Should Black Women Oppose the SlutWalk?

An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk, signed by a hefty list of black anti-violence activists, scholars and community leaders, has been stirring conversation online since it was posted on Friday.

Like previous Black feminist critiques of SlutWalk, the letter calls into question the anti-rape march’s reclamation of the word slut. The authors argue that our long and varied history as black women does not accord us the privilege of reclaiming such a hateful and dehumanizing word:

Black women in the U.S. have worked tirelessly since the 19th century colored women’s clubs to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular of slut, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent. Although we vehemently support a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants anytime, anywhere, within the context of a ‘SlutWalk’ we don’t have the privilege to walk through the streets of New York City, Detroit, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, L.A. etc., either half-naked or fully clothed self-identifying as ‘sluts,’ and think that this will make women safer in our communities an hour later, a month later, or a year later.
Moreover, we are careful not to set a precedent for our young girls by giving them the message that we can self-identify as ‘sluts’ when we’re still working to annihilate the word ‘ho,’ which deriving from the word ‘hooker’ or ‘whore,’ as in ‘Jezebel whore,’ was meant to dehumanize. Lastly, we do not want to encourage our young men, our Black fathers, sons and brothers to reinforce Black women’s identities as ‘sluts’ by normalizing the term on t-shirts, buttons, flyers and pamphlets.

In addition to concern about the word slut, blogger Aura Blogondo, in her provocative piece Slut Walk: A Stroll through White Supremacy, has taken issue with the ways that many of the SlutWalk protests have marginalized violence against women of color:

This event will not stop the criminalization of black women in New Orleans, nor will it stop one woman from being potentially deported after she calls the police subsequent to being raped. SlutWalk completely ignores the way institutional violence is leveled against women of color.

I believe that addressing these concerns is vital if this latest grassroots feminist movement is to be made relevant to a cross-section of people struggling to end violence in our lives. And yet, at the same time, I am concerned by the politics of respectability that seem to be a common theme among the criticisms of SlutWalk. Yes, 19th-century club women fought tirelessly to delink black women’s bodies from the stereotypes of “Jezebels,” “sluts” and “hos,” but do we really want to move forward in this same line of pushing for black women’s “respectability”–especially since respectability does not keep a woman from being raped?

It’s not surprising that some women are hesitant to get on board with a movement that co-opts a word that literally could get them killed for who they are. Black women know we are not safe when words like ho and slut are hurled at us. But instead of seeking respectability, what would it mean to confront the danger of a word that was historically constructed to support economies of slavery and legal segregation?

The Crunk Feminist Collective posed an interesting thought experiment along these lines when, in critiquing SlutWalks, it contrasted them with hypothetical “Ho Strolls,” concluding, “I don’t think sisters will be lining up to go on a symbolic ‘Ho Stroll’ anytime soon.” True enough, with all the oppressive history of the criminalization of our sexuality, I imagine that a “Ho Stroll” would be struck down with a quickness by police and various communities who already find black women’s bodies–even highly respectable ones–disruptive and frightening. And that begs the question: Would white feminists then come to our aid?

The truth is, white women have historically benefited from the racialized virgin/whore dichotomy embodied in words like “Jezebel” and “slut.” That can encourage black women to distrust white women, especially those whose privilege has blinded them to considering what a SlutWalk would look like in solidarity with black women, with low-income women, with immigrant women, with queer women, with sex workers.

Rape culture targets all women, but due to white supremacy, economic disparities and heterosexism, some women face the threat of violence more frequently. If the SlutWalk movement hopes to have genuine impact on changing rape culture, it needs to address these different experiences with sexual violence.

It seems that if anyone should be at the forefront of SlutWalks, it should be we women whose very bodies–regardless of our dress–have inspired the dangerous rhetoric of “sluts” and “hos.” No, we don’t have the same privileges as white women, but what if we boldly took back the power of “ho,” which has kept many black women in line? And what if white women stood in solidarity with us?

I’d suggest that black women, rather than oppose SlutWalk, should think of the ways it can be appropriated to serve our needs. I would like to see a SlutWalk with black women front and center. Instead of seeking to distance ourselves from “hooker” and “whore,” can we use SlutWalk to remind the world–and even our fathers, sons and brothers–that “hos” have value too? How, indeed, would the first SlutWalk in Toronto have been different if the response had been not to a police officer’s insult that women “not dress like sluts” to avoid rape, but rather to the serial murders of aboriginal women who had become routine targets in a macabre “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia?

Feminists have yet to effectively challenge the way women are split into the respectable and the disreputable. As long as that split remains, it will encourage the dehumanization and disposability of women framed as “sluts” and “hos,” while encouraging other women to be complicit in order to hold onto their “respectability.” Since the “I’m Not a Slut” defense is a not a cure against being raped, we must overcome our false conviction that disavowing of the “slut” label will keep us safe.

