I think about being a woman all the time. I think about it when I interview for a job or open a bank account, during sex, in the shower, in my relationship with a man, and in a non-gender-fixed way. As part of the “invisible knapsack of male privilege,” it seems that most (underline most, not all) men do not think about their sex in these situations.
(Originally posted here.)
Humor provides us with the opportunity to make social commentary, to connect with others, and to laugh when life sometimes feels too damn serious. But when does humor cross the line from breaking boundaries to reinforcing oppressive ideology? Is the in-group “allowed” to make offensive jokes? Why do and should we accept these jokes at all?
SlutWalk: NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent. SlutWalk NYC is part of a worldwide grassroots movement challenging rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and working to end sexual and domestic violence.
When I learned of this international movement, I immediately liked how it sounded. Let’s chant, shout, march, rally about our right to BE. To be where we want, with whom we want, dressed how we want, and even drinking if we want. Let’s shift the blame where it belongs: to the perpetrator, not where it usually lingers, with the survivor. Let’s acknowledge that sexual violence exists everywhere.
As a young, queer white womanist, I quickly embraced the goals of SlutWalk. I have a right to my sexuality, and I am exhausted from trying dispel myths that women in touch with their sexuality deserve violence. In the last month, however, I feel like SlutWalk and I require a “break.” I need some space away from her to decide if this is really going to work out. In October, several white women at SlutWalk NYC displayed a sign, proclaiming “Woman Is the Nigger of the World.” None of the other protestors intervened, and quite some time passed before someone asked the organizer of the event to have the sign removed. Why did no one find this problematic? Why have women of color been the primary voices responding, facing accusations of hypersensitivity and divisiveness?
As the author of “I Saw the Sign but Did We Really Need a Sign?: Slutwalk and Racism” suggests in her post, this poster shocked many members and supporters of Slutwalk, but more importantly, it serves as a symbol of the deeper inequalities and exclusion that exist within mainstream feminism. All women are NOT the same, and to link a racial term with all women negates individuals’ distinct lives. While a reclaiming of the term “slut” speaks to many women’s experience, women of color have dual identities (if not more), balancing sexism and racism. They have traditionally been oversexualized, do not necessarily identify with the term “slut,” and may not wish to embrace this painful stigma. The mere fact that SlutWalk centers around a term that theoretically applies to everyone indicates the lack of diverse voices in the creation of this march. Have women of color been genuinely included in SlutWalk? Do women of color feel safe at SlutWalk? While I cannot cover all intersections of identity in this blog post, I also must ask about disabled women, who are often considered asexual and undesirable, which isolates them from this approach to sexual violence, despite their disproportionately high rates of victimhood.
While I am not raising points that other authors have not addressed, I believe it is essential for supporters of Slutwalk to acknowledge and to consider the intersectional impact of this movement. How does it (or do we) continue the legacy of wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied white feminism as the feminism? How have the organizers of various Slutwalks marginalized or prioritized the perspective and needs of women of color? Is there any way to reorganize the march to create an empowering event for all survivors?
It is tempting to wonder if SlutWalk could simply be renamed. If it were “HoWalk” or “JezebelWalk” would it be more inclusive? The problem extends beyond terminology to structural inequalities, and our belief that all victims or potential victims could rally around one term reaffirms these disparities. Some ask if the entire concept is too tainted at this point to reconstruct. Still, Slutwalk has become a powerful movement, one that has gained momentum across national borders, religion, race, sexual orientation, age and ability. It offers the potential to break deeply embedded myths about who makes “the perfect victim,” who actually deserves the blame, and to establish the reality of abuse in our society. Furthermore, if feminists, black feminists, womanists and everyone in between pause for a moment—pause to assess how we can truly collaborate, represent, include, and act—perhaps the revamped (insert name here)Walk truly could be a uniting force for changing rape culture.
Last Spring, I dated an emotionally and sexually abusive sociopath, which I always say just that straightforwardly. He assaulted me repeatedly, which I didn’t grasp until three weeks after we broke up, when I saw “The Line,” and the story felt all too familiar. I reported him and engaged in a mediation with him, where I told him exactly what he had done. After the worst semester of my life, I left feeling empowered, strong, and positive. I had also snagged my university’s job as the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Intern, quickly turning my hardship into activism and service.
I’m back at my university for my senior year, and my job consumes 15-20 hours of my week, my social life, my dreams, and my energy. During SART training, a state expert on sexual assault discussed the effect of sexual assault trauma on the brain. Everything she listed I have experienced at some point: fear, anxiety, insomnia, inability to work, reluctance to trust others… She emphasized that someone who has experienced such a trauma is always healing and may be triggered at any moment, maybe even by something that no one else finds disturbing. Ironically, hearing her bluntly describe a survivor’s behavior immediately threw me into such an anxiety attack, which no one else seemed to find upsetting. I couldn’t breathe, my hands were sweating, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, and I felt entirely unsafe. But because I was there for my job, which forces me to address sexual assault daily, I stayed.
I have been asking myself why this particular part of training struck me so deeply. Now, I understand that what upset me was not the discussion of sexual violence, but the analysis of the pattern of survivors, which matched my own experience. Although I have willingly assumed the label of “survivor” from the beginning, I must admit that I have (very) secretly thought of myself as survived—Done. Healed. Trauma Over. As somehow different from everyone else because I consciously acted, confronted and have already begun to heal my wounds. Realizing that I am not fully in control of my memories and my emotions makes me feel vulnerable and afraid.
But I choose to change the way I self-identify. I am a survivor, which does not mean I am weak, out of control, permanently traumatized, or unable to perform my very challenging job. Instead, I acknowledge that these experiences are a part of me, and I am constantly reflecting, healing and progressing. I choose to serve myself by recognizing what triggers me, and to tread as safely as possible as I move forward. Ultimately, I am learning that as a self-labeled survivor, I am not only surviving, present-tense, but I am also capable of thriving.