Slut Walk Controversy

Sup all?

I’ve been getting lots of email from folks asking for my take on the Slut Walks. I’m sure many of you have heard about these protests taking place all over the world this summer. If you haven’t, here’s the gist:

While giving a crime prevention forum a Toronto police officer proclaimed that, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. In short, his comment explicitly implied that women are responsible for being raped because of the way they dress. AKA: victim blaming. AKA: slut shaming.

Let’s be clear here: no sexual harassment or rape victim is EVER responsible for the crime committed against them. Ever. Absolutely no exceptions. The blame lies with the rapist and the rapist alone. This fact is what spawned the global protests coined “Slut Walks” in which women take to the streets in any clothing they so choose to wear in order to reclaim the term “slut”.

The objectives of the Slut Walk protests are (from SlutWalk Portland):
“It’s a frightening world when one of the biggest insults you can use against a woman is her sexual freedom. SlutWalk aims to change that, as sexual freedom is absolutely a positive thing and should be treated as such. Together we are standing up as Portlanders and saying we’ve had enough of the slut shaming, enough of the victim blaming, and enough with the violence: against women, against children, against men, against people of color, against members of the LGBTQ community.

SlutWalk is equally about changing attitude around rape as it is about reclaiming slut as a positive force and embracing expressing sexuality.

How often do we hear “She was practically asking to be raped” or “Well, she shouldn’t have been dressed like that”? We aim to abolish rape culture and rape-excusing. No one ever, ever asked to be raped or assaulted. No one is ever “asking for it”, or “had it coming”.

Rape cannot be stopped by carrying your keys between your fingers or “remaining vigilant at all times”. Rape cannot be stopped by considering sex sinful or bad.

Rape can only be stopped if rapists stop raping.

The Controversy
The Slut Walks have been a divisive event amongst gender equality activists. Some say the term “slut” is better left to die than reclaimed as an empowering term. I have also read criticisms that it is just an excuse for women to bear all in public and has little to contribute in terms of the abolition of slut shaming and victim blaming. Obviously, proponents think otherwise: they assert that the term can be reclaimed for sexual empowerment and the walks will help to raise awareness about the fear and violence that globally surrounds female sexuality.

My Take
I am a strong supporter of the objectives behind the Slut Walks (obviously). Sexual violence is so astoundingly prevalent that it hurts to even think about its magnitude and effects. Let it be known: there needs to be more awareness and there needs to be change.

But something in my gut has a volatile reaction to the term slut and I personally have no desire to “reclaim” it. To be clear, I am not the type to dismiss language’s ability to be reclaimed. I, and plenty of others, have already reclaimed the word “cunt”.

What’s the difference for me between reclaiming “cunt” and reclaiming “slut”? Well, cunt refers to a body part. It was not always a shameful word, it has just become that way over time. Slut, however, does not have empowering roots in the respect of the female body and it’s amazing capacities. It has roots in sexism and misogyny. It is a quantification of what is “too much” in terms of a woman’s sexuality. The term slut explicitly implies that there are special limits for women and that, when crossed, she deserves to be degraded and put back in her place.

I see nothing to reclaim about this word. Even in reclaiming it, it still brings stigma to female sexuality. I will not call myself a slut and I do not find it empowering.

I think that a better course of action would be to help people understand that the term slut, in and of itself, is an oppressive tool. In my opinion, it would be better to assert that:

-There is nothing wrong with having lots of sex.
-The term slut is sexist and oppressive. Calling a woman a slut is sexist and oppressive.
-Women are not sluts. Men are not sluts.
-There is no “should” when it comes to consensual sex.
-Cultural shaming should not be focused on the woman/”slut” — this is victim blaming. Instead, blame those who perpetuate violence. Blame rapists.
-Let’s abandon the term “slut” and push to adopt an enlightened view of sexuality where someone’s private life and personal decisions are not stigmatized either way.