Yes, words like “slut” and “ho” are used to dehumanize women, but more than that: They’re used to shut us up and to discipline us in “appropriate” gender roles. There’s a reason why many rape survivors don’t come forward with their experiences. They do not want to be subject to such words by a larger society that still blames victims. At least the SlutWalk boldly takes on that word, and in doing so, invites us to empty it of its power and its racist, classist, hetero/sexist meanings.  Whether that’s possible is another debate, but for now, it’s useful to remember what Emi Koyama once wrote: “Everyone is safe when sluts are safe.”

CORRECTIONS AND UPDATES:

  • I am indebted to members of the Battered Women’s Support Services and the Aboriginal Women’s Program, who contacted me and alerted me that the Aboriginal women who have gone missing on Highway 16 (the “Highway of Tears” referenced in my article) were not sex workers–the piece has been updated to reflect. Because different reports referred to the missing women as “sex workers,” certain racist and sexist assumptions got reinforced. Incidentally, this supports my argument about the danger of words that encourage women’s dehumanization and eradication and why it is ever urgent to confront these words.
  •  A paragraph in the original piece erroneously claimed SlutWalk failed to respond to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case. SlutWalk NYC organizers have called to our attention to several actions they conducted in response, and the paragraph has been removed. Apologies to SlutWALK NYC for the error.

Photo of SlutWalk Tampa from Flickr user juxtapose^esopatxuj under Creative Commons 2.0.

 

Comments

  1. Janelle, you are imposing your own false binary opposition between *critique of the sexualization of black women” on the one hand, and *a politics of respectability” on the other. The assumption of your argument on this point is that if the authors of the note critique the history of black women’s sexualization then it logically follows that their critique is based on a politics of “respectability.” This is a logical leap implying false premise, that “respectability” and “sexualization” are women’s only two options. Mention of the history of women’s clubs is hardly a sufficient basis to say that the women authoring this note share the whole ideological package with these clubs. On the contrary, it’s possible to show that within the politics of respectability of these women’s clubs and others there was *also* a moment of radicalism and critique that in places conflicted with the whole “uplift” imperative.

    there is a fundamental ideological difference between these and other critics and SW, so it makes no sense to call for the critics to use SW, to appropriate it. Some of the critics of SW don’t think that the solution to the stigmatization of prostitutes, for example, can be solved by saying ‘hos or sluts or whores are good or valuable. This is because we already believe that the women who are prostituted are valuable, and the basis of our critique of the sex trade is that the demand–men’s demand that women be put up for sale,a demand that is fed and feeds into state, imperalist, and other racialized/and class interests. Another statement by women of color from the group A3firm that critiques SW makes the point that it is primarily women of color in this world who comprise the class of pimped and trafficked women. It is the sex industry treats women as lacking any value, as subhuman and to be put for sale for the purpose of male ejaculation. I don’t attribute this view of the sex industry to the writers of the Note you are focusing on but it’s a response to your argument on this specific point about “revaluing ‘hos”.

    • “there is a fundamental ideological difference between these and other critics and SW, so it makes no sense to call for the critics to use SW, to appropriate it”

      Agreed.

      I don’t see how SW is changing structural conditions, or even working to do so. Instead, it is alienating entire groups of women, including WOC and formerly prostituted women. If I can personally think of women I know how have gotten sick over just hearing about SW, I can only imagine how many more women are suffering because of this movement. And the idea that we’ve reclaimed slut so it’s no longer a pejorative word is just plan silly; I’ve heard it used multiple times since the SWs in my areas.

      And yes, I realize there are individual WOC or women in the sex industry who support SW, but I’m talking about making a difference for these groups as a whole.

      And what about young women, middle and high school age–or younger, even–who get branded with the word “slut”? How is this walk changing social conditions for them? If calling young women “sluts” at school is a type of misogynist bullying, I can’t see what this walk is doing to change this.

      • sharon resnick says:

        The women on college campuses who are participating in the SW don’t get it. Don’t they think that men are enjoying this display? I’d like to hear the comments in fraternities after these SW’s take place. As far as I’m concerned this is nonsense, especially when there are serious matters that need to be addressed.

        State by state women are losing their right to choice and also to contraception. Right wing churches have women as second class citizens and are becoming more powerful with each passing day. Women still make 70 cents

        to every dollar men make for equal work. Girls and young women are being sexualized in advertisements, by facebook and other outlets. Pagents in the south dress 5 years olds like “sluts” and it is becoming more and more popular. Recently, one of these children was outfitted with false breasts.

        There is work to be done. Slut walks are not the way to do it.

        • You don’t think that combating the dominant paradigms of power at any level will reverse the concentration of said power under the control of one set of hands? I do. After all, these are the foundations upon which every other power structure is built, too. The ability to degrade, devalue, demean, depersonalize and dehumanize a woman’s worth by linking it to her body, whether that refer to one’s skin colour or one’s physiognomy.

          • Kom_ your comment reads like, “I don’t give a shit about rape survivors, I’m just going to spew some academic sounding nonsense to combat your very spot on critique.”

