SlutWalks began after a Toronto police official speaking to a group of women gave them some advice on how to avoid being raped. Michael Sanguinetti told the group: “I’m not supposed to say this, avoid dressing like sluts.”

Rightfully, many women were outraged by his comment that basically told women who dressed “provocatively” that they were asking to be raped. In protest to his misguided comments, some women began having “SlutWalks.” During these “SlutWalks” women take to the streets dressed provocatively to protest the assumption that the way women are dressed is an invitation for rape.

SlutWalks have been gaining steam throughout the world., but recently, a group of Black feminists led by the sisters over at Black Women’s Blueprint questioned whether Black women should be involved with SlutWalks. Although they appreciate the grassroots movement for inspiring debate and protests about rape, they are uneasy about the usage of the word “Slut” and argues it shuts out many Black women who work diligently to eradicate the use of such words.

The letter states:

We are deeply concerned. As Black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, “slut” has different associations for Black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.

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. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations. Although we understand the valid impetus behind the use of the word “slut” as language to frame and brand an anti-rape movement, we are gravely concerned. For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens. The perception and wholesale acceptance of speculations about what the Black woman wants, what she needs and what she deserves has truly, long crossed the boundaries of her mode of dress.

Because, as the letter asserts, Black women can’t afford to be called “sluts” because our sexuality is always viewed critically and suspiciously,  the authors of the letter want the organizers of SlutWalk to be more inclusive of Black women by changing the name of the movement.

They ask:

In that spirit, and because there is so much work to be done and great potential to do it together, we ask that the SlutWalk be even more radical and break from what has historically been the erasure of Black women and their particular needs, their struggles as well as their potential and contributions to feminist movements and all other movements.

Women in the United States are racially and ethnically diverse. Every tactic to gain civil and human rights must not only consult and consider women of color, but it must equally center all our experiences and our communities in the construction, launching, delivery and sustainment of that movement.

We ask that SlutWalk consider engaging in a re-branding and re-labeling process and believe that given the current popularity of the Walk, its thousands of followers will not abandon the movement simply because it has changed its label.

While I appreciate the writers of the open letter adding some much-needed historical context to the protest movement to end sexual violence (and reminding mainstream movements to be more inclusive of Black women), I’m not sure SlutWalks, by virtue of the name, excludes Black women. Many Black, Latina, Asian, and White women have participated in the walks and Alice Walker, prominent feminist foremother said she “always understood the word ‘slut’ to mean a woman who freely enjoys her own sexuality,” and that SlutWalks were “the spontaneous movement that has grown around reclaiming this word speaks to women’s resistance of having names turned into weapons against them.”

There has been a long-held belief in the Black community that we have to look respectable to be taken seriously (by White folks). Because of this, Salamishah Tillet of The Nation and Robin Givhan wonders if the opposite–to confront those stereotypes head on–is also possible?

Whether you agree with the name or not, one thing is clear: The more people working to end sexual harassment and violence, the better.

What do you think, Clutchettes? Have you participated in a SlutWalk? Do SlutWalks exclude black women because of the word ‘slut”? Is a name change in order? 

Talk to me! 

Related Reading
An Open Letter from Black Women to SlutWalk Organizers [The Huffington Post]
What to Wear to a SlutWalk [The Nation]
SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls [Crunk Feminist Collective]

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  • T

    While I understand the principle of these “walks”, I can’t help but see a few holes in the message. (1) What exactly is the impact and effect of these “walks”? Are they really sending the right message? Or are they just an excuse for perverts to lust after women and see them as objects instead of human beings as they parade down the street? What about the message to young girls? What message are we sending them? Shouldn’t we teach them to respect themselves and to be safe which in my opinion may cause them to want to cover up and leave less to the imagination? (2) Most rapes don’t occur by some stranger with the victim who just happens to be scantily clad. Most rapes occur by women who are wearing more than enough clothes and by someone they know. Also, you can be raped in your home. Also rape is often motivated by control and not lust. (3) This energy should be redirected to helping women learn how to be smart and safe (knowing that there are some crazy people out in the world regardless of what you wear). We should also help those women who have already been victims as well as work on some of these so called laws that cause victims to be victimized over and over again. Overall, the principal is a good one but it is misguided.

