My Written Statement at the Stop Slut Conference at the New School, 10/19/2013

Note: There may have been a bit of deviation from the text in my actual speech, but everything here was covered.

I confess: two years ago, I was an organizer of SlutWalk NYC.

I joined in because I was intrigued that feminists were finally coming together en masse to confront the police and justice system for their terrible track record in handling rape. But during the process of organizing SlutWalk, this position was lost among the photographs and reports of thousands of women out in their underwear, celebrating sex! Naturally, that’s the spin the media took, and that’s what brought the crowd to our march by the time it happened in New York.

I organized Take Back The Night during my four years at the New School, so I was familiar with anti-rape activism. While TBTN encouraged a space for survivor visibility, SlutWalk encouraged survivors to feel sexually empowered in SPITE of the violence we’ve faced. And today, I don’t think these movements are diametrically opposed to each other. In fact, one of the first Take Back The Nights took place in Italy, 1977, and it looked much more similar to SlutWalk than most Take Back The Nights do today. After Roman police shrugged off the gang rape of a local teenage girl, thousands of women gathered in the square and marched to the police stations dressed as witches and sex workers. They chanted, “No more mothers, wives and daughters; let’s destroy the families!”

Now, when I talk about sluts, I’m talking about women who exercise the liberty to be sexual. I firmly believe sexual agency is a human right, just as living a life free of rape is a human right. And I think proud sluts and survivors can be one and the same. What SlutWalk attempted to communicate was that being sexual, or even “slutty” if that’s your thing, does not warrant violence. It was a rallying cry for those of us who weren’t the perfect survivors. Survivors like me, who were told as children not to wear skirts around male relatives anymore. Survivors like me, who were told by authority figures that if we dared to have sex at all, we deserved whatever abuse inflicted upon us by anyone, even by those we trusted as partners.

Initially, it bothered me that SlutWalk’s focus on rape shifted to consensual sex. That rape was a springboard for a movement on the right to be sexy in public. I envied those who could brave a protest in their panties. What did it mean that so many of us were introduced to sexuality by violence and coercion? Could we ever develop or express our own sexualities without feeling guilty about it? Every day I struggle to answer that for myself.

But sexual violence and exploitation doesn’t happen because there are women who express their sexuality. Only misogynists would say sluts are responsible for their misogyny. I’d like to think feminists generally agree on this. And yet SlutWalk organizers got an icy reception from many feminists we approached for solidarity. In my experience, feminists are AWFUL at supporting sexually expressive women. They simply don’t trust them. I don’t have to look any further than the list of speakers today, where there is not a single sex worker or sex worker’s rights activist presenting–at a conference on slut-shaming! It’s not like teens don’t know what a sex worker is– I bet some of you in the audience even go to school with sex workers. Some of them were my friends in high school and college; strippers, dommes, kids who got business on MySpace or Craigslist. What they had in common was that they were queer, and/or poor. They exist, and their stories matter.

One of the biggest pitfalls of SlutWalk was the wishy washy nature with which most people, including attendees and organizers, approached sluthood to begin with. Some were there for feminist action, but wanted nothing to do with sluts. And many of the self-proclaimed sluts assumed that everyone was there to unleash their bold sexuality from the same repressed position. Yet Black Women’s Blueprint proved us otherwise in their critique, by pointing out the inherent immorality of black and brown bodies in our society, and their struggles to ever embody purity, much less practice sexual agency as freely as white women might. While some women wielded “proud slut” signs in rebellion against purity culture, some of us still carried too much shame about never fitting the mold of white American purity. Because of my own experience in being slut-shamed as a young Latina in the South, I did not feel confident in reclaiming the identity of “slut” in my speech that day. Instead, I proposed we abolish the word “slut” to begin with, so that it was no longer a stigma to be sexual.

But now I feel the word “slut” is not the problem. I care more about the stigma behind the word, and the people it’s used against. I’m wary of projects that specifically aim to “end stigma,” but require you to distance yourself from the actual stigmatized person or thing. You just perpetuate the stigma,. Feminists who fight slut-shaming must do a better job of supporting the people regarded as sluts without alienating them. At this conference, I need you to think about who you fear most: women exercising control of their sexuality? Or misogynists who punish them for it?

The insult behind slut-shaming for many people is NOT just the implication that they’re being sexualized– it’s the implication that in being called sluts, they’re associated with THOSE women, those UNSAVORY characters. The ones who are too generous with their sex, or the ones who choose to make a living from it. The ones who don’t do it the “right” way with the “right” people.

Liberal feminism is based in the pursuit of social advancement. I can’t argue with that. But to the liberal feminist, none of these gains can be made possible without putting on a pure and respectable appearance in the face of white capitalist patriarchy, to the detriment of the lower classes. No class-climbing woman wants to be a *slut,* nor would she associate with those who might be *sluts.*

We’ve made great strides in anti-rape activism, by relying less on narratives of moral purity and healthy, upstanding citizenry. There’s been amazing solidarity shown for the survivor of gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio and more recently, survivors in Maryville, Missouri who were shunned by their communities for being sluts who asked for it, because they were drinking the nights they were assaulted. They’ve gotten an astounding amount of support nationwide. But I have yet to see the same kind of support and attention extended to survivors who are not conventionally beautiful, young white women. Especially people who, if they were to report a rape, might be incriminated or even incarcerated instead. Not for their short skirts, but for being people for whom the justice system was not meant to defend. It is this kind of injustice that was the catalyst for SlutWalk, but went ignored by mainstream media and feminists alike.

Many would prefer that we forget SlutWalk, not just because of the mistakes we made as organizers, but because people were forced to come face to face with the ones who make feminism look bad. Sexually-charged women, voluntary sex workers, trans women, unapologetically queer people of color all made speeches at SlutWalk NYC that day, and they did great. If I were to do SlutWalk again, I’d take a harder stance for those people– the company I keep. I think most liberal feminists remain very afraid of us. They’re afraid of identities that are not considered moral by patriarchal standards, those who cannot be contained within heterosexual and/or monogamous relationships. We make for good talking points or rescue projects for non-profit organizations. But we are ultimately are not respected as partners in the fight for social advancement.

I’ll wrap this up with a story. During my senior year of high school, I was criticized by a friend for calling my ex’s girlfriend a slut, just because she made me feel insecure. “Besides,” said my friend, “you’re not really one to talk.”

Later that week, I ran into another girl with a worse reputation than mine. She was crying in the bathroom because somebody wrote her name in sharpie on the wall, next to the word “whore.” I could’ve said something like, “Well girl I can’t help that you had a threesome with so-and-so.” But instead, I went to my art class and came back with cleaning supplies so we could scrub it off together. Not even just to feel good about myself, but to support her, choices and all. And I am challenging you all today to think about who you’re willing to support.

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One thought on “My Written Statement at the Stop Slut Conference at the New School, 10/19/2013

  1. SlutWalk Hong Kong | China Daily Mail

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