            As a stranger rape survivor I despise SW and would never participate in such a offensive display. The feminists behind SW don’t give a shit about rape survivors. They are too busy calling prostitutes “healing sex workers” and demanding that people like me who have been violently assaulted support BDSM. Feminists say you have to support kinky sex practices or you are not “being supportive of the community”. Prostitution and BDSM are part of rape culture and both are disgusting. Yeah, I said that shit is disgusting, and it is. Why the hell should I support some strangers right to “play rape”? I honestly don’t want to hear from prostitutes and BDSM people (even if they have been raped), as it is triggering and very much outside the mainstream. However, apparently feminists don’t give a shit if they re-traumatize someone if it means putting prostitution on a pedestal or praising violent role-play sex as healthy and wonderful.

            Sex positive feminism and BDSM should have no place in rape advocacy. Feminists like to ignore the fact that elderly or conservative people get raped too and should not have to support extreme sexual practices just because feminists think they own the anti-rape cause.

            I am a stranger rape survivor and feminism doesn’t speak for me.

    • You seem to have missed the point. The author was explaining that respectability has nothing to do with re-claiming the word, JUST as it had nothing to do with the negative associations the word had, JUST as it had nothing to do with de-linking black women’s bodies from the words meant to demean and dehumanize them. It has everything to do with taking away the power of these words. And I see de-linking the associations these words had as merely a first step towards that goal.

      Just as rape is all about power (it has nothing to do with sex, as you seem to claim below, other than the form of physical expression it takes), so is the use of these words. That is what she is trying to deconstruct, but you’ve somehow come to focus on a completely tangential issue…?

      Working with black women to take back the power of the word, will effectively reverse the unintended consequences that simply disassociating the word from its negative connotations towards a single minority group has had (meaning that of linking it to what others consider inappropriate behaviour, rather than a single population, now). It will reverse them because once the power of these words are lost they will no longer have any effect even if they are linked to other ideologies, populations, etc….

      Thanks.

  2. Nicola Smith says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  3. martin dufresne says:

    Well, it will be for Black women to decide whether they really want to “boldly take back the power of ‘ho’,” as the writer suggests. It seems to me that the sheer numbers of women and organizations who have signed the “Open Letter from Black Women” belie that prospect and indeed show and justify movement in the other direction.

    But there is one point I want to make about the writer’s unsupported attribution of some hackneyed “politics of respectability” to Black SW feminist critics.

    The initial outcry against Officer Sanguinetti’s comment was because he suggested that rape victims had been asking for it by “dressing like sluts”. Wasn’t it because feminists felt different about rape victims and indeed championed their respectability regardless of their wear that they called foul and were heard?

    Then came the gimmick post-mo reversal of organizing “as sluts”, to an enthusiastic media audience and with the prostitution lobby jumping in (in many venues). But the initial impulse was indeed repulsion at this misogynist slur.

    And this is, in part, what I still hear in these Black feminist voices.

  4. But what about the more distant history.. Let’s go back further in time. The thing is, the word slut originally meant – literally – an untidy woman. The word slut, along with so many other female-specific slanders, was degraded over a few hundred years to take on a sexual connotation of promiscuity where there was once none. It was not originally such a hateful and dehumanizing word, not in a way that suggested sex. Seriously. Chaucer used the word “sluttish” to describe an untidy MAN. Like, someone who needs a bath. And this makes me want to take it back all the more, for women of every shade of skin under the sun.

  5. Because this unspeakable thing started in my town, Toronto, with an incredibly sexist remark that a cop made to a group of female students, I wrote this article. It was published in Women’s Post and WE Magazine.

    SLUTWALK for We Magazine

    Woman of a Certain Age

    by Marcia Barhydt

    If you think that one small voice won’t be heard, you need to read this article. It’s shocking and it’s almost magical at the same time. And it’s a testimony to the power of women, one at a time.

    I live near Toronto, Ontario, a city of 2.5 million residents; it is extremely diverse, welcomingly ethnic and proudly supportive of gays and lesbians. We are, for the most part, liberal in our views and in our lifestyles too. We are also, I believe, widely feaminist and embracing of equal rights.

    So then, imagine our shock when, on January 24th, 2011, a Toronto Police Officer, speaking to a group at York University, gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. Imagine, if you can, the reaction of the audience of young women as well as the liberal population of Toronto. It’s common knowledge now that sexual assault isn’t about sex; it’s about power. And for a police officer to suggest that victims are responsible for their attacks is deeply offensive.

    Now comes the good part: two young women attending York University decided to do something about this unacceptably offensive comment. Along with the help of a handful of other women, they organized SlutWalk Toronto, a protest march, on Sunday, April 3. The march started at Toronto’s provincial government buildings and ended at police headquarters.

    This quote is from the organizer’s website, http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/

    “With your help, SlutWalk has become a mechanism for increased dialogue on victim-blaming, slut-shaming, misogynist and oppressive ideas that need to be challenged. These damaging ideas affect all of us and play into racist, ablest, homophobic discussions, discussions about status, class, sex work, indigenous rights and more that need to be challenged.

    SW has become an empowering event, and with this in mind, we are proud to announce that…

    SLUTWALK WILL BE RETURNING AGAIN NEXT APRIL!”

