Who Are You Calling A Slut?!: Speaking At Slutwalk 2012

In my decision to spell womyn with a y, I do so deliberately inclusively to all womyn-identified folks. If you identify as a womyn, you are a womyn and this is the only ‘requirement’.

 

TW* for descriptions of sexual violence.

 

I am so grateful for the wisdom and the critique in the Open Letter from Black Women to SlutWalk Organizers

 

I urge everyone to read the letter in its entirety, and I will also include excerpts to situate this piece in its proper context.

 

While they commended the mobilization of SlutWalk in response to the comments of the Toronto police officer at York University, they also drop some serious knowledge bombs:

 

“As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves "slut" without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don't have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations. Although we understand the valid impetus behind the use of the word "slut" as language to frame and brand an anti-rape movement, we are gravely concerned. For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens. The perception and wholesale acceptance of speculations about what the Black woman wants, what she needs and what she deserves has truly, long crossed the boundaries of her mode of dress.”

 

 

Instead of justifying violence against young womyn for what they are wearing, we should collectively be raging against anyone who thinks clothing of any kind, occupation (including but not limited to sex workers, video girls, dancers etc.) time of day are reasons for sexual violence.

 

 

As womyn of colour, racialized and First Nations womyn (and folks) – what we wear, the context that we are in has so little to do with our experience of safety in the world. Similar parallels around race can be drawn to the cases of Trayvon Martin and Henry Louis Gates.

 

For young Black men, whether in a suit or a hoodie, in your neighbourhood, at your front door – the markers of place and dress that can and do have profound impacts on white bodies defined as neutral – don’t hold the same weight on racialized bodies.

 

What is distinct is that we as womyn of colour and First Nations Womyn face the experience of having a negative meaning assigned to being female and to being of colour or of being First Nations (which is different because this is also profoundly related to land).


These experiences are further complicated by ability, class, status (as well as other social locations). Differently abled womyn have an additional layer of dehumanization, which often cloaks their experience of sexual violence at the hands of caregivers and the medical industrial complex. As well ideas like ‘freedom and self-determination’ too are privileges when you are not able to even dress yourself and subject to the decisions of others, as is the experience of some differently abled womyn. Non-status womyn and incarcerated womyn are provided no recourse in cases of violence and are faced with threat of deportation and/or continued violence. And cash poor womyn and girls voices are consistently devalued and silenced and cannot afford the ‘luxury’ of time to heal so are often forced to continue their labour post, as well as during sexual violence and harassment.

 

We must continually recognize that there is privilege and complexity that comes from claiming the word ‘slut’, ‘dressing like a slut’, knowing that for the vast majority of those womyn who are victimized through rape, sexual harassment, sexual violence and state sanctioned violence that this is impossible.

 

And as a cis womyn, with Canadian citizenship, English speaking whose femme ness is expressed in short skirts, tight dresses, glitter and push up bras; and can afford to do so due to relatively stable self- employment and a community of support, I too must recognize my privilege.

 

And we also must be duly careful not to conflate the idea that the only way to liberation is to be found in baring ones body. Womyn need to be just as free to cover their bodies, to wear the hijab without the white euro-western saviour rhetoric about ‘oppressedbrowngirls’.

 

Put plainly, whether in a suit, a dress, in a hijab, in our homes – it is our race, gender, ability – our social locations and identifiers that ‘dehumanize’ us and justify violence. There is an enormous privilege that comes from the ability to change what you’re wearing or where you are walking and be able to find safety. The normalization of the disappearance, rape, torture and murder of Black Womyn, Womyn Of Colour & First Nations Womyn (who may and may not be cash poor, differently abled, possessing status etc.) is a part of the foundation of ‘modern’ Western-Euro science, in-justice, and government. 

 

Dr. J. Marion Sims, the ‘father of modern gynecology’, subjected three African-American women in Alabama to 30 operations without anesthesia to perfect a surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistulas and his ‘work’ and ‘contributions’ continue to be heralded.

 

The theft of land and resources by the British colonialists of the Hijra in India and the violent stigmatization that continues today is yet another example.

