will not be taken seriously. I am fairly certain that all of the statistics for rape cases reported by white women are also underrepresented. Most women have internalized societies tendencies of blaming women for sexual assaults and begin to blame themselves (“I shouldn’t have...”; “I should have known...”; “If only I had...”). They may dissuade themselves from reporting the incident.

SlutWalk organizers failed to consider how race would deter women of color from participating in a protest where they refer to themselves as sluts. But this is nothing new. From the beginning feminism has failed to think how the intersections of race, culture, and class affect the lives of women. Women of color have no desire to reclaim the word slut. As Keli Goff eloquently put it, “You can’t ‘reclaim’ a word defined by a predominant group in power unless you are part of the group.” It would have made more sense for a group of elite, white males to march in the protests. Instead of working towards a societal change where the word “slut” never has to be spoken, SlutWalk has only worked to ingrain the image of the loose woman in the mind of Americans. Besides, black women already have their hands full attempting to eradicate the word “ho” from our communities (see An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk).

This oblivious insensitivity to the experiences women of color can be seen in the poster of one SlutWalker that stated, “Women are niggers of the world” after the John Lennon and Yoko Ono song. (Perhaps a bit of forgiveness since she was so young? No? Me either). I would like to know if women are indeed the niggers of the world, where does that leave black women? That would make us nothing but animals. The aforementioned statement attempts to compare the experiences of all women as if they are similar, which could not be farther from the truth. The SlutWalker seemed to have forgotten that although she may not be as powerful as her male counterpart, she definitely weilds more power than a black woman. It was from white women that black, women house-slaves took their orders and many beatings from. The young woman did apologize, but you could tell that she just did not overstand her bad judgment.

In order for the inclusion of women of color in the marches against rape victim-blaming, organizers will have to re-label the protests. The protests also have to address issues such as race, culture, and class and how they affect women of color (some cities have already begun to have workshops on race). There are also more important issues like longer sentences for rape perpetrators and slow rape prosecutions that must be tackled. In all seriousness, these marches will have little significance on changing laws and more importantly societal attitudes towards women. It is more than walking angrily in the streets with some women dressed in their bras and little else. Without a concrete political course of action, SlutWalk will continue to be a free tits-and-ass show for the media and male onlookers.

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