    The five folks behind SlutWalkTO organizing, plus some other incredible voices we hope will join the team (info coming soon!), will be building on what SW did well this year, how to improve, and how to keep going.

    To see the determination of these women to keep this protest alive is inspirational; what happened next is amazing.

    There are now SlutWalks all around the world. An online search yielded walks in Texas, Australia, many other Canada cities, many cities in England, Amsterdam, Mumbai, South America, Singapore, Kuala Lampour, South Africa. And these awareness walks are not scarcely populated. The walk in Cape Town, South Africa was 2,000 marchers strong! On Facebook, the measure of all things current, the group SlutWalk has been “liked” by 13,574 people.

    So, what’s the connection between SlutWalks and Women of a Certain Age? We older (and wiser, I hope) women need to support our daughters and granddaughters for their courage. This is a battle we fought ourselves in the ’60s with the advent of mainstream feminism. Fifty years later, the battle continues.

    We need to do anything, everything we can, as older women, to help our younger sisters and daughters fight this battle and win it this time. We need to add our voices to theirs and we need our voices to be as loud today as they were 50 years ago.

    We need to make this stop.

    I’m a woman of a certain age and I’m certain that women world-wide can stop this travesty.

    ©Marcia Barhydt, 2011

  6. Slutwalk NYC was heavily involved in organizing around the DSK case, as any quick search on Google would show.

  7. ‘The truth is, white women have historically benefited from the racialized virgin/whore dichotomy embodied in words like “Jezebel” and “slut.”’

    Nope. This is dangerously academic and out of touch with real life.

  8. Actually, the organizers of Slutwalk NYC organized rallies not only against Dominique Strauss-Kahn but in support of Nafi Diallo. (http://suzyxisntreal.tumblr.com/post/9297885561/nytimes-com-protesters-gather-before-strauss-kahn) Also, many organizers of Slutwalk NYC are people of color, including myself.

    This is not to say that the critiques of reclaiming a word like “slut” aren’t valid; we know the history of this word all too well. Many people are traumatized by it. But I agree with Janell’s point– none of us are made any safer by making the distinction between the “good feminists” and the “sluts.” When we make that distinction we can easily throw ourselves under the patriarchal bus.

  9. Hello Janell,

    I appreciate your insight and your mentioning my work, but I worry that my words will be pitted by some folks (not by you, but by white women) against radical women of colour I super respect, so I posted a statement about that.
    http://eminism.org/blog/entry/264
    Thanks!

    • Janell Hobson says:

      Hi Emi,

      I thought your words were powerful, which is why I linked to it. I apologize if that caused you to be taken out of context, and I do agree with you that the open letter critique needs to be taken seriously even when we may disagree with some points in it.

      Best,

      Janell

  10. Marianne Connolly says:

    Slutwalk began as a spontaneous protest against a police officer’s statement that if women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t dress like sluts. I think it’s important to recognize the simplicity of the thing. Rape is never the victim’s fault, no matter how she’s dressed. It’s unfortunate that Slutwalk’s become a movement that seems to be “claiming” the word slut. The original impetus was stronger than that. Rape is never the victim’s fault — never.

    • I just do not understand how organizers and participants continue to protest that an event called *slutwalk* and catches it’s media attention *due* to that *branding* (a term i use intentionally) is not really about reclaiming slut. ???? Why aren’t you reflecting on what the event actually means- how it is interpreted in the real world rather than trying to find some inner, real meaning that has nothing to do with how it actually plays in the real world??

      of course the rage is against victim-blaming but that was re-directed towards something different–towards individual self-expression instead of say–”Blame the real Perp” Day! or “Blame the Perp day” or something of that ilkd. this directing of rage towards forms of individual self-expression that “happen to” conform a heck of a lot to norms of marketed “sluttiness” is the real stuff of the protest, and what needs to be examined!

  11. Janell Hobson says:

    Interesting that commenters are reminding me that Slut Walk protests did occur in response to the DSK case. I certainly didn’t see it in the news, certainly not on the same level that the case itself was broadcasted, which speaks to an entirely different issue altogether.

    I agree that Slut Walk, as constructed, has flaws, but I also think it has potential to be more cutting edge in challenging rape culture.

    Oh, and historically, yes, white women did benefit from the virgin/whore dichotomy, at least racially speaking they did. It’s not out of touch with “reality” to think this, but it is certainly lacking in historical knowledge to NOT know that.

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    • Actually, the NY TImes covered the DSK protests. Several of my good (and white) friends were quoted, along with activists of color. And of course it didn’t making as much as the slutwalks–one is local, one is global!

  12. “But I agree with Janell’s point– none of us are made any safer by making the distinction between the “good feminists” and the “sluts.””

    Who is making that distinction? objecting to SW does not mean embracing the slut/good girl division it means opposing it on other grounds, naming the real cause of this division which is a weapon for controlling women that benefits men.

    and white women *do* benefit from the Jezebel/virgin dichotomy- as only white women have the (phantom though it be) option of being virgin in/to the mainstream white supremacist patriarchy. Thus all the “missing white women/girls”… etc..

