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Last month, on a Friday after work I decided to go for a run, it was a cool evening and it was starting to rain, which quickly turned to sleet and then light snow. I was less than a 1/4 mile into my run when I heard yelling — my iPod was between songs, otherwise I might have missed the specifics of it. There was a guy (I am assuming high school age) leaning out the window of a car on the other side of the street who screamed out, “Nice ass………WHORE!!!!!!!!!” I have to be honest, it wasn’t just the words that upset me, it was also how he said it — there was anger in his tone, and it felt threatening.
I tried to shake it off as just a bunch of immature kids with poor judgment and kept running.
Maybe a mile later I was on Beacon St in Cambridge when the same car drove by me again with this guy again hanging out the window screaming at me — I had my iPod cranked up so I don’t know what he said but the tone was, again, unmistakably angry & threatening. I was freaked out that this was the 2nd time they’d driven by me, and I was getting into less residential neighborhoods where there were fewer people on the streets — I had visions of the next time they drove past me, what if they pulled over? got out of the car? pulled me into the car?? I decided to listen to my gut, cut my run short, and turn around & head back for more populated streets & home.
Unfortunately I was not wearing my glasses & did not get the license plate #. I am getting over this but had an anxiety dream about it Friday night that involved me being cornered by a large man and calling for help that never came. I remain disturbed by the fact that at some point in their lives, the boys/men in that car learned that harassing & threatening a woman in this way is somehow ok.
This seems to be a fortnightly occurrence and I am unable to escape it.
Thank you perverts!
Women are just as much to blame; the social power dynamics have shifted and while employment may be regulated by male approaches dating definitely has a blurred line.
I seem to fairly often be a victim of somebody grabbing or slapping my behind, I have had my testicles cupped and on many occasions experienced inappropriate contact and remarks.
This weekend a young lady pinched my behind while I stood at the bar in the Victoria pub, Birmingham, I turn around and give her a filthy look and ask her to stop but as I turn back to the bar she decided to grab me again; this time when I turn all of her friends are staring at me and making remarks like ‘hey handsome’ or ‘hello cute ass’
Unfortunately as a man I have little support so when I open my mouth to criticize I am immediately set upon by the eyes of every person in the room and offered tokens of aggression by some woman and men who stand up, but why?
Because the power dynamics of a 6″3 athletic man standing over four much smaller females dictates that indeed I should be the aggressor.
So I am oppressed twice simply for buying a drink and standing up for myself.
Power dynamics exist in many facets and social normality, especially for the socially responsible, is damaged when certain power dynamics are ignored; the main reason I wrote this.
The truth is a lot of this is about social molding and in my experience, women can be just as bad as men because they realize how strong the social power dynamic is in supporting them.
Because I’m always late to work, and I always like to wear lipstick, I often find myself applying makeup on the bus en route to my job. Usually I just get a few glares for primping in public, but last week, it got nasty. I was sitting on the bus (22 outbound) and two middle-aged men sat down near me – one across from me, one in the seat beside mine – and immediately began harassing me. “You look real good tonight, honey” said one. The other: “That’s some sexy red lipstick.” I turned to him and calmly said, “please don’t talk to me” while making eye contact.
Immediately their tone changed. “Ugly bitch!” “My sister told me pretty girls know how to take a compliment and only the ugly ones don’t!” I responded, “It’s funny how as soon as I speak up, I go from being beautiful to ugly.” One scoffed and said “Oh, you’re trying to be funny, bitch? Shut up.” I just kept glaring and eventually they moved but were still within earshot and continued complaining to each other and other passengers about how “rude” and “ungrateful” I was. It really rattled me and I had to call a friend to calm down, but once I got off the bus I felt really good that I had spoken up. Thanks Hollaback!
BY JULIE LALONDE, DIRECTOR OF HOLLABACK OTTAWA
excerpt from Being the Change since 2007
Ottawa had its own SlutWalk and you better believe I was there. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I was asked to speak at it, too. But that’s where it ends, for the record. I’ve never organized a SlutWalk, have no part in organizing future ones and quite frankly, spent 5 minutes at the Ottawa one talking about systemic violence against womyn.
