Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let's Talk About SlutWalk


The SlutWalk march in Seattle is in a week and a half and happens to fall on my birthday this year. I've never been to one, mainly because of anxiety issues involving crowds of people or just somehow missing it. I really want to go this year and even invite friends to come as a birthday celebration, but first it's important that I acknowledge the problematic nature of SlutWalk.

If you didn't already know, SlutWalk began as a protest in Toronto after a police officer told women that they should "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Women marched, many in revealing outfits, to proclaim that no one deserves to be raped and no one should ever be blamed for it, regardless of their clothing or anything else.

This is all fantastic. But there are problems.

Many feminists object to the name of the annual march as well as to the term "slut shaming" (which is why I use "sex shaming") due to the fact that the use of the word "slut" has different effects on a woman depending on her race, class, and other factors - being able to call oneself a slut is a function of white privilege. Black women in particular feel unable to "reclaim" the word due to the fact that they're hypersexualized in our society to the point of being considered "unrapeable," because they always want it. There's also a lot of history specific to the US that makes this an issue for black women. SlutWalk has also been criticized for failing to give space to women of color.

Feminist Frequency has a nice roundup of the critiques of SlutWalk. A few of my favorites:

Here is an open letter posted on Facebook from black women that explains this better than I ever could.

Here is a post by a South Asian woman who struggles with the decision of whether or not to be a part of SlutWalk and ultimately decides to walk despite the white privilege issues.

Here is a really hard hitting and unapologetic (therefore highly recommended) piece that also talks about how SlutWalk fails trans women, undocumented women, and sex workers.

It's clear that SlutWalk has a white privilege problem, and I don't think much has changed since it began, except that it's become a global movement. The Seattle SlutWalk FAQ does address kyriarchy and some of the unique issues that people of color face in different cultures, but it's not enough. They also unfortunately link to a piece that's basically a white feminist saying "stop talking about race and being mean to white women." It is however encouraging that the Director of SlutWalk Seattle is a black woman.

I think that SlutWalk should change its name, at least in the US. I think leadership in all chapters of SlutWalk should be examined. I think we need to devote time each year to talk about race issues, as well as those faced by trans women, poor women and sex workers. White, cis, middle class feminists like myself need to be working to address these issues all the time, particularly by making sure we give plenty of space to these women within the movement. Then listen.

I still want to go to SlutWalk and see what it's like, but I won't be giving them money or any other support unless I am convinced that they're addressing these issues. I'll blog about my experience here, and hopefully there will be good news.

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