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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday Festival: On Sl*twalks

Ring member Carol Howard Merritt has an important column on the Huffington Post's Religion page, What Christians Need to Learn from Sl*twalks.

The SlutWalk came to D.C. Unfortunately I missed it. If I didn't have a conflict, I would have been there, not in a short skirt or highheels, but in my clergy collar.
Why? Because the Slutwalk is a protest against a rape culture. Women are speaking out against the understanding with which many of us live -- if you've been raped, molested, abused, or betrayed then you must have done something to deserve it.
Christianity has often perpetuated the myth of female condemnation which can include sexual violence, among many other things. From the genesis of time, the woman eats the fruit, the man follows, and the woman is marked as the temptress. Whether we are talking about Eve, Bathsheba, Jezebel, the woman at the well, or Mary Magdalene, we have dressed women up as tempters, and told stories of how women are not only responsible for their actions, but for the actions of men as well.
The curse we've lived under is real. I can picture women in my mind who have not only been victims of sexual violence or betrayal, but as they sorted out their circumstances, their churches have harmed them again by heaping blame upon them.
A woman got drunk, and a man raped her. She believed it was her fault because she shouldn't have had so much to drink. A woman who ended an evening out with a man, who forgot to tell her that he was married. She thought that she was to blame, because she shouldn't have gotten caught up in the romance of the evening. A woman's husband cheated on her. She assumed that she caused the infidelity because she was not attentive enough to her husband in the bedroom.
These messages are often communicated to us from the time we are in youth group, especially in the rise of chastity movements. We were taught to never wear anything suggestive, because we have a responsibility to keep men from thinking sexual thoughts. If something brutal happened to us, and we finally gained enough courage to tell our horror story, someone would ask us, "What were you wearing? Were you drinking?" In other words, "What were you doing to cause this to happen?" I have encountered far too many religious leaders who ask questions that have indicated that the culpability originates with the woman. She is somehow responsible for the action.
Even ten years after youth group, when I was in seminary, I was taught that I needed to wear a collar under my big black academic robe as I preached, or else men would not think about the sermon, they would imagine what was under my massive garb. The robe looks like something you would wear at your high school graduation. I basically wear a tent to preach. But that wasn't enough, because somehow, I should be responsible for the thoughts that someone might have when they see four inches of my neck.
It's time for our religious communities to acknowledge the ways in which we have contributed to a rape culture -- the ways in which we blame women as we proclaim our narratives, ask our questions, and teach our teenagers. And it's time for us to stand with women who have had enough.

Carol is not the only one of us to be mulling the movement. You can find the thoughts of pseudonymous blogger Hassopheret, I am not a Slut, at Inscription.

It's taken me a while to think through my response to Slut Walk, the anti-rape and anti-harrassment marches in which some/many women dress as sluts to make the point that nothing a woman or girl wears (or doesn't wear) makes it acceptable for her to be raped. (While not denying the experience of male rape, the Slut Walk phenomena is a woman/girl movement in response to the comments of a Toronto police officer who said that women who didn't want to be raped should stop dressing like sluts.)
Obviously his comments are reprehensible, violent, disgusting and more.
I share the outrage of the Slut Walk organizers. But I was immediately put off by the phenomenon and it took me some time to figure out why.
Finally it came to me: slut is not a word I chose to claim for myself or other women. I am not a slut. I am not a bitch. I am not a c*nt. I realized my response to the Slut Walk phenomenon was the same as my response to one of the Vagina Monologues monologues. Some words cannot be redeemed for me. I am not a n!gger. I am not a whore. I am not a 'ho. I am not a slut.
I am a woman created in the image of God. I am beautiful and brilliant in every sense of each word. And no one has the right to touch me without my permission. Not my hair. Not my skin. Not my body. And there is nothing I could ever do - or have ever done that would justify anyone breaking into my body.
Nothing I wear (or don't wear) makes me a slut, whether or not someone else finds me attractive, desirable, or sees me as in need of domination, subjugation or feels entitled to have access to me, to violate, injure, degrade or rape me. None of that is about me. Whatever names they might call me, whatever narrative they may create for themselves to justify their conduct; I am not a slut. I won't own that label at the hands of rapists, sexists or anti-sexist anti-rape activists.
One aspect of the marches that I did appreciate was the range of attire worn by the participants. That is where I would have looked to name the response: What Raped Women Wear - not nearly as sexy catchy as Slut Walk.
I know that some speeches addressed this issue, but I would have needed this to be the headline and organizing principle in order to participate.

What Raped Women Wear...
Grandmothers in housecoats and slippers
Critically ill women in adult diapers in hospital beds
Mentally ill and developmentally disabled women and girls in jumpers and jeans
Infant girls in onesies
Little girls in their Sunday best
Muslim women in hijab
Nuns in their habits
Businesswomen in business suits
Students in jeans and skirts
Girls and women in their pajamas, nightgowns and skin in their own homes, in their own showers, in their own beds
Prostitutes and strippers in their uniforms
Police women and soldiers in their uniforms
Any woman or girl anywhere, wearing anything
this is what raped women wear.

Are you writing/thinking about Slutwalks? I hope you'll say so in the comments, or leave a link to a post at your own blog.


  1. Thank you for posting this Songbird. I also appreciated your comments that followed. I find myself responding in much the same way you do to certain words. They're offensive. Thank you for verbalizing that.

  2. another thank you Songbird, this is an important post

  3. Ivy, I'm afraid that was unclear, so I rewrote the linking sentence. The second essay is not mine. Please check back and see whose it is and do click through to share your thoughts at her blog. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for both of these powerful posts.

  5. Thanks for using the time and effort to write something so interesting.

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