 

The Canadian government ‘consultations’ with the South African government wherein they shared their ‘experiment’ of residential schooling, where First Nations people were raped and tortured in order to inform the architects of Apartheid.

 

The examples are multiple, horrific and deliberately kept out of our schools and media.

 

As Toni Morrison so aptly expresses in her recent feature in Interview:

 

“There are two things I want to know, and I may spend some time doing research. One is, has any white man in the history of the world ever been convicted of raping a black woman? Ever? I just want one. The other thing is, has any cop shot a white kid in the back? Ever? I don’t know of any. Those are two things I’m looking for. And then I will believe all this stuff. Once I find a cop who shoots a young white kid for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

 

In the virgin – whore dichotomy, as Womyn Of Colour and First Nations womyn, we will never achieve the ‘virgin’ status as it our race or indigineity that is criminalized.

 

Bell Hooks goes in,

 

“Part of the racialized sexism wants everyone to think that a 15-year old Mexican is not a girl, she’s a woman. We know she’s a girl. We can never emphasize this enough, because this is the fate of colored girls globally right now: the denial of their girlhood, the denial of their childhood, and the constant state of risk and danger they are living in.”

 

In March of 2011, an 11-year-old Latina girl was gang raped by 18 men and boys ages 14 to 27 in an abandoned trailer in Cleveland, Texas. And the responses from the community continually blamed this young survivor saying that she ‘looked older’ and ‘acted older’ and ‘bragged about drinking, and smoking and having sex’ as if those were ‘reasons’ for this assault. As I write this, I am fighting back tears and vomit. When this story broke, I prayed for this girl every day, lit candles for her and I remain furious at the violence of racialized sexism.

 

I would also draw attention to the case of the young Latino boy who was being sexually assaulted by his white female teacher. When the case went to court, the defense lawyer would argue that he was ‘macho’, a ‘Latin lothario’ who in fact seduced his teacher. It is the case as well for our young boys that they too are deprived of their boyhood.

 

As a young girl, I was ‘too sexy’, ‘too developed’ – constantly being compared to standards of white girlhood and never found to be deserving of that innocence. And as a survivor of rape, sexual assault in my home and outside of it; this isn’t social justice work; this is a matter of life and death.

 

Black Women’s Blueprint continues:

 

“Black women 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.”

 

They also have a list of concrete demands that everyone needs to read that should be necessarily a part of everything that we do that I implore you all to read it.

 

I want to be clear that it is in this spirit, in accountability and in solidarity to the work, the voices of the womyn who wrote and endorsed this letter that I have accepted the offer to speak at SlutWalk 2012. And these are the experiences I will be speaking to.

 

And the dialogue that I have been having with the organizers over email, in person and over Facebook has been one where we have shared stories, strategies and tactics. Their openness, their reflection, their own process of education as well as specific acts of solidarity when I was being attacked in racist and sexist ways on Facebook (because of the content of my posts) have led me to make this choice in addition to engaging in this platform to speak openly and urgently about these issues. I recognize that they are engaged in work, self-critique and actions to learn from the voices of Womyn Of Colour.

 

I work to be accountable and ask to be held accountable to the community that has raised me, kept me safe and I identify with. And I welcome any feedback, questions, concerns and comments that any of you have for me.  You are womyn whose words, visions and work have kept me warm, safe and inspired and I want to be clear that I want my actions and voice to contribute to our liberation and compliment the work that has happened and continues.

 

And it is the words and wisdom of Alexis Pauline Gumbs that I meditate on as I prepare to enter a space where I know that the understanding and the realities of our experiences as Womyn Of Colour and First Nations womyn are not uniformly reflected and this is something that continues to create unsafe communities for us.

 

"May we continue to disagree, may we continue to distinguish our movements by their bases of accountability, may we continue to give different accounts of how we got here and where we are, and may we collaborate but never compromise our visions of where we ought to be."

 

 

In Warmest Solidarity

Kim Katrin Crosby

Queer.Gifted.Black.