I must admit that I was initially a little apprehensive about the whole thing. I’d heard about it in its planning stages and felt that it might have been a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to highlight an issue.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
It seems that people want to talk about sluts, sluttyness, slut-shaming, slut-positivity and all things slutty. People love sluts, other people love to hate sluts and some people hate that they love sluts.
And that’s the fucking point.
See, the organizers knew that if they organized another “Take Back the Night” or “Anti-Sexual Assault” or even a “Stop Victim Blaming” march, you’d get the same little handful of diehards, maybe a blip or two in the media but not much else. The unfortunate reality is that the average person and media outlet doesn’t give a flying fuck about violence against womyn and sexual assault. Because only sluts get raped, and womyn falsely accuse men all the time and feminists are whiny and don’t know how good they have it and on, and on and on.
A name like SlutWalk catches people’s attention, provokes a reaction and is just downright impossible to ignore. The sight of stiff journalists on the nightly news saying “And now, let’s go to Marcie who is over at SlutWalk” can’t help but solicit raised eyebrows.
And once again, that’s the fucking point.
Whether you want to reclaim the word ‘slut’ or not, you can’t help but perk up your ears when you hear the word being used in mainstream, every day conversation by your average folk. And the organizers knew that. They knew that the only way to ensure this cop’s comments didn’t go unnoticed was to shock people into reacting.
They hoped maybe a couple hundred people would show up, they’d find some solidarity and be able to sleep better at time. Instead, thousands of people showed up, an international media machine was started and there are Satellite SlutWalks around the world. Not bad for a handful of novice organizers in Toronto.
But what about this reclaiming business?
That part is tricky and complicated.
Many womyn of colour have commented that it’s not easy for them to do, considering how slut-shaming and labeling is so tied into racism, colonialism, etc. Makes sense.
Others (including myself) think it’s also classist and rather ‘in-crowd’ to assume that everyone can safely embrace the label. Tell that to poor, 16 year old rural girls who are just trying to survive gym class.
But that’s okay. See, SlutWalk isn’t really about everyone embracing the label Slut because like most things in life, if everyone is one, then nobody is.
But you can embrace the name on a political level while still recognizing how problematic it is at the individual level.
Example: We can embrace Ottawa’s annual “Dyke March” while recognizing that a 16 year old high school girl has no desire to embrace the ‘dyke’ label that is thrown on her daily.
Ideally, everyone who identifies as ‘dyke’ could choose to do so and others who don’t could escape the labeling. But we’re not there yet, although we’re working towards it.
SlutWalk is not an end, but a means to an end. It’s a way to rip open the universal covers on sexual assault and to expose the deeply entrenched stereotypes that enable it to continue at epidemic levels. It’s meant to prompt discussion, to test your knee-jerk reaction.
You don’t want to call yourself a slut? – Why?
You don’t think it can be reclaimed? – Why?
Regardless of what your answer is, it got you thinking and that’s the point.
As someone who has been doing anti-sexual violence work in Ottawa for close to 8 years, I’ve been to every conference, march, demonstration, letter-writing campaign kick-off, red tape cutting, award ceremony, you can imagine. I’ve been there, I’ve spoken at them, I’ve shaked my head at them and I’ve marched in them. And none of them had the turn-out that SlutWalk did.
Ottawa is an extremely conservative city with a small, (too) tight-knit feminist community and here I was, standing amongst a thousand other people, many of which I had never seen before. The crowd was diverse in age, background, gender identity, ethnicity, etc. And despite what you might have read or seen about the celebratory nature of SlutWalk, it was a rather sombre event. People were angry, not laughing. As they should be – sexual assault isn’t funny.
So you’ve got a conservative community out on a Sunday afternoon, talking about womyn’s sexuality and sexual assault in a constructive and meaningful way. Regardless of how you feel about reclaiming language, you have to be impressed by the power it had that day in Ottawa.
(Say it with me) and that’s the fucking point.