  • theAariD

    This is a very interesting topic. I’ve read everyones responses to the Slutwalks and I think its interesting to see that we as women divide over this issue. First and foremost, I would like to say that I disagree with Alice Walker and her definition of the word “slut”. IMO, there was never a time when we owned this word and decided to make it useful for us as saying that it means that woman is sexually free. Like another person said, this word was used by men to exemplify patriarchy, control, and ownership of a female’s body. It was never used as an endearing term for the love of sisterhood of different creeds, skin tones, ethinicities, or etc.

    Rape and other sexual crimes have been in play since the biblical days. Men have always had the upperhand, the driver’s seat in ALL socieities. Yes, some cultures were different in thier ways of respecting women and families; in some cultures, the men’s job was to protect his woman and his family no matter what, while in others they abused the women and children–evidently abusing their own God-given masculinity.

    I don’t believe in Slutwalks. Period. Like many people before me have said, women don’t have to look like sluts, prostitutes, or whores to get raped. Many women who get raped get abused by a family member or someone else they thought they could trust. Some women get raped by coworkers or people of a certain authority (bosses, government officials, police officers, etc.

    There is no doubt that the officer was very wrong when he said that women who dress like sluts get raped. Because he’s invalid. Women, who have almost ALWAYS been a oppressed group of people no matter where they come from, are suceptible of being used and abused no matter how dressed. It all comes from this sense of male dominance and abuse of masculinity on the men’s behalf. However, I don’t believe that this incident should give women the want to retaliate by dressing up like “sluts” and trying to take back the word. It never belong to us. It was a word men created to hold us down. In my mind, as a young woman who is barely 20, I do not see women dressed in this fashion as positive or inspirational. I don’t see it as something empowering. This is the exact image that we have been portrayed for the past,…God knows how long!

    IMO, being sexually expressive and free is not “freedom” at all. To me, sex is an act that people should really take more seriously. It involves emotion and the feeling of being attached to someone else. It’s the most intimate act you could have with another person. To me, freedom is having enough respect for yourself that you are not willing to give up your valuable goods to just anyone. Freedom is knowing who you are, inside out as a woman and loving yourself for who you are. Freedom, is feeling sexy without having sex, or showing off way too many goods. It’s confidence and its love.

    Women need to first love themselves and respect themselves. As Whitney did say, that’s the greatest love of all. Self-respect.

    As for the differences between cultures when it comes to woman’s rights, I say that without a doubt there is. African-American women have a certain stigma pressed to them. For years, ever since slavery, we have been seen as sexually wild and exhibited; wild beasts of nature that white male masters use to fantasize about. Our sexuality alone has been raped as history and the media portrays us as sins, guilty pleasures, physically distorted in our natural derriere (please look up Sarah Baartman), and wild animals.

    White women have never been criticized or put down as worse as we have been. So indeed, it is a different battle we have to fight, especially when you take on the facts of living in the inner cities and such.

    I really do believe that we all need to look deeply into the reasons why we want to protest certain things. I mean, really all these Occupy Wall Streets and other spin offs across the world? The outbreaks against leaders in Africa? And now this? What is going on in this world right now to make everyone want to protest? You can’t protest every single little ocurrence because then at the end of the day, What have you really done?

    • E.M.S.

      The Slutwalks are not denying the fact that women are raped in many other situations, the entire movement was specifically aimed at what the officer said. If you’re trying to apply it to all cases of rape then of course it doesn’t make sense.

      You may not believe that sexual expressiveness is a freedom but that is your opinion. Face it, some people have different ideas of sex, and you cannot judge them for looking at it differently than yourself because there isn’t a “correct” way to view it. It’s all about preferences.

      Actually protest has accomplished quite a lot in our nation’s history. Women protested against their inability to vote or wear pants, we are now able to do both. The black community protested against Jim Crow laws & segregation, we are now integrated into society. Those are just two examples, but very significant ones.

      These are not “single little occurrences.” These are things that are completely unjust, and the people are now understanding they truly have the power to make things change if they demand it. Rising up in numbers it the greatest insurance you have if you want a revolution.

      If you truly believed in equality & the government doing its job for all peoples of this nation you would support OWS. Do you think it’s fair our government is designed to serve the richest 1% of our nation while the majority is met with senseless financial struggles?

      I bet if you think about it some economic issue in your life is directly correlated to this issue, and it should make you angry our government behaves this way. Even if you don’t, trust me, the revolution has begun.

  • E.M.S.

    Honestly, I’m a young black woman & I think it’s a miss-placed overreaction. Never in my life have I heard of the term slut being associated with black women in the way this letter suggests. The term slut is used against all types of women, regardless of shape, size, or skin color.

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