To close, just because I disagree with reclaiming “slut”, that is not to say that I don’t think the Slut Walks are harmful or pointless. I support the protests on the whole because I still think they are a good way to raise awareness around these issues. I also think that the people who are pointing fingers calling this “an excuse to bear all” are part of the problem, not the solution. The whole point is that we shouldn’t need an excuse to dress however we want. Best of luck to all those who are participating. Let’s hope you can enlighten a few.

Sorry if that was rambly. My 2 cents. What’s yours?

Is this “Hate Speech”?

I’ve written on offensive speech before, but last weekend, one of my friends (who teaches sex education) gave me a classroom handout with this chart on it. The chart lists all the forms of hate speech for various targeted groups. I thought the chart was interesting.

FYI:

Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group based on race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, ideology, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, hair color, etc.), mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability.

VALUED GROUP DEVALUED GROUP HATE SPEECH
Men Women Bitch
Ho
Whore
Slut
Skank
Ripper
White People of Color Nigga/er
Beaner
Chink
Oreo
Towel-head
FOB
Wealthy Poor Ghetto
Redneck
Barrio
Trailer Trash
Bum
Straight Lesbian
Gay
Bisexual
Trans
Dyke
Faggot/Fag
Lesbo
Fairy
Carpetmuncher
Able-Bodied Disabled Cripple
Retarded
Lame
Crazy
Dumb
Stupid
“Adults” “Youth” Childish
Immature
Punk
Juvenile
Naive
Little
“Middle-Aged” “Youth/elders” Geriatric
Geezer
Baby
Kid
Child
“Average Size” Sizes above &
below average
Fat
Obese
Cow
Skinny
“Conventional looks” “Unconventional looks” Ugly
To’e-Up
Hurt
Dog
VALUED GROUP DEVALUED GROUP HATE SPEECH

While some of these definitely are hate speech, others have me scratching my head (for example, “immature”….lolwat?). As such, I’m left wondering: is there such a thing as being TOO politically correct? I think there might be, but at the same time, I worry that people who actually are racists/sexists/etc will pull something like, “Oh you’re being TOO politically correct, faggot isn’t hate speech.” When I think along those lines, maybe it’s justified to be a little extreme. How and where do we draw a line?

Do you think that these terms are all hate speech? Which ones are/are not? As always, I’m reading. :)

cunt, fag, nigger, etc.

Language is powerful. So powerful, that I’d be willing to guess that even the title of this post makes you feel *something*. Language has the ability not only to indicate basic ideas, but to also to convey our emotional response to ideas. Taken out of context, some words can mean entirely different things:


vs

Hmmm. Let’s talk about some words that seem to rely on context these days:


1. Cunt
2. Fag/Queer
3. Nigger

Funny that today’s attack words all pertain to women, gays, and black americans (minority groups…), but let’s not go there right now. What I’m wondering is: is it really possible to “reclaim” words? Or should we leave oppressive language behind and replace it with new language?

In Favor of Reclaiming Language

South Park made a statement about the fluidity of offensive language in the episode “The F Word” which commented on the new usage of “fag”. The female sexuality program I facilitate at the university has a reclamation of “cunt” and “queer” written right into the curriculum. And as for “nigger”, these days it’s hard to come across hip hop music that doesn’t spew the word vehemently. These movements suggest that it isn’t the history of the word that dictates the emotion behind it, but the emotion that we choose to invest; that reclaiming a word can rob it of its history. Reclaiming words can be empowering.



In Favor of Leaving Language Behind

Language can carry a lot of baggage. Let’s look at race here. To a new generation, using “nigger” may not have as much pain attached to it as a generation where the word was used to dehumanize them. In this context, words become a soul force that have the power to destroy, whether or not we like it. It’s basic conditioning.

