The Ugly Side of SlutWalk

I have a few friends who are really excited about SlutWalk. I didn’t know much about it; I just assumed that it had to do with sex-positivity and the fact that wearing “provocative” clothing doesn’t mean that someone is “asking for it.” Those are good messages, and so I didn’t give it much thought. And then another friend posted a link on Facebook to Aura Blogando’s “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy,” and everything changed. 

If you are at all interested in SlutWalk, or feminism, or racial issues, or social justice, please read the blog post. In the author’s own words, “SlutWalk completely ignores the way institutional violence is leveled against women of color.” While I think that the creators of SlutWalk were well-intentioned, and I obviously agree that people shouldn’t be blamed for having been sexually assaulted, after having read “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy,” I find SlutWalk highly problematic.

The author highlights ways in which SlutWalk was essentially created by, and for, relatively privileged white women. Although I have included a few quotes below, I urge you to read the full, actual post.

. . . . SlutWalk was conceived after a cop reportedly told a group of Toronto students that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” during a campus event to address sexual assault, which he was invited to. I understand the need to denounce this type of speech, particularly when uttered by a law enforcement officer. But what struck me was the fact that a group of students gathered with law enforcement to begin with. As people of color, our communities are plagued with police brutality, and inviting them into our spaces in order to somehow feel safer rarely crosses our minds. . . .

. . . . If SlutWalk truly wanted to bring attention to the systematic ways in which women are harmed by regressive and misogynistic thinking, they could have done the heavy lifting of reaching out and supporting black, poor and transgender women in New Orleans, for whom the word “slut” carries a criminal sex offender record. . . . [“As Trymaine Lee has reported, black, poor and transgender women are being disproportionately and systematically branded as criminal “sex offenders” on an online database for engaging in “survival sex” in New Orleans.”]

. . . . According to SlutWalk’s website, the event is slated to be reproduced in Argentina sometime this year. . . . I do not want white English-speaking Global North women telling Spanish-speaking Global South women to “reclaim” a word that is foreign to our own vocabulary. To do so would be hegemonic, and would illustrate the ways in which Global North “feminists” have become a tool of cultural imperialism. . . .

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10 responses to “The Ugly Side of SlutWalk

  1. Then please provide a solution to this. Are white women who get raped less significant than black women? Do white women need to just shut up and deal with it? How about all white people give up, don’t participate, and just let people of color talk about the issue. Maybe this will please you? I guess then white people don’t deserve to speak? What are you truly trying to say and what do you suggest realistically should happen? Perhaps white people, in general should step down from all forms of activism and social justice, and then just let people of color do everything? Ok, then I guess then they can give up, then. And throw in the towel. Right? Because look at all the abuse they are getting for caring about something?
    Ok, well, then I hope you and all the other people who hate the white women who are part of these walks can band together, and take it over. How about that; will this please you? How about if all white people jump off a cliff and die? Really – please say what you want to happen. I hear many complaints and criticism, but am waiting for a real plan of action about how to operate after this desire for coup d’etat on a bunch of young white college girls who thought they were doing the responsible thing by speaking out about rape issues. State a plan for how you are going to change the anti-rape movement for the better for people of color, because “f” “whitey”, right? They are all privileged people from the underworld. Go ahead, we are all listening.

  2. I agree with the author of the slutwalk post that this movement/event does not appear to do the “heavy lifting” that needs to be done: the focus is on a surface issue. It seems from the little I actually learned about slutwalk from their post (it didnt cover very much about what people who are participating are actually saying about underlying issues like sex crime law, etc) that the focus is more on a campy kind of in your face celebration of sex positiveness that reminds me in some ways of the original purpose of pride parades. I do not know from either their post nor yours what exactly people say or chant or demand when participating in this event, so I cant tell if they do engage with these broader issues or not, but certainly it is always problematic when an issue (sexual violence/targeting) that disporportionally affects certain groups is underrepresented by said groups. I gather that not only ethnicity but also economic class may be a divider here. This has been common in political and social movements in the USA since the USA was formed and is an unfortunate side effect of the economic and ethnic segregation in this country. The women who started this event were priviliged economically and were also white. Given our countries segregation both classwise and ethnically, it is no surprise that the movement has therefore continued to be white and middle/middle upper class. Lets not forget class here, this is a very important point as well. Class interacts with ethnic divisions, and subdivides self identified ethnic groups. Many upper class people disavow their connection to lower class people of the same “ethnicity” (hence the invention of terms such as trailer trash). So ethnicity is probably not the only issue here.

