SlutWalk NYC This Weekend: Still Not Getting it Quite Right

09/29/2011 12:40 PM |

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This Saturday is New York’s own SlutWalk, the anti-rape and sexual assault protest originally developed a reaction to a Toronto police officer’s suggestion that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Since the Toronto march in April, there have been SlutWalks in cities around the world. Saturday it’s our turn.

A protest against rape and sexual assault in New York couldn’t come at a better time, between the rape cop acquittal, Dominique Strauss-Kahn getting off scott free, and the ongoing sex attacks in Park Slope/Sunset Park/Windsor Terrace. And yet.

In an open letter to the SlutWalk organizers, a group of Black women, including the board and founders of Black Women’s Blueprint and many, many others, wrote about why SlutWalk does not speak to the rape and sexual assault that women of color experience:

“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. “

This is deeply troubling. Feminism in this country has a long and ugly history of silencing and alienating women of color and transwomen. Any movement that speaks for women has to be able to speak for all women. Salamishah Tillet writes in The Nation about her ambivalence toward SlutWalk as a Black woman who has experienced rape. It’s a really, really great piece and you should please go read it, so I’m just going to quote a snippet here:

“While I had heard the critiques, and agreed with aspects of them, I made the choice to participate as a way of protesting the alarming rates of sexual violence that black girls and women experience. During my speech, I said I was there because too many women and girls, who look like me, haven’t always been invited to marches like this.… Because young girls, and especially girls of color, are called Jumpoffs. Whores. Sluts. Almost everyday. By friends. By strangers. By parents. By police officers. ’Cause when I took that long walk home after I was raped, my spaghetti strapped dress was turned inside out. And I was afraid to go to the police and be told it was my fault. Scared of someone telling me that being trapped in a room wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress with a man who threatened my life wasn’t rape.”

She goes on to say that a march against sexual violence was “too compelling to ignore,” and I agree that pushing back publicly against our culture’s tolerance of rape is vitally important. I just wish we could find a way to do it that includes women of all communities. We cannot go back to social justice movements that are not intersectional: rape is not just a product of sexism, it comes from a history of racism, classism, and anti-trans sentiment. The proof of that is the fact that women of color and transwomen are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. As Farah Tanis, co-founder of Black Women’s Blueprint, points out in the Nation article, “Approximately 40 percent of African-American women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18.”

In the words of the authors of the open letter,

In the spirit of building a revolutionary movement to end sexual assault, end rape myths and end rape culture, we ask that SlutWalk move forward in true authenticity and solidarity to organize beyond the marches and demonstrations as SlutWalk. Develop a more critical, a more strategic and sustainable plan for bringing women together to demand countries, communities, families and individuals uphold each others human right to bodily integrity and collectively speak a resounding NO to violence against women.