I went over to Perth to spend some time with my family over there, and I was invited to speak at SlutWalk Perth while I was there. Hopefully there is video to follow, as I did see someone recording all the speeches! Below the jump is my speech in full—minus any cracks I may have made at the start regarding the 37 degree weather!!
[Description: A young woman with her hair scraped back and sunglasses perched on top of her head is standing on a dais holding a microphone and cue cards making a speech. Above her is a sign reading “SlutWalk Perth 2011”. There are other people behind her watching her speak. She is wearing ripped leggings, a short grey skirt, and a white singlet top that reads “My outfit is NOT an invitation”.]
E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangarangatanga maha, tēnā tātou katoa and kia ora, SlutWalk Perth! My name is MJ and I have come to speak to you today all the way from New Zealand as the founder and co-ordinator of SlutWalk Aotearoa, where we held marches in both Wellington and Auckland in June. It is an honour and a privilege to stand before you today as tangible proof that SlutWalk is a truly global movement—in the last nine months, since April of this year, there have been SlutWalks held in over one hundred cities across the globe, with tens of thousands of participants.
It has been almost a year since Constable Michael Sanguinetti stood up at a safety talk on campus at York University in Toronto and stated that “Women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don’t want to be victimised.” It has been eight months today since first Toronto, then the rest of Canada, and then the world stood up and said that this is not an acceptable attitude towards rape and sexual assault. It has been six months since I stood up in front of 1,200 strangers and for the first time, said out loud, “I was raped—and it was not my fault.” Six months, eight months, a year, however long your SlutWalk journey has been, since we decided not only to take back the night, but to take back our days as well.
We are taking back every last-minute check we’ve ever made in a mirror before leaving the house to make sure we don’t look like we’re ‘asking for it’.
We are taking back every forwarded email, every ad campaign, and every police and media statement that puts the onus on women to make sure they aren’t sexually assaulted.
We are taking back the notion that rape is only rape if the penis of a complete stranger is entering you while you scream and fight, preferably while you are held captive by some form of weapon—and that it only counts when it is a cisgender man raping a cisgender woman.
We are taking back the idea that “looking for attention” is synonymous with “asking to be raped”. When did we start conflating the two? Because when I am dressed up and looking hot, you are damn right I want attention—but I do not want to be assaulted!
And we are taking back the idea that men are savage beasts who are somehow so inflamed by the sight of a woman’s exposed skin that they are biologically programmed to rape us. Because when the message is drummed in over and over that dressing like a slut means they’re asking for it, that’s not biological programming; that is social conditioning. That is us telling men: “If she’s too drunk to stand, it’s all good—just have a go,” or, “Don’t worry if she says no—she’s just playing hard to get.”
It is time for us to reject the virgin/whore dichotomy once and for all. It’s time to put a stop to the perception that ‘good girls don’t get raped’. There are a thousand and one jokes about prison rape to pay testament to the fact that we as a society see rape as a punishment—something that happens to bad people. The follow on from that is that if you are raped, you must have done something to deserve it. We are here to discard that notion!
Rape culture tells us that rape and sexual assault is funny—a good laugh—and if you’re not amused, you’re just too damn sensitive. Rape culture is newspapers putting the word rape in scare quotes. Rape culture is the media using phrasing heavily slanted towards the assumption of active consent, such as “where the accused proceeded to have sex with the alleged victim.” Sound familiar?
I said this in Wellington, and I will say it again here: Rape culture is when there is a fire burning in the middle of our street, and our detractors, rather than putting the fire out, want us to don a fireproof suit and walk through it every single day for the rest of our lives—and hope like hell that that suit doesn’t become worn or torn, because then, we should have known that fire was going to burn us, and what did we think we were doing walking through the flames?