    • And where is the consensus saying that white women DON’T benefit from the Jezebel/virgin dichotomy as it currently stands (ftr, I am a white woman and I admit I benefit from this)? I think you’re seeing things that just aren’t there, and you know it on a subconscious level, otherwise why respond to a post that talks about women’s experiences within that dichotomy with a post that says white *women* are the (ONLY) ones who experience that dichotomy? Essentially, you’re not disagreeing with her, just being more specific….

      Naming the real cause of the division inCLUDES opposing it on the grounds that it divides women into sluts/good girls, with black women falling into the former category, without fail. How else does one expect to combat patriarchal structures without combating the symptoms, as well? As I said in an earlier post, attempting to do so only redirects the target of said patriarchal structures, as has been proven in the past.

  13. There were several protests in support of Diallo (at least here in NYC). Please check your facts. I am a (somewhat lackadaisical) organizer of Slutwalk in NYC and we talked about the case, and the plight faced by people of color, at many meetings.

  14. Also, “The truth is, white women have historically benefited from the racialized virgin/whore dichotomy embodied in words like ‘Jezebel’ and ‘slut.’” is pretty offensive. Please come out on Saturday. You will see many women of color. You will even see Transwomen of color.

    • How is it offensive? As a white woman myself, I can see that it holds a lot of truth. It can be uncomfortable to recognize it, but white women have historically been assumed to be “good girls” until proven (or assumed) otherwise and women of color have historically been assumed to be sexually available regardless of their actions, real or assumed.

      Because some women of color will be at your event doesn’t discredit the “Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk” and it’s pretty offensive for you to assert that. It’s the equivalent of saying “I’m not racist, I have black friends!”

      Finally, I’m pretty sure it’s trans women, not transwomen.

      • I think you would benefit from reading one of the posts below, that documents the use of the word ‘slut’ beFORE it targeted black women. Thanks.

      • In my most recent reply to you, I was referring to your implied presumption that the term ‘slut’ has only ever, historically, applied to black women and the implications, in turn, that that brings to the table, that combating the divisions, themselves, as well, is not a viable option. I was NOT referring to your response to Lane’s comment about offensiveness. I apologize if there was any confusion.

  15. To add another perspective to the conversation.

    “Who You Callin’ a Slut?”

    by The Blacktivist (http://theblacktivist.com)
    August 12, 2011

    Slut noun ˈslət

    Chiefly British : a slovenly woman

    a : a promiscuous woman; especially : prostitute

    Synonyms: bimbo, chippie, doxy, fancy woman (?), hoochie, hussy, Jezebel, minx, quean, floozy, tramp, trollop, wench, whore

    The DC SlutWalk will take place Saturday, August 13, 2011. If you’re unfamiliar with the term or the rapidly growing movement of SlutWalks – they began as a response to the highly unacceptable language used by a Toronto police officer in February of this year who stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

    To directly confront this ignorance, women in Toronto rallied together and began the SlutWalk movement – the movement for women to feel free to express their sexuality without “slut-shaming”…and reclaim the word “slut.”

    I take pause.

    So the goal here is to reclaim the word “slut?” Do I even have to return your attention to the definition from the top of this post?

    My issue is not with the mission of SlutWalks. What woman’s life has not in some way been impacted by sexual abuse or violence? We all have a friend, a friend of a friend, a family member, or even we ourselves may have personally been touched by this unfortunate reality of our violent and sometimes inhumane culture.

    What I do take issue with is the fact that White women are at the center of this movement and are oblivious as to how heavily their white privilege is at play.

    Remember back when Don Imus decided to refer to the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team as “Nappy Headed Hoes?” Imus was very intentional and malicious in this attack. No doubt I was upset, as were many Black women. But how would it look if big groups of Black women rallied in cities across the nation and decided to take back the term “hoe?” Nappy Headed Hoe Walks? Eh – not so much. Imus’ suspension was short lived and he was back on the air to spread more good will in a mere matter of months. But I digress.

    Both the Toronto police officer and the women he targeted were White.

    I’d consider it a blessing if “Slut” were the only sexually demoralizing term Black women have been called. Historically, our sexual identity has been determined by men (both White and Black) and always in opposition to White women.

    Many European colonists justified enslaving Africans because of their perceived lustful and sinful nature. And thus the Jezebel was born, a Black woman with an insatiable sexual appetite, especially for her White slave master or any White man she encountered. How could an enslaved woman defend herself or demand sexual freedom? She was no more than mere property. And in addition to work she was expected to breed more slaves for her owner. Now on the other hand, White women were upheld and valued above all others. Shoot, they didn’t even have to nurse their own babies. There was a Black woman for that. White women’s beauty and virtue were prized. And today, in mainstream culture Black women are either oversexed or undersexed – sexual depositories of pleasure or not viewed at all. And because of the long term internalization of our expected sexual roles – many Black women continue to meet these expectations and young girls aspire to it.

    I need not wonder the outcome had the victims of that Toronto police officers verbal attack been Black, Hispanic or Asian. You shouldn’t need to think about it too long either.