This is why I myself do not use the words “nigger” or “fag”. In fact, just typing it brings me a little bit of discomfort. Going with the n-word example, I am white, and I don’t feel like “nigger” is mine to reclaim. However, I know people who reclaim words that have nothing to do with their identity (i.e. a white man who uses “nigger”). But what’s the difference between reclaiming the word and being a racist? An old partner of mine used the n-word and he argued that it depends on context. The problem is, when I visit websites like 4chan (warning: NSFW), I realize that “context” is what you make it, so things that are actually racist can still pose as being race neutral.

So, here are some thinking points: Can oppressive language be reclaimed? If so, who can reclaim it? Anyone, or only the person the word refers to (i.e. cunt can only be reclaimed by people with a vagina)? Or, conversely, should oppressive language be abandoned and left to rot from its painful roots?

Have a tit-ilating Tuesday ;D

The Virginity Ring

Today I managed to get myself out of the house to take care of some errands I had been meaning to do for weeks. Since mid-December, I’ve been visiting my parents, so I went toddling around the city where I grew up. Waiting in line at an obnoxious department store (the colors, the lights, and the noise, noise, NOISE!) I did a double take at the woman behind me; could that be Melissa*? Snotty Melissa who made fun of my shoes in 9th grade? The Melissa who callously gossiped and lied Monday-Saturday and then showed up to church with me Sunday to worship? Oh yes, it was her. Drat.

Secretly, I hoped I wouldn’t be recognized. Unfortunately, I was. “LACCIIIIII!!!! Oh my GOD I haven’t seen you in years! How are you?”

The conversation sucked, so I won’t go there, but she did remind me of something. In 9th grade, during class at church, Melissa had proudly shown off a large diamond ring she wore daily on her finger. “A virginity ring”, she said. Even at 14, I was rolling my eyes.

Virginity rings (aka purity ring), a symbol for abstinence, come endorsed by schools and churches across America. They are worn by teenagers, often after receiving them from authority figures (pastors, mom, dad, older bro or sis, prudent Sister Smith from church, etc). The ones that I have seen have been both beautiful and expensive. Should a teen choose to take it off after agreeing to wear it, many face harassment from various extremist figures in their life…or, y’know, the media. Poor Selena Gomez.

I personally have several problems with purity rings:

1. The implication of a “purity ring” is that to have sex, you are no longer “pure”. Sex is thus dirty, defiling, and wrong instead of natural, healthy, and an act to be approached in an informed fashion.
2. Taking off the ring when you first have sex symbolizes something being taken AWAY from you. Real empowering, right? In healthy cases, you are not LOSING your virginity, you’re GAINING access to a new part of yourself–you’re making your sexual debut!
3. They are not effective. Studies have repeatedly shown that purity pledgers engage in the same sex acts in the same numbers. The only difference? Purity pledgers are significantly less likely to protect themselves, so they end up pregnant or transmitting diseases instead. Great.
4. Purity rings are a tool to “keep up appearances” and perpetuate bad communication between kids and their parents. As the studies have indicated, pledgers STILL HAVE SEX. They just learn to get really good at lying about it. Or, for the quiet parents, if they can see the ring on, they never have to talk about sex. Phew–problem solved! (Not.)
5. In my own experience, purity rings carry a lot of baggage. My sister wore one all through high school and continuously reprimanded me for not wearing one. I distinctly remember sitting across from her at Fresh Choice 5 or so years ago; leaning over her soup, she aggressively whispered: “Obviously you’re having sex since you won’t wear one.” It gave her an opportunity to demean my choices every day, even though I wasn’t even sexually active at the time. Wearing the purity ring also made her feel 10X more guilty when she finally did have sex.

…And my sister definitely didn’t end up waiting until marriage. In fact, my sister has more sex than me. As for Melissa? Well, she’s not married either. She also has a daughter, with another one on the way.

Abstinence vows oft mean learning the hard way, if they learn at all. Guilt, harassment, unplanned pregnancies, and maybe even a few STD/STIs later, some learn to approach their sexuality more realistically.

I just hope her parents didn’t spend too much on that ring.

*Her name isn’t actually Melissa. Actually, it might be, I couldn’t remember her name.