Here’s poet Alice Walker on the word “slut” and the SlutWalk movement:
I’ve always understood the word “slut” to mean a woman who freely enjoys her own sexuality in any way she wants to; undisturbed by other people’s wishes for her behavior. Sexual desire originates in her and is directed by her. In that sense it is a word well worth retaining. As a poet, I find it has a rich, raunchy, elemental, down to earth sound, that connects us to something primal, moist, and free.
The spontaneous movement that has grown around reclaiming this word speaks to women’s resistance to having names turned into weapons used against them. I would guess the police officer who used the word “slut” had no inkling of its real meaning or its importance to women as an area of their freedom about to be, through the threat of rape, closed to them.
The same person who sent me this quote also sent me a letter published at the Huffington Post, in which a list of black women and organizations that support them explained their particular hesitation to associating with the SlutWalk movement. “As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is.” The point, if I’m understanding it correctly, is that hypersexualization of black women and the particular history of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against them imbues the word “slut” with a special kind of horror that white college girls in bustiers did not consider.
The writers of the letter add, “Even if only in name, we cannot afford to label ourselves, to claim identity, to chant dehumanizing rhetoric against ourselves in any movement.” I think their complaint is a fair one. I mean, I can afford to label myself a slut if I feel like it. I’m white, well-educated, and politically articulate. I don’t have a personal or cultural history with the word, so by adopting it I can make a “statement” that actually says nothing about my sexuality at all.
I think what concerns me most, gauging from this letter, is that from a branding perspective, SlutWalk managed to miss the mark and alienate a huge swath of potential supporters.
Related Post: An allegorical conversation about philanthropy to better understand victim-blaming.
Related Post: SlutWalk Chicago, 2011.