I have no desire to call myself a slut. None. My reasons for this are many but include the fact that I don’t want to define myself by my association with other people (ie: how many people I sleep with, who I sleep with, etc). It’s also difficult to call yourself something when a definition doesn’t exist. We know that a slut has something to do with sexuality but ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers.
I was called a slut for holding a pro-choice sign at an anti-choice rally.
I was called a slut for attending a new school in grade 10 with no friends or history in that city. A rumour was started that I was chased out of another town for having slept with someone’s boyfriend. The truth? I was a virgin who’d had to move for her dad’s new job.
Hell, I was called a slut for defending SlutWalk. (The irony.. it hurts…)
But even though I do not long for the label doesn’t mean I fail to see its importance. As Jaclyn Friedman so amazingly said, we must all stand under the banner of ‘Slut’ and recognize that when it is used against one womyn, it is used against all womyn. Because we can all be called a slut by someone at some point and in many cases, the sting of that word not only offends us, but decides whether or not our rape is convicted properly, whether we get access to housing, a job, a promotion, a reference, or even someone’s Facebook friend request.
So even if you don’t want to call yourself a slut, learn to respect those who do.
“Female Jogger Attacked ~ Fights Back!”
I’m adding a Part Two to last week’s column, which was titled, “Female Jogger Attacked.” That was a discussion of the phenomenon of women not being safe in public spaces, while doing what they have to do to stay healthy. I know all of us have been there before ~ You know, it’s midnight, but the moon is out, the pavement is still hot from the 85 degree day, and you still have plenty of energy for a bike ride ~ but most of the time you stop yourself because you want to live to bike again another day. This is the cold, hard reality of being female in an urban setting. Although I know plenty of guys who wouldn’t want to risk getting jumped at that hour either, but come on, we all know that the risk is greater if you are of the female persuasion.
With that said, taking certain precautionary measures while exercising in public settings is not only wise, but essential to your well-being. The A-#1 thing I can advise any woman to keep herself safe in any setting, is to take a class in self-defense. And by this I mean a course of classes, not just a one-time workshop, because it takes repetition of the techniques to acquire what’s called muscle memory. That means that with consistent practice, the movements become ingrained, which prepares you to quickly react out of instinct in a dangerous situation. So the muscle memory that you work hard to acquire while practicing a kick for example, or an elbow to the face, might possibly save your life or being otherwise harmed. Practice these type of self-defense movements preferably with a partner, to feel the actual weight, timing, strength, and most importantly, presence of another human being. It’s so shocking to have someone attack you, especially when
you least suspect it. The least you can do is to adequately prepare yourself if that occurs.
And it’s not just knowing how to handle yourself physically when you’re feeling threatened, it’s most of all becoming more sensitive to and aware of your surroundings, both human and otherwise. It’s really about accessing your internal strength, which every person has, regardless of how they look on the outside. I know with absolute certainty, that it was my own years of martial training in Tai Chi, not just Tai Chi for health, which helped me to handle the situation with that creep on the subway. Luckily, he did not continue to force himself upon me, or I would have had to defend myself more than verbally, but I was certainly ready, willing, and able to do so if it had come to that. I want you to feel as ready and confident as well, and know that you are walking, jogging, or biking through the world with a hidden arsenal at your disposal ~ your ability to mentally and physically defend yourself.
You think studying in the middle of a common study area wouldn’t turn guys on.
I had my face buried in a book, studying for my finals in two weeks. (I had read your website some weeks before, so I was ready!) He walked in front of me and when he was just out of range, I heard, “Girl, you gorgeous.” I was sure it was for me because there was no one behind me, or on either side. I was so surprised and indignant at his remark I blurted out “Excuse me?!”. Then I realised I had just started something I might not be able to finish. He turned around and I got a good look at his face. He was 25-30 years old, 5’6″? We exchanged in somewhat-friendly conversation, and I told him that he didn’t know me and shouldn’t call me gorgeous. No heated argument, but what surprised me was that I was studying… With 5-10 people in the same room! Why was it his business to tell me I was good-looking? Or to interrupt my studying?
What was the thing that made him pick on me? Was it my shirt? my hair? my face? Not cool creeper!! I don’t think he’ll pull another stunt like this after our conversation.