    I think it is interesting that the author of the post you referenced identifies as non-white and is from Argentina. Argentina is one of the whitest places I have ever lived and racialized comments are very common. I can imagine it wasnt easy growing up there for her. She (was it she?) is totally right about slut not being a word used in Spanish. In Argentina, they say puta. Means pretty much the same thing. I also agree that you can’t reclaim a word that was never yours. I think slut, like the n-word, is not going to ever be fully “reclaimed” in this society. However, I think that perhaps Slutwalk could be used for good if participation demographics changed and the issues that they presented under the rubric of “reclaiming the word” included those urgent and serious ones brought up by the author. The truth is, rich media savvy white people can get the kind of attention that may be necessary to make these changes happen. So from a politically active position, while it may be a flawed program, perhaps trying to reform Slutwalk or expand/deepen its meaning and reach may be better than trying to get rid of or ignore it. (After all, its kind of too late for that, judging from the media attention it has gotten). One way to look at this unfortunate situation is as an opportunity to bring this other related and more serious issues to the table.

  3. Also, Ryan, I would have liked to have heard more of your personal discussion and analysis of this event. And more about exactly how it is carried out as an event. You are letting the other author speak for you here, and I can’t tell if you agree word for word with everything they say or if you have things to change or add to their argument. Maybe a followup post with more info?

    • I think I’m going to try to have a followup/response type post today. Last night, I just wanted to post something (and my “bedtime” is drastically earlier than it used to be this week, so I basically just ran out of time). I actually wanted it to function sort of like posting a link on Facebook, only it doesn’t quite work like that, and it seemed weird to just have a link be a post, so I added the rest.

      Hopefully, today, I’ll work on my thoughts about the post and SlutWalk.

  4. “Then please provide a solution to this. Are white women who get raped less significant than black women? Do white women need to just shut up and deal with it?”

    But what has being raped to do with walking around in one’s underwear or bustiers or Versace knock offs or whatever? The organisers say they don’t want to feel less safe because of the way they dress. Well, they’re NOT less safe because of the way they dress. Dressing “provocatively” does NOT increase a woman’s risk of rape.

  5. I’m sorry, Ryan, but I’m not convinced. I’ve never understood why these two aspects of the feminist movement spend so much time fighting one another that could be spent on something useful. There’s nothing wrong with the ‘heavy’ goals you mention here, but it’s okay for people to have ‘lighter’ goals as well. There are multiple issues related to mysogyny that need to be tackled here, and I don’t think singling out some of them as invalid, or only working on the hardest ones first and ignoring the real suffering that comes from lesser evils, is necessary or helpful. The girls here may never have gotten involved with the sort of work you mention, but they’re probably a bit more open to it after this event, and that’s to the good as well.

    Also, reclaiming ‘slut’ in the above manner doesn’t strike me as all that different from reclaiming ‘queer’ in that way that it is done on many similar campuses, etc., despite the fact that there are certainly still places where ‘queer’ is still used in dangerous and offensive fashion.

    And by the way, did anyone actually check that the event in Argentina wasn’t going to in fact be in Spanish? Because, as Lyra mentioned, there’s an easy translation, and it’s certainly an issue there.

    • Right, so, “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”? Not my post. Let’s just get that out of the way, if I haven’t been clear enough.

