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SlutWalk Nashville – Considerations and Photos

October 7, 2011

SlutWalks are marches protesting the blaming of victims of sexual assault, often with tired refrains about whether women were “asking for it,” such as by what they wore or looking like a “slut.”

While the anti-victim-blaming message is a good one, the walks not uncontroversial or unproblematic – I found this Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk particularly compelling. In it, anti-violence advocates make clear that naming oneself “slut” is an action of privilege, one that is not safe for many or most women of color and which flies in the face of a long legacy of work against attitudes, languages and actions that sexually objective and violate women of color.

From the letter:

As Black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, “slut” has different associations for Black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.

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.

I would encourage you to read and think about the entire letter.

A Nashville, TN SlutWalk happened last weekend. I didn’t attend, and didn’t have to make a decision about whether to attend, by way of being out of town for the Our Bodies Ourselves 40th anniversary symposium. One website has some compelling photos from the event. In checking out the photos post-event, I was particularly taken by an image of a walker with a sign reading, “I was 4 years old and wearing overalls and tennis shoes. Clothes are irrelevant. Rapists cause rape.” Another woman held a sign reading, “This is what I was wearing when I was assaulted. Was I asking for “it” too?” Yes, there are a lot of apparently white women in full set of photos. The problematic aspects aren’t erased, but I wanted to point to a couple of images I found powerful from the event. Imagine how much more powerful they could be if all women felt included in visible actions against sexual assault.

Also in Nashville, there is coverage at the local alt weekly’s blog of some of the vile comments left on stories about the event. Comments that blame victims for “tempting” violence, that encourage women to change their dress so “he might choose a different target.” Ugh. As a reminder, let me point everyone to these excellent tips on how to prevent rape and sexual assault (origin unknown to me). For example:

If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
If a women is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.

The usual tips to dress a certain way, be in certain places, etc. aren’t intended to stop rape – they’re intended to make women feel that there is something they can do to encourage rapists to pick a different victim, and that they’ve done something wrong if a rapist picks them.

Please be aware that comments here are moderated and anyone suggesting that women “ask for it” or that anyone except rapists is responsible for rape will be deleted/unpublished.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2011 7:29 pm

    I’ve never heard of that word, “slutwalk”. I think people might get the wrong impression if they don’t read into the description/cause a little more.

    • Attendee of the 2011 Slutwalk permalink
      October 28, 2011 10:47 pm

      The point of it being called “SlutWalk” is because a woman in Toronto was raped and an official told her “Maybe if you didn’t dress like a slut, it wouldn’t have happened.”

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