I was walking home from work along N. Rampart. I was talking on my phone to my mother and munching on an apple. I noticed a younger guy walking slightly closer than normal to me along the same route. As we were the only people walking on the street I turned my head towards him, nodded and smiled in a greeting. He didn’t really respond. I continued walking and talking to my mother (from Canal St.). He was on my left side about 5ft away, slightly behind me. It was mid-afternoon with lots of traffic so I assumed it was just an uncomfortable coincidence that we happened to be walking down the same street at the same time. Then we reach my turn (St. Phillips) and I make my turn left and suddenly he was MUCH closer than I thought and I nearly bumped into him. I was startled and looked up quickly and said “sorry” and kept going. A few steps later I felt a hand grab my entire ass and dig into my anus and kind of hang on. I jumped and turned around there he was, smiling at me. He couldn’t have been more than 14. I yelled at him “what the fuck are you doing. What makes you think that is okay.” He got kind of pissed off and turned to leave but I was MAD! He couldn’t just get away with that! I rocketed my apple into the back of his head where the apple split open. -ooooh was he pissed. He turned around and I suddenly noticed how much bigger, stronger and faster he was than me. Shit. but I couldn’t give in and now he was pacing back and forth having picked up 1/2 of my apple and staring angrily at me so I just looked back. I knew if I looked away or tried to get away he would come after me for revenge and I would be done for. So I just looked back at him and asked him why he thought that type of behavior was acceptable. After a few more moments he turned and left. I called my 911 and reported it, then called my mom back and continued home. I saw him on the same street a few more times. He was always menacing.
It was a chilly St Louis Sunday evening in March and I had just finished up a meeting with some local LGBT activists at my favorite cafe, Coffee Cartel. One of the people I had met with offered me a lift home, but I said I was ok walking since my apartment was just a couple blocks away.
As I was crossing Lindell, a car full of high-school-age boys pulled up to the intersection and I heard them yell “Hey, whore! How much?” Since I’m unfortunately used to being holla’d at, I flipped them the bird and kept walking, but they just shouted “Yeah, whore! Stick that finger up my butt!”
I was too shocked to look back at them, so I never got their license plate number, but next time something like that happens, I’ll be sure to report them.
I was nine or ten. It was summer and a friend who lived behind my house had called to invite me to go to the pool with her family. I changed into my bathing suit (a one piece), put a towel and a few things in a backpack, and set off for their house. In order to get their I had to run down one hill, across a creek and some bike trails, and up another. There was a group of men on a bridge, luckily I didn’t have to go on it, but they saw me. They began yelling things like “Come on over here girl” among others. I ran to my friends house. I’d never run up that hill so hard. My friend’s mom (who saw it and made sure I was safe) reminded me that I needed to be careful, that because I looked older people didn’t realize how young I was. She called my mom that night and told her. When my asked me about it I cried half in anger, half in shame. I told my mom I wanted two really big dogs that would go with me everywhere, one on either side, so no one would ever mess with me again. I didn’t know I could HOLLABACK.
Jaclyn Friedman gave a great speach at the Boston Slut Walk this week! Here’s the video and the transcript:
Well hello you beautiful sluts!
Do you see what I did there? I called y’all sluts, and I don’t know the first thing about what any of you do with your private parts. (Well, maybe I know about a couple of you, but I’ll never tell.)
That’s how the word “slut” usually works. If you ask ten people, you get ten different definitions. Is a slut a girl who has sex too young? With too many partners? With too little committment? Who enjoys herself too much? Who ought to be more quiet about it, or more ashamed? Is a slut just a woman who dresses too blatantly to attract sexual attention? And what do any of these words even mean? What’s too young, too many partners, too little committment, too much enjoyment, too blatant an outfit? For that matter, what’s a woman, and does a slut have to be one?
