SlutWalks began after a Toronto police official speaking to a group of women gave them some advice on how to avoid being raped. Michael Sanguinetti told the group: “I’m not supposed to say this, avoid dressing like sluts.”
Rightfully, many women were outraged by his comment that basically told women who dressed “provocatively” that they were asking to be raped. In protest to his misguided comments, some women began having “SlutWalks.” During these “SlutWalks” women take to the streets dressed provocatively to protest the assumption that the way women are dressed is an invitation for rape.
SlutWalks have been gaining steam throughout the world., but recently, a group of Black feminists led by the sisters over at Black Women’s Blueprint questioned whether Black women should be involved with SlutWalks. Although they appreciate the grassroots movement for inspiring debate and protests about rape, they are uneasy about the usage of the word “Slut” and argues it shuts out many Black women who work diligently to eradicate the use of such words.
The letter states:
We are deeply concerned. 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.
Because, as the letter asserts, Black women can’t afford to be called “sluts” because our sexuality is always viewed critically and suspiciously, the authors of the letter want the organizers of SlutWalk to be more inclusive of Black women by changing the name of the movement.
In that spirit, and because there is so much work to be done and great potential to do it together, we ask that the SlutWalk be even more radical and break from what has historically been the erasure of Black women and their particular needs, their struggles as well as their potential and contributions to feminist movements and all other movements.
Women in the United States are racially and ethnically diverse. Every tactic to gain civil and human rights must not only consult and consider women of color, but it must equally center all our experiences and our communities in the construction, launching, delivery and sustainment of that movement.
We ask that SlutWalk consider engaging in a re-branding and re-labeling process and believe that given the current popularity of the Walk, its thousands of followers will not abandon the movement simply because it has changed its label.
While I appreciate the writers of the open letter adding some much-needed historical context to the protest movement to end sexual violence (and reminding mainstream movements to be more inclusive of Black women), I’m not sure SlutWalks, by virtue of the name, excludes Black women. Many Black, Latina, Asian, and White women have participated in the walks and Alice Walker, prominent feminist foremother said she “always understood the word ‘slut’ to mean a woman who freely enjoys her own sexuality,” and that SlutWalks were “the spontaneous movement that has grown around reclaiming this word speaks to women’s resistance of having names turned into weapons against them.”
There has been a long-held belief in the Black community that we have to look respectable to be taken seriously (by White folks). Because of this, Salamishah Tillet of The Nation and Robin Givhan wonders if the opposite–to confront those stereotypes head on–is also possible?
Whether you agree with the name or not, one thing is clear: The more people working to end sexual harassment and violence, the better.
What do you think, Clutchettes? Have you participated in a SlutWalk? Do SlutWalks exclude black women because of the word ‘slut”? Is a name change in order?
Talk to me!