SlutWalk Aotearoa was today—and while I need a bit of time to digest before I write up a response, I thought I’d put my speech up now. Following a grand tradition, I wrote this about an hour before the march! Photos and/or video will be added if I get any 🙂
Welcome to SlutWalk Aotearoa 2012! My name is MJ, I am the founder of SlutWalk Aotearoa and Media Liaison, and I am a slut. I know this, because I am called a slut constantly. I have been called a slut for having too much sex. For having too little sex. For having the wrong kind of sex. For refusing to be ashamed of my sexuality. For flirting. For leaving my house. For being friends with men. For having tattoos. My mother was on the DPB when I was younger, so obviously I’m a genetic slut. And yes, at some points in my life, I have been on the Pill. Slut. I have been called a slut for being raped. I have been called a slut while being raped. And the only thing these scenarios have in common is that every time, I was called a slut in order to silence and to shame me.
But I refuse to be silenced. I will speak up and speak out. I will speak out on behalf of the 375 people in Wellington, and 3,466 people nationwide, who reported sexual assault to the police last year. I speak out on behalf of the many, many more who did not or could not report. I speak out on behalf of the one in eight men, the one in two trans* folk, the disabled, the elderly, the prisoners, the sex workers, and everyone else who is erased in discussions of sexual violence. I speak up on behalf of my five amazing sisters—because statistically, at least one of them will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and there is a good chance she will be held responsible for it.
It has been almost a year since we first marched in Wellington proclaiming that “however we dress and wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”. A year 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. 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.
We haven’t had a miracle in the last year. Women are still having the onus placed on them to prevent sexual assault—like in Wanganui, where police advice basically amounted to “don’t leave the house on your own, ladies!” Or in Christchurch, when a 17-year-old girl was raped in the parking lot of a bar and the host of a talkback radio show found it pertinent to post on his Facebook: “Who should have protected the 17 yr old? The pub, the mother or herself?” Clearly, we still have a long way to go.
As an organiser, I also have to acknowledge my privilege. I am a white, cisgender, middle-class woman. I am queer, but I can pass as straight. 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 Queer the Night, and 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. 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; 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.”
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”. We stand alongside Christchurch and Perth, who are both marching today as well. We stand alongside over one hundred different cities with tens of thousands of participants worldwide. And we will keep marching, and keep shouting, until we see some change. However we dress, wherever we go.