For a word with so little meaning, it sure is a vicious weapon. And, while the people who use it to hurt may not agree on what they mean by it, they’ll all agree on one thing: a slut is NOT THEM. A slut is other. A slut is someone, usually a woman, who’s stepped outside of the very narrow lane that good girls are supposed to stay within. Sluts are loud. We’re messy. We don’t behave. In fact, the original definition of “slut” meant “untidy woman.” But since we live in a world that relies on women to be tidy in all ways, to be quiet and obedient and agreeable and available (but never aggressive), those of us who color outside of the lines get called sluts. And that word is meant to keep us in line. To separate us. To make us police each other, turn on each other, and turn each other in so that we can prove we’re not “like that.” That word comes with such consequences that many of us rightly work to avoid it at all costs.
But not today. Today we all march under the banner of sluthood. Today we come together to say: you can call us that name, but we will not shut up. You can call us that name but we will not cede our bodies or our lives. You can call us that name, but you can never again use it to excuse the violence that is done to us under that name every single fucking day.
Because make no mistake: the consequence of being a slut is violence. The people that yell that word at us in the hallways and on the street know that. The people that call us that on the internet when we dare raise our voices, and the ones who tell us they know what’s best for us, what we should or shouldn’t do with our bodies if we “value” them, they know that. They know that labeling us as sluts marks us as easy targets for sexual violence. Who would come to the defense of a slut? Why would anyone bother? If we don’t play by their rules, why should they care about our bodies or our lives?
This is not hyperbole. In Manitoba this year, a judge refused to sentence a convicted rapist to a single day of jailtime because his victim had worn a tank top and high heels and acted “inviting.” This after the rapist admitted in open court that he’d told his victim that his violation of her “would only hurt for a little while.” When two young Swedish women accused Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of sexual assault after they each voluntarily invited him home with them, blogger Robert Stacy McCain said, “you buy your ticket, you take the ride.” When an 11-year old was gang-raped in Texas by 18 grown men, the New York Times found it relevant to report on how much makeup she wore. Right now, there’s a serial killer loose on Long Island, and the police aren’t doing fuck all about it because he’s mostly killing sex workers.
The word “slut” is an act of violence. Not just metaphorically. It gives permission for people to rape us, and the person who wields it doesn’t have to lift a finger. It sends a signal: this one is fair game. Have at her. No one will blame you.
Which is why, when a Toronto cop told a group of law students at York University that the best way to avoid getting raped was to not dress like a slut, the people of Toronto took to the streets. And so have the people of Dallas, TX, and of London, England, and of Orlando, FL. So too are thousands and thousands of people planning to take to the streets in the months to come, from New Zealand to Amsterdam to Honolulu and beyond. All of us are coming together to say: enough. Enough. You cannot blame us for the crimes you commit against us anymore, no matter what we wear, what we say, or what we do.
And make no mistake about it: we can be called sluts for nearly any reason at all. If we’re dancing. If we’re drinking. If we have ever in our lives enjoyed sex. If our clothes aren’t made of burlap. If we’re women of color, we’re assumed to be sluts before we do a single thing because we’re “exotic.” If we’re fat or disabled or otherwise considered undesirable, we’re assumed to be sluts who’ll fuck anyone who’ll deign to want us. If we’re queer boys or trans women, we’re called sluts in order to punish us for not fearing the feminine. If we’re queer women, especially femme ones, we’re called sluts because we’re obviously “up for anything,” as opposed to actually attracted to actual women. If we’re poor, we’re gold diggers who’ll use sex to get ahead. And god forbid we accuse someone of raping us – that’s the fast track to sluthood for sure, because it’s much easier to tell us what we did wrong to make someone to commit a felony violent crime against us than it is to deal with the actual felon.
There’s a word for all of this. And that word is bullshit. But there’s also a phrase for it: social license to operate. What that means is this: we know that a huge majority of rapes are perpetrated by a small minority of guys who do it again and again. You know why they’re able to rape an average of 6 times each? Because they have social license to operate. In other words: because we let them. Because as a society, we say “oh well, what did she expect would happen if she went back to his room? What did she expect would happen walking around by herself in that neighborhood? What did she expect would happen dressed like a slut?”