    While a large group of women (the majority of which I expect will be White) will rally on DC’s national mall this weekend – some dressing ‘freely’ and advancing their cause of sexual freedom without worry of judgment, the plight of Black women’s sexuality will continue to take a back seat to this story. Little Black girls and Black women are abused and brutalized everyday (abuse that goes beyond verbal) – many of which will never receive justice or even know how to process these experiences. We won’t hear these stories.

    So am I going Saturday? Nope. I will not be “slutting it up” to make a bunch of White women feel more liberated. Besides, what you won’t do is call me out of my name!

  16. I would go to a Ho Stroll. If I had a daughter, I would take *her* to a Ho Stroll. I would urge other parents to support Ho Strolls, and take their daughters. And I’m a Black man.

    Why? The obvious. We need to have this talk about sexual violence. We need to communicate that slut-shaming is always wrong. We need to develop the habit of holding rapists and slut-shamers accountable. We need women to know that their womanhood is their own, and it’s not for me, or the douchebag sexists, or anyone on earth to tell them differently.

    I want my daughter to know this. I want EVERY daughter to know this.

    Whatever we may think about white privilege and solidarity and blablabla, black people need to be having these talks, and we resist that. We resist even the *suggestion* that we need to have these talks. That says something about us, something awful.

    Recall how this all started, with a sheriff stating–ignorantly or maliciously, but altogether falsely–that what gets women raped is their wardrobe. The most elegant retorts are the women who show up on t-shirts and jeans, regular clothes, with the signs “This is what I wore when I got raped. Am I a slut?” I want the opportunity to tell my daughter that she’s not. I want the opportunity to tell *her* that she’s not. We’re going to deny ourselves this because we’re queasy about the language, about the word ho?

    Guess what: that queasiness *is the problem*. It’s the very tool that’s used to isolate, to divide, to alienate, to make the “ho” feel alone and friendless and at fault. Worse still is the implicit threat that keeps the rest in line: if you support her, you’re a ho, and you deserve just what she gets–all the contempt, all the degradation, all the violence.

    Is that our goal, division against ourselves? To isolate those who need us the most? It’s not my goal, or the goal of any good person–something else I’d want my daughter, and every daughter, to know.

    One final point: If your problem is with degradation or institutional violence, there’s a great chance that the people at a Ho Stroll are *on your side*. It’s where you’re most likely to change minds, most likely to find someone willing to engage you, most likely to be heard and taken seriously. It is an anti-rape rally, after all.

    It’s ironic, but worth noting, that the people most sympathetic to your problems with a Ho Stroll are also the people most likely to show up to one. Whether you think this argues for or against it, it’s worth keeping in mind.

  17. I cannot believe women still think rape is only exclusively about power. Are you kidding me? Men are turned on by a woman so they take advantage of her. While power is a part of it, if the man was not turned on and it wasn’t about sex, then wouldn’t he have just beat her up? I know it’s a way to try and make poor rape victims feel better about themselves, that this act had NOTHING to do with sex, but it’s a shame that people are lying. To be honest, a lot of rapes have to do with what a woman is wearing. Men find it easier access to target a woman who is dressed like a slut, period. There is no nicer way of saying it. As a woman, I am disgusted that these liberated women feel the need to prance around like “sluts” to make a point. How about a better point…tell women to stick together, stick with eachother, not leave without your girlfriend at the bar, dress appropriate, and not take drinks from strange men. Instead of perpetuating a terrible word and making it “trendy”, focus on ways from preventing rape. I just see all of this backfiring, even though it’s being done with good intentions…

    • This comment is disgusting and you should be ashamed for posting it. Please google “rape culture” and do some reading. Rape is about power+sex but the power is the first and foremost. Rape is the ultimate dehumanization of another person and it happens to women of all ages, including elderly women and even babies. How a woman is dressed has zero to do with it. What causes rape is men who rape.

      http://arapesurvivorsblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/se

    • This only makes any sense if we assume that all men are sexual beast with completley uncontrolable sexual urges – that they see an attractive young woman on her own, drunk and wearing a short skirt, and they simply must have her. This is actually extreamly offensive to men.

      Men raping is not inevitable. Men rape because they know they can get away with it. Only stopping men raping can stop rape, anything else is just shifting the blame. And why do men rape women? Because he sees her as less than human, he feels he’s entitled to take what he wants from her. What he is taking from her may indeed be sex, but the reasons for it are much bigger than that.

  18. Nick– you are a *father*- do you think a *mother* might feel similarly about taking her daughter to a ‘ho walk? While I would never deny for a second that men can be feminists, I would as you to consider the idea that maybe your perspective/position as a man re an issue of *sexual politics* in intersection with race politics, should not be taken casually–unreflected upon– as if it is totally irrelevant to the situation you are talking about. It is black *women* and *women* of color who have been sexualized in ways relevant to this particular issue –of slut-calling and surrounding issue of rape. Black men and men of color of course have been sexualized too-but it has different meanings. Relating the meanings is important, but first the different positions of men and women related to the issue of rape need to be seriously considered.

