"I thought to myself, after hearing of SlutWalk, about how much language and empowerment is racialized. How would the Mexican-American mothers I know feel about their daughters calling themselves whores? Or the Black mothers of friends react to their daughters calling themselves sluts? Probably not well. Many communities of color have had growing movements against anti-woman language for good reason. For communities of color, even those who aren’t expressly political, there’s a visceral reaction to name-calling aimed at women of color, who are seemingly always the targets of names whose historical, cultural, social and political edge white women will never confront. From ‘welfare queens‘ to ‘unwed mothers,’ images are almost always racial. As a Latino male, people who look like me (and Black men as well) are often the ones visualized when people think gender oppression. But white supremacy means Caucasians do not, for the most part, need to think about messaging regarding normalcy and deviance, or that people of color, especially women of color, have been subject to these issues all our lives. Historically, the masses of white women have not fought with women of color, but instead sided with white men in exchange for their own freedoms. In addition, there’s a painful history in which Black women were the sexual property of white men as legacies of slavery, which white women don’t have as part of their collective memory."
I really appreciate the amount of critique that has been generated around Slutwalk. I am glad that these issues are being discussed fully by all who are affected by sexual oppression, and that the critiques presented prepare participants to be more careful, more inclusive, and more self-reflexive the next time they organize and participate in such an event.
There is, however, one aspect of these critiques that I’d like to comment on as being a multi-racial, queer woman. Many critiques I’ve read reach a consensus that the word “slut” is not something that affects all women equally, and I agree with all these critiques. I do not, however, agree that Slutwalk is necessary a movement for white women or the product of an endemic in white communities. I do not think that marches and events should be segregated, or that Slutwalk should be prefaced with a disclaimer that these are “white women’s problems” and that Slutwalk is of no use to women of colour and indigenous women. I think the critiques I’ve read that ask for such are misguided in what will best bring together women and make all communities feel safe and represented.
Intersections of gender, race, class and sexual orientation cannot be ignored when trying to overthrow sexual oppression and stop violence against women. I think Vancouver Slutwalk addressed these issues (although the education could have been more thorough) by having a number of speakers talk about what Slutwalk and similar movements mean to them and their communities. Nearly every speaker recognized that Vancouver is located on unceded Coast Salish territory. Nearly every speaker addressed how sexual violence is not equal between all women and women can be further oppressed for their races, professions, sexual orientations, their status in Canada, their many varied socio-political disadvantages. There were speakers of all ages, and several women of colour in order to try to educate the crowd gathered about the disparities between communities involved in this movement. The speakers also spoke at length about the word “slut” and what it can mean for different people. Some participants chose not to include the word on their signage and instead wrote messages that reflected their personal struggles and experiences of sexual oppression. One speaker in particular spoke extensively about why she felt the word “slut” was necessary — as a sex worker herself, she claimed that any patriarchical society has an inherent fear of women, and fear of sexuality. Together, she said, these phobias also make up a third phobia - whorephobia, wherein any expression of positive female sexuality is feared and punished. She said it is for that reason especially that words like “slut” and “whore” be re-appropriated, in order to shift society’s perspective of female sexuality — so that people understand that sex is nothing to fear, and that women’s sexualities belong to them and no one else: “Unless the sluts and whores are safe, no woman is safe”.
I do, however, understand that re-appropriation is not an option for everyone. For example, as an indigenous woman, I don’t think I would ever be able to walk in a SqawWalk. I think there is nothing to gain from that term, and that it is only ever used to oppress indigenous women and cannot and should not be reclaimed. I understand that a lot of people feel similarly about the word “slut”, often for cultural reasons, and very frequently for personal reasons. I do think that these events should acknowledge those differences, but still try to make the event as inclusive as possible. Because really, while the term “slut” can be every divisive and most certainly cannot be reclaimed by all women, I think the reason for Slutwalk is, for lack of a better word, universal — Women should not be ashamed of their sexualities. The society in which we live currently attempts to shame and blame women for sexual oppresion and violence and that is unacceptable. Women should have the freedom to express their sexualities without fear of violence, and NO MEANS NO regardless of what someone is wearing.
I feel like these are messages that nearly every woman can be on board with, and I think that solidarity makes events like this so much stronger. If the name of the event should be changed in order to make the event safer and more inclusive, than we should do it. All participants and speakers should be given the opportunity to discuss sexual violence and oppression and the ways in which it affects them in their communities. If that means some women use “slut” and others don’t, that is perfectly fine. After all, it is some women’s preferences to reclaim the term, and why should we be policing that action?
I am multi-racial. I am Indigenous, I am white, I am Latina. I am queer. I have been called a slut before and every time it was used, it had a different meaning. Sometimes the insult has been motivated by my race, my culture, and my sexuality. A few times, it was motivated by my hobbies and the way that I dance. Once it was because of my religion. My mother is from Brazil, and when she first moved to the small northern BC town in which we live, she was called “slut” many times — usually for her race, sometimes for her religion, many times for her accent, and like me, a few times for the way she dances. I feel comfortable re-appropriating “slut”. Those insults cannot hurt me the way they used to now that I am no longer ashamed and scared of my sexuality. That may not be the case for my mother, but I know she too is no longer ashamed of her sexuality. I would love for us to be able to march together, in solidarity, at the same event supporting women’s rights…especially if we both carried with us unique and differing stories and experiences of how we are affected by the word “slut”.
I think there can be a space for that kind of solidarity, and I hope we continue being self-reflexive so we can find it.