You know what I expect will happen when I’m dressed like a slut? People will want to get with me. You know what I don’t mean when I dress like a slut? That anyone I encounter can literally do anything at all they want to me. I know. It’s shocking. Because clearly you thought me wearing my tits out like this gives every single one of you carte blanche to do anything whatsoever you might want to do with my body. I’m very sorry to disappoint.
I don’t mean to make light of any of this, I just want to point out how ridiculous it all sounds when you spell out the meaning of “she was asking for it.” Because the rapists are not confused. Those tiny percentage of guys doing most of the raping? They’ve told researchers that they know full well they don’t have consent. It’s the rest of us that seem confused. We’re the ones that let them off with a little “boys will be boys” shrug and focus our venom on “sluts” instead, leaving those boys free to rape again and again. That’s right: every time we blame a slut for her own violation, we’re not only hurting her, we’re creating a world with more rapists in it for all of us to live in.
No more. We’re here to testify that this ends TODAY. It ends because there is truly nothing – NOTHING – you can do to make someone raping you your fault. It ends because calling other people sluts may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t actually keep you safer. It ends because not one more of us will tolerate being violated and blamed for it. And it ends because all of this slut-shaming does more to us than just the violence of rape. As if that weren’t enough. The violent threat of slut-shaming also keeps us afraid of our bodies and our desires. It makes us feel like we’re wrong and dirty and bad – and yes, very very unsafe – when all we want is to enjoy the incredible pleasure that our bodies are capable of. And that theft of pleasure – that psychic mugging, that ongoing robbery of the gorgeous potential of our souls – that ends today too. Am I right, sluts?
Because the secret truth nobody wants you to know is that, using nearly any definition, there’s nothing wrong with being a slut. Not a thing. It’s OK to like sex. Sex can be awesome. It can be life-alteringly awesome, but even when it’s not, it can be a damn good time. Our sexual desire is part of our life force. And as long as you’re ensuring your partner’s enthusiastic consent, and acting on your own sexual desires, not just acting out what you think someone else expects of you? There’s not a damn thing wrong with it. Not if it’s a hookup, not if you’re queer, not if you like it kinky, not if your number’s too high. If you’re playing on your own terms and you’ve got an enthusiastic partner? Please, I beg of you, just have a fucking awesome time. Our lives are way too often full of struggle and pain. If you can do something with someone else that brings both of you pleasure and joy? You’re increasing the pleasure and joy in the world. No one should ever make you feel bad about that. They should really be sending you a thank you note.
Speaking of which, I want to send a thank you note of my own, to those of you standing here today under the banner of sluthood who don’t identify with that word at all, but understand why we must come together to reject its power. There has been a lot of misunderstanding about the meaning of the SlutWalk, and none more egregious than those who claim our agenda is to encourage all women to be sluts. Whatever that means, our mission could not be further from that. Our mission here today is to create a world in which all of us are free to make whatever sexual and sartorial choices we want to without shame, blame or fear. If you dress and experience your sexuality in decidedly unslutty ways, and you know that there’s nothing we can do to make someone rape us, the SlutWalk is your walk, too, and I thank you for ignoring the hype and standing with us today.
Last summer, when I wrote a manifesto of sorts against slut-shaming, I was told by a pearl-clutching blogger who happens to live in this fair city, that if more than a few people followed my lead, we would destroy the economy, and then society. I have never experienced a clearer affirmation that my words and actions have power. Those who support the status quo in which women live in fear and that fear makes us easy to control will do almost anything to shut us up. But every time they try, we must commit to getting louder.
So let’s practice. Instead of distancing ourselves from those among us who are targeted as sluts, lest we get caught in the crossfire, let’s stand together today and say, if you use the word slut as a weapon against one of us, you’re using it against all of us. If you shame one of us, you will receive shame from all of us. If you rape one of us, you will have to answer to all of us.
If you’ve ever been called a slut, stand up now and say together – I am a slut. If you love someone who’s been called a slut – stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’ve ever been afraid of being called a slut, stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’ve been blamed for violence that someone else did to you, stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’re here to demand a world in which what we do with our bodies is nobody’s business, and we can all live our lives and pursue our pleasures free of shame, blame and free, stand up and say it with me: I am a slut. I am a slut. I am a slut.