On Navel Gazing and the Incredibly Pointless “Backlash” to Slutwalk…

22 May

I didn’t want to have to write this today. Frankly I am busy with a lot of other things. But I have decided that being quiet is just leading to increased frustration on my part. So here goes…

To the young women across the world who are organizing various Slutwalks, you have my gratitude and my appreciation. I have been an organizer for over two decades now. It feels strange to write those words because I honestly don’t feel that old.

I am also a survivor of sexual violence so I am 100% in support of any direct action that focuses on resisting victim-blaming.

Thank you for daring to actually TAKE ACTION in this climate that either finds such things quaint at best and useless at worst. From experience, I know how difficult it is to organize ANYTHING. It is damn hard and lonely but so very important. By doing something public, you make yourselves vulnerable to criticisms from the right but also from the left.

I have read criticism from commentators who suggest that trying to redefine or reclaim the word “Slut” is a “waste of precious feminist resources.” Gail Dines writes in the Guardian:

“Advocates would be better off exposing the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women – sexually active or “chaste” alike. These myths facilitate sexual violence by undermining women’s credibility when they report sex crimes. Whether we blame victims by calling them “sluts” (who thus asked to be raped), or by calling them “frigid” (who thus secretly want to be overpowered), the problem is that we’re blaming them for their own victimisation no matter what they do. Encouraging women to be even more “sluttish” will not change this ugly reality.”

How incredibly sad that it has come to this: some in the feminist movement have bought into the scarcity model of thinking that suggests that we only have “limited” feminist resources. Why would this be the case? Could it be that the main problem is that so-called feminists have in the last 10 years mostly abdicated the very important work of base-building and ORGANIZING? Also, it is incredibly condescending to assume that feminist activists and organizers can’t organize a march and ALSO “expos[e] the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women.” Why assume that this is an either/or proposition rather than a both/and one?

I won’t respond to other media criticisms of Slutwalk because I am not all that invested in them and also a post titled “Why We Need Slutwalk” addresses itself better to this than I can.

Instead I want to focus on the question that has been raised about who has been or is being “left” out of Slutwalks. I don’t care if the only people who were involved in organizing Slutwalk were young, white, middle-class women. You know why? Because young, white, middle-class women get raped too! They have every right to organize marches or speak outs or whatever else they want. They should do so unapologetically. We are each entitled to save our own lives.

If you are an organizer, you have no doubt had the following experience. You are sitting in some meeting or other trying to organize something or other and someone (usually who is there for the first time) says: ‘We need to have more X involved in this meeting.” If you are an inexperienced organizer or riddled with self-doubt, you might respond with: ‘We’ve tried really hard to involve X in these meetings but we haven’t had any luck. We really want more X to participate. Blah, Blah, Blah.” Then, usually the meeting becomes super uncomfortable because everyone is secretly worried that they are now being perceived as an X-hater. Folks start tripping all over themselves to point out who else is not in the room. No solutions are ever offered for how to practically remedy this and the inexperienced organizer usually finds him or herself on the defensive desperately trying to get the meeting back on track; to no avail.

As a young black girl growing up in New York City, I was blessed to have some terrific older organizers as mentors. I learned many valuable lessons from them. The most important of these was to never feel as though I had the sole responsibility for outreach and recruitment. It is EVERYONE’s responsibility in a group to conduct outreach. As an organizer, I was responsible for casting a wide net in trying to recruit people to the table. I should do my best to be as “inclusive” as possible in my outreach and then whoever showed up is who I was responsible for working with. This was a liberating realization. From that moment on, whenever someone would say “we need to have more X involved in this meeting, event, or action,” my response was “You are so right. How are you planning to involve more X in this meeting, event, or action?” Even better is to ask: “What do you need for your recruitment of more X for this meeting, event, or action?”

Back to my point about it being just fine if Slutwalks were only organized by young white women and only attended by that same group… The truth is that these events have been organized by a multi-everything group of people and attended by a multi-everything group of people. I know for example that the organizers of Slutwalk Chicago have gone out of their way to reach out to many, many of us from different backgrounds and different political affiliations. For our own reasons, some of us have chosen to join the planning group, others have pledged to march, and others have chosen not to be involved. That’s all that we can ask for. On Feministing, Harsha Walia speaks to the diversity that she witnessed in the Vancouver march:

“By the time Slutwalk hit Vancouver on May 15, the debates had already been raging for weeks. I expected to see only a handful of women of colour, mothers and children, older women. I was surprised at the actual diversity on the streets, not captured by photographers seeking sensationalist images of bras and fish nets. There was no attempt to recruit everyone into one uniform vision of feminity, nor was there an overarching romanticization of ‘sluttiness’; sexual autonomy was being self-determined by each participant– as one placard read ‘Whether scantily dressed or fully dressed, clothing does not equal consent’. Most heartening was the significant number of teenagers, who are perhaps most pressured against affirming consent and are most impacted by self-shame and victim-blaming, and supporting their voices on the street was a critical gesture of solidarity.”

I am a black woman entering middle-age. I won’t be marching in the Chicago Slutwalk (for my own reasons) but I am really excited to know that it is taking place and I stand in solidarity with its organizers and its marchers. I hope that you welcome being the targets of drive-by pundits who couldn’t organize their way out of their own clothes closets. I hope that you know how important it is that you are staging PUBLIC actions to make your voices heard. I hope that you remain fearless and creative and with good humor in spite of the endless navel-gazing and supremely useless pontificating. It is that very navel-gazing and pontificating that has atrophied actual feminist ORGANIZING in the last decade. Finally, I hope that the people who are offering critiques (some very valid and many incredibly vapid) about Slutwalk will organize their OWN thing. As Michelangelo has said: “Critique by creating.” If you don’t like what Slutwalk is all about, make your own thing and do it now.

The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women.


Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Events, Organizing, Sexual assault, Slutwalk, Violence


2 responses to “On Navel Gazing and the Incredibly Pointless “Backlash” to Slutwalk…

  1. Stephanie Lane Sutton

    May 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Thank you 🙂


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