  19. Eloise I agree with you that rape is indeed about sex– but it’s also about power. However, I strongly disagree, as a critic of Slutwalk, with your suggested alternatives —telling friends to dress “appropriately.” ?? by whose standards, appropriate. This reiterates the Toronto cop’s remark that sparked the whole SW phenomenon–i.e. that “not dressing like sluts” is part of rape prevention. Individual solutions that focus on women’s behavior–whether in celebrating a behavior that conforms to male fantasy in the affirmation of slut, or in instructing women to dress appropriately and avoid strange men (most rapes happen between acquaintances and/or in relationships with men!), are flip sides of the same problem. The issue is stopping rapists, not women’s behavior.

  20. AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN…WE THANK YOU

    by: David W. Johnson, Jr.

    In too many cases, Men just never take the time to show appreciation

    Women fix their breakfast and rush home to fix dinner in the evening

    Some men take it for granted as if it were your sworn duty or obligation

    All the while, you are doing what you can to please without saying a thing

    It is so hard working eight hours a day and coming home to even more

    Without your strength more of our children would be in jails or deceased

    African-American Women you have what it takes of that we can be sure

    Stepping up when so many positive opportunities for your men decreased

    Most African American Men appreciate the daily sacrifices Women make

    Knowing without African American Women, we would be all but destroyed

    With their demanding jobs, women find time for children, to cook and bake

    Now with the Iraq War, it is worse with so many Good Men being deployed

    My African-American Sisters, stay strong and know, help is on the way

    Men more and more are realizing that death and destruction is no accident

    They are realizing it will take teamwork to save all of our people today

    Before long, the majority of African-American Men will start to represent

    Waiters, cashiers, bus drivers, truck drivers, cab drivers, Sisters do it all

    You drive, catch the bus, cabs, and get hacks to get our children to school

    Preachers, Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Politicians, you answer every call

    Whoever thought African American Women were weak, had to be a fool

    The fight is far from over Sisters but thanks to your strength, we will win

    Whatever you do, do not give up on yourselves and do not give up on us

    African American Men and Women together, our children we can defend

    In one another, it is time to rebuild Love, Respect, Unity, Support and Trust

    Sisters, Brothers who truly understand are working hard on those who do not

    You are proving to America everyday that to your Race you are loyal and true

    Thanks to you, many of our children are getting an education and not being shot

    OUR TRULY GREAT & LOVING, “African-American Women…Thank You”

    African American Men Wish You A Blessed And Safe Life

    Sister, Real African American Brothers Truly Appreciate You & All You Do

  21. I am a white woman and I am opposed to SlutWalks and insulted that it is not only assumed that I support them but also that it has been claimed (Valenti in the Washington Post June 2011) to be one of the most successful feminist activities of recent. I feel like women should be allowed to wear whatever they want but this event supports a continuum of events, actions, behaviors, and beliefs that support a rape culture and condones violence against women. I know this is not the intention but like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, this event too needs to have a lot of discussion and education about the issues and are they really getting across or promoting more sexist, racist, homophobic ideals.

  22. Today I went to the first Bristol (UK) slutwalk – the people organising it also didn’t really want to reclaim the word “slut”, and so in the publicity and on the blog the word is crossed out, a visual which I think sends a strong message. Also there were very few people on the march who were dressed in a way that could be considered “sluttish” so people wern’t using it as an excuse to prance around in suspenders or whatever (and also the fact that the weather has been rediculously unseasonal the last few days means that lots of people in town were wearing minimal clothing anyway).

    I agree that there “slut” isn’t really a word that can/should be reclaimed, and I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of race either, many people of all races find the word triggering. However, at the Bristol march there wasn’t the sense of “reclaiming”, during the speakers after the march one of the organisers made a point of saying that she disagreed with the reclaiming. There were also several curious people around who ended up joining the march and talking to people about issues of rape culture and victim blaming, and it was clear that they had rarely thought about these issues before or been in a situation where people were able to talk about it (there were also many people who just happened to be in the park and heard the amazing speakers talking about the issues).

    I would also say that, unfortunately, I doubt this would have become the global phenomenon it has if it had a different name. There have been many newspaper articles about the Bristol slutwalk and other slutwalks here in the uk over the last few months, yet I have seen very little coverage of the Reclaim the Night marches that happen fairly regulary in different cities, or the international women’s day events which are put on every year. It seems like this is a method of bringing feminist issues and conciousness to a new generation, but unfortunately the only way to get noticed by mainstream press is to be provocative. I do however think it would be possible, and much better, to use the name “slutwalk” without the emphasis on reclaiming (as with the Bristol event)

  23. I’ve always thought the whole “reclaim the word” debate, for any word, was lazy. Certain words originated in hate and are soaked in hate. There are more important things we can do than try and reclaim them.
    Furthermore, I don’t want the word slut to be a good thing. Yes, I think women should be able to sleep with as many men as they want, whether it’s a low number or a high number, because that’s their choice and yes women actually enjoy sex.
    BUT I do think there are many women out there called “sluts” who DO give women a bad name. The woman who sleeps with a man because he bought her dinner. Or he treats her like a jerk but she still sleeps with him to try and win his attention. Those are not positives.