We are trying to remind you that the justice system is not immune to being called out on its actions, and neither is the media. In Sydney last year, a man was acquitted of a rape charge after the jury sent a note to the judge asking for more information about how exactly the alleged perpetrator took off her skinny jeans. The note read: ‘I doubt those kind of jeans can be removed without any sort of collaboration.’ In Christchurch a couple of months ago, a seventeen-year-old girl was raped in the parking lot of a bar after getting in with a fake ID, then being turfed out for being too drunk. The host of a talkback radio show in New Zealand posted on his Facebook page, “Who should have protected the 17 yr old? The pub, the mother or herself?”
The reason these didn’t spark a public outrage is twofold, and both are indicative of rape culture at work. The first part is that incidents like these are so damn common that even the most fired-up activists amongst us are saddened, but in no way surprised. The second, more poisonous aspect is people’s need to find something, anything, that a victim of rape could have done to bring it upon themselves. She was wearing tight jeans, so she must have been looking for attention. She was drunk and in a bar underage, what did she expect? If she did something to invite rape, then that means it can’t happen to me.
When I was fifteen, I was walking on my own in the dark, I was wearing a short skirt… and I was raped by a stranger. And although I never told anyone, and I never reported it, I internalised a lot of guilt for what had happened to me. I used to spend hours and hours every day thinking about what I could have done to prevent it. If I’d stayed at home. If I’d worn jeans. If I’d had a better sense of who and what was around me. If I’d screamed a little louder. If I’d fought a little harder. If, if, if. Which makes it all the more ironic that the second time I was raped, I was following all of those rules. I was at home; I was wearing trackpants and a hoodie; it was my boyfriend who raped me. Someone I loved; someone I was supposed to be able to trust unconditionally. So to those who challenge SlutWalk on the basis of personal responsibility, I ask you this: where do you fault me? And before you tell me that I am an exception, a special case, that I did everything I could—remember that I am one of the 63% raped in their own home or the home of a family member. I am one of the 90% who know their attacker. And I am one of the 100% who are in no way culpable for being sexually assaulted!
However, in saying all of this, I have to acknowledge some of my inherent privilege. I am a white, cisgender, middle-class woman. I am queer, but I can pass as straight—even though I don’t try to. I am also a survivor of rape, twice over. SlutWalk, and feminism in general, is geared towards women like me. And while I am thrilled that these conversations are happening, while opening these dialogues is a huge step forward, we need to make sure that it doesn’t stop here. Just as it is important to stand up against the oppressions we face, it is just as important to lend support to those oppressions that don’t affect you personally. Show up to the Trans* Day of Remembrance and start asking why the average life expectancy of a transgender person is just twenty-three. Participate in the Day of Silence and educate people on what it’s all about. Lobby for sex workers’ rights—especially now, when Western Australia has new legislation that will force sex workers to display their full legal name in their place of work. It is important to try and be better activists, better allies—even when that means shutting up and ceding the floor completely, even when that means listening to criticism and changing the way you do things. If you claim solidarity for your own causes, make sure you are there in solidarity when the time comes for others to need you.
At its heart, that is what SlutWalk is trying to achieve. We’re doing better in some areas than we are in others, but we’re learning every single day. SlutWalk is not an excuse to get dressed up and carry some placards while shouting catchy rhymes. It’s not young women fighting for their right to dress like sluts. SlutWalk is about people of all ages, all gender expressions, all sexualities and all walks of life coming together to say that we are sick and tired of a culture that teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” We are here to raise the voices of those whose rapes and assaults are marginalised, erased, seen as not legitimate. Not only the ‘sluts’, but our men who are raped and our people who are raped by women, our prisoners and our sex workers, our Tangata Ira Tane and our Whakawahine—transmen and transwomen.
Today, we stand together to say this: you can call us sluts. You can tell us that by dressing a certain way we are irresponsible, that we don’t respect ourselves, that we are inviting trouble. We stand together today to say “no more”. And we do not stand alone. We stand with over 100 different cities, tens of thousands of marchers worldwide. We will keep marching, and keep shouting, until we see some change. However we dress, wherever we go. Kia kaha, SlutWalk Perth—we will get there! Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Thank you.