      Okay, clearly this was a crap post, and I would’ve been better off just posting a link and being like, “Oh, hey, this is interesting reading.” But that just looked ridiculous. If I weren’t doing this PostADay thing, if I weren’t getting up at 6 to drive my cousins to school, I would’ve spent more time on the post before actually letting anyone see it. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

      I linked to Aura Blogando’s post because I thought it was interesting and relevant and a take on SlutWalk I haven’t seen before. I think it’s important to hear the voices of people who have been marginalized because their voices are so often silenced. I think it’s important to show, if you will, the other sides of the story. It’s easy to get caught up in things and not think critically about them — I do it all the time, and it’s a bad habit.

      Re: your entire first paragraph, I don’t think that’s quite fair. The idea of two sides fighting each other when they could be doing something “useful”? It makes me think of second-wave feminism, a little (or perhaps the transition into third-wave?). Fighting may not be “useful,” but I think the discussion (and acknowledgement of race and class) is. And to dismiss what Blogando is saying as not being “useful” (and perhaps even being detrimental to feminism) just doesn’t sit right with me.

      Related to what you said about the multiple forms of misogyny, I’m not trying to ignore “the real suffering that comes from lesser evils.” The thing is, that suffering is being highlighted by SlutWalk. It’s there. I’m just saying, oh, hey, and notice some of the other stuff, too, because it’s not even being acknowledged.

      It’s a little like the gay marriage thing. The one author who came to my Gen/Sex class and said something about how gay marriage is the last big struggle for gay equality (to paraphrase roughly) and the whole idea that gay marriage is what gay/LGBT/queer rights organizations should be focused on. It’s not that I think “gay marriage” should be illegal; I just dislike how discussions of it, and support for it, often ignores other, very real, problems that queer/gay/LGBT/trans people face. And then it’s like it becomes this thing where if you want to support gay people, you have to be behind the HRC and fights for gay marriage — if you want to be a feminist (or against misogyny), you have to just unquestioningly support SlutWalk. You’re with us, or you’re against us. And I think that’s crap.

      It’s not that I think energy shouldn’t be spent on the “lighter” goals; it’s just that people should be aware of the “heavy” goals — and that blog post draws attention to them.

      You say, “The girls here may never have gotten involved with the sort of work you mention, but they’re probably a bit more open to it after this event.” I don’t know if that’s true. Things don’t always cross over like that, especially not if it isn’t brought up — reclaiming the word slut and the right to wear provocative clothing doesn’t necessarily lead to thinking, “Oh, hey, we totally should have solidarity with the black trans woman over there who’s going to be registered as a sex offender for engaging in survival sex work.” I’m not saying it can’t lead to it, just that it probably won’t by itself unless someone brings it to their attention.

      Reclaiming the word slut. Yeah, actually, I never said anything against that. And I think I’ve made it fairly clear that, while I totally claim the word/identity queer as my own, I’m not trying to do so for everyone, and I’m not trying to push it on anyone. And I recognize that it’s still used in a harmful and offensive fashion in some places/situations.

      And lastly, why don’t you go check out the comments I left on Facebook regarding the link to Blogando’s post? This is why I find it frustrating when people post on Facebook (although I appreciate that people are commenting) because then I need to repeat myself, and it’s emotionally exhausting. So I’m not going to do so right now.

  6. Pingback: I Just Can’t Do This Right Now | Beyond Bryn Mawr

  7. as a white woman, who does not identify as perfectl hetero I am appreciating that the discourse is addressing more and more vulnerable groups. It is necessary to address the founders about how the message they want to send does not translate well in certain communities, and they need to address urgently, and differently to open up a discourse.

    this is not directed at the founders but other supporters who are pushing the male on female violence equation while excluding, and railroading over other equally important discussions- like other gender equations.

    I do not mind that there is a discourse from MRA either. They are all equally important. I just get a sense that slutwalk supporters are viewing it as “derailing” and not pertinant.

  8. I think that, whatever shortcomings it may have, Slutwalk is relevant because it addresses the sexist bigotry aimed at women who are sexually assaulted. Below is a link to a petition that grew out of the energy of Slutwalk, though it was not produced by it’s founders. What do you think? The petition is aimed at the Canadian legal system, but could it be adapted for your needs?

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/end-systemic-shaming-of-rape-victims/

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