Monday, October 10, 2011
Listening is a good idea
I just read - somewhat behind the times - the most gracious, tactful and constructive objection to being marginalised I've ever seen.
To summarise: the 'Slutwalk', for those of you who aren't familiar with the phenomenon, is a series of rallies and protest marches that began earlier this year in response to a Toronto policemen stating that to avoid being raped, women should avoid 'dressing like sluts'. The founders decided to redeem the term, and women have been marching en masse, dressed 'sluttily', or dressed in the perfectly ordinary outfits they were wearing when someone raped them, asserting their right to be free from victim-blaming.
Great idea, no? It's been a big, successful publicity stunt that's raised awareness on an important issue.
... Except that the terms it uses have, it appears, been making many African American women feel uncomfortable about joining.
I can't put it better than the open letter does, so it really ought to be read. The crux of their discomfort seems to be the very reasonable assertion that, given how many negative stereotypes about sexuality black* women are particularly vulnerable to, they feel they can't publicly proclaim themselves 'sluts' without some serious negative consequences that don't threaten white women in the same way. It would seem that calling it 'Slutwalk' was, at least for the women who wrote and signed and endorsed the letter, not unlike a group of men organising a shirtless parade to support Peron's descamisados without realising that women might not feel quite as free to walk down the street bare-chested as they did.
I haven't participated in Slutwalk; at the time it kicked off, I was just struggling out of the haze of postnatal depression and not following the news; the first time I became aware of it was when I passed a group of (white, young) women dressed a la burlesque heading for the march. Consequently, I have pretty much no influence.
However, if anyone reading this is a participant and hasn't seen the letter, I'd like to call it to your attention. And also to ask that we please don't respond by getting all huffy the way an Internet White Guy does whenever a woman tells him he's mansplaining. The basic principles seem to be this:
- Slutwalk is opposed to rape and victim-blaming.
- Rape and victim-blaming happen to women of all races.
- With no racist intentions, the founders created a brand that felt uncomfortable to many women of colour, hence accidentally excluding some of the people it campaigns for.
- Some people of colour stepped up as spokesmen and wrote an extremely civil and useful letter giving good advice on how to make the movement more effective at enacting its ideals.
Consequently, the writers of the letter were doing Slutwalk a big favour, and I hope its members will see this for the good deed it was. If people could use the big publicity of Slutwalk and take the opportunity to create a proper, egalitarian alliance between women of different races to oppose rape ...
Well, wouldn't that be truly something?
*I'm aware that in America, many people prefer the term 'African American'. However, I'm using the term 'black' because Slutwalk is an international movement, so is racism, and hence more countries than America are involved. If this bothers anyone, let me know and I'll try to improve my understanding.
Great post Kit.Post a Comment
The issues of white (and economic) privilege within the feminist movement need to be addressed.
As for "African American" I had a dreadful time with that when I was teaching in the US -- since I found most of my students used that term for Canadians who happened to be black and people from Britain who happened to be black and Jamaicans who happened to be black and even in one memorable instance someone from Niger who happened to be black.
One does sometimes see the phrase African-Canadian but the phrase most often used in the groups I moved among was a Canadian of colour.
I think the "right" term varies from one linguistic/cultural community to another.
July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 December 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 March 2014