    • Actually, most words are bastardized, meaning, they have deviated from the original meaning completely. Btw, words have power and that nursery rhyme, Sticks and Stones, is wrong in content but right in intent.

  24. Janell Hobson says:

    Sigh. And this is probably the gist of why some women of color oppose the SlutWalk:
    http://www.racialicious.com/2011/10/06/slutwalk-s

  25. I believe we must do more than call out the binary of “virgins/whores”, “good girls/bad girls” (historically used to keep all women in line) and take a hard look at where all this comes from historically and look at the question of “Where did this “two-classes-of-women” setup come from? Whose purposes did–and does it now–serve?”

    It seems that men have wanted women to serve two different and contradictory purposes. 1) To supply them with sex on demand, 2) To be faithful wife-servants so that they would know that their sons (who would inherit their property) were actually their sons. So they created two classes of women. Women of their own class were raised to be the “faithful wives,” dependent on them economically (even those who were heiresses had their property controlled by their husbands–this is why the first feminist law,” The Married Women’s Property Act,” had to be fought for by the 19th Century feminist movement). The “faithful wives” were kept in line by the threat of being denied what privileges they had–and being “cast out” if they disobeyed the respectability rules (in other words of being labeled “sluts”–or whatever the favored “bad girl” word of that time was).

    Meanwhile, the “sluts”, while having more autonomy, had little means of support, were rejected by society, usually turned to prostitution and of course, were offered no legal protection against rape (legally constructed as a crime against the owner of a woman, not against the woman herself). The “good girls” were not protected against rape in marriage (being their husband’s property), but were promised protection/legal recourse to rape by strangers.

    We need to know this history to understand the meaning of the Toronto police officer’s comment and why it struck such a nerve. He was, in effect, delivering the age-old warning to women, that unless we towed the line (in this case, wore “respectable” clothes), the police (society) would stop protecting us from rape.

    I believe his comment was expressing the unease with which traditional society views the growing independence–including sexual independence–of women. We are becoming our own people and it is threatening the hell out of male supremacist institutions such as the “two-tier” system of women.

    What should we do? Keep growing the anti-rape movement, but also keep fighting like hell of our economic autonomy, without which we cannot support independent lifestyles that include sexual autonomy. So jobs, equal pay, unionization, national healthcare, the right to control our childbearing (abortion) are all actually part of this struggle for the right to decide our sexual expression and not have to pay a price for it.

  26. Jeanne L. Ingress says:

    Everyone who is concerned about this issue must watch the documentary film called “The Stoning of Soraya M” wherein it is disclosed that thousands of women each year are stoned to death in remote areas around the world. When you watch this horrific depiction of yet another diabolical way to torture and kill women, you will perhaps reconsider the tactics of flaunting our private sexuality in a public venue. This ancient curse will not go away just because a few women think it’s okay to reclaim the status of “slut”. When we reclaim that status as being our own, we have just bought into the depiction of women as bitches, whores and sex slaves who are nothing more than chattel to be bought, sold and exploited; and we will continue to be raped, tortured and killed at an ever increasing rate, as human life becomes cheaper and more expendable with each passing moment. This is particularly so as misogynistic governments, religions, medical practices and everything else gain ascendancy and women are further demeaned and controlled by the forces of hatred. There is an old saying, “Divide and Conquer” that means the conqueror doesn’t have to kill their enemies, they simply give them the guns & turn them against each other… that way the exploited can do the dirty work of the conqueror and the conqueror appears to have clean hands. Sisters ~ we’ve been duped before; let’s not keep buying into all the lies and deceptions that are designed to destroy us. Isn’t there some way to reclaim our dignity rather than continue to perpetrate our slave class status on behalf of those who would destroy us?

  27. I found this article very interesting. The reason I found it was because I was in a peer review workshop with a colleague who was writing a thesis about the sexual categorizing of women of color (specifically, Latina women, and the virginal/hypersexual dichotomy) and became very interested in the history of colonization and how it has affected the sexual stereotyping of women of color. Being a white feminist myself, I find it sometimes difficult to deconstruct my own assumptions about what things like sexism, patriarchy, and female-male relations look like outside of my own privileged circle. How I experience sexism, for example, may not look the same as it does with men and women with different historical, religious and cultural backgrounds. I am on the fence about SlutWalks, mainly because the idea of reclaiming a derogatory label seems like allowing those with privilege still be able to control what we call ourselves. I do however question that “white women have historically benefited from the racialized virgin/whore dichotomy embodied in words like “Jezebel” and “slut.” , mainly because the virgin/whore dichotomy exists within the world of white women as well, and although the terms you have pointed out do have a history of racial implications, it is also true that “slut” is a label that has been placed on white women as well as women of other ethnicity, for example, the stereotype of the sexually available white American slut, as seen through the eyes of various societies outside of the United States. While it is true that the way that we experience the word is tied to differing situations, I think it is perhaps unfair to say that white women benefit from a dichotomy that has marginalized and oppressed us for centuries as well.

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