Last Saturday, New York City became the most recent host city of a woman-led, anti-rape movement, SlutWalk. An estimated 4,000 people turned out to march against sexual violence and the often shame-filled aftermath of those crimes. Some women dressed only in their underwear to reinforce the message that what they wear should not increase their likelihood of being raped or assaulted.
The SlutWalk movement has Canadian roots and began in April after a police officer suggested to a group of students, that they should “ avoid dressing like sluts” if they wanted to prevent being sexually assaulted. (The Wall Street Journal recently reported that NYPD officers have been telling women in Brooklyn — where there have been repeated attacks by a rapist — not to wear shorts and dresses.)
As disparaging as the name may sound to your ears (more on that shortly), the cause behind it is noble. “SlutWalk NYC is part of a worldwide grassroots movement challenging rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and working to end sexual and domestic violence,” reads the mission statement on the movement’s homepage.
SlutWalks have since popped up in more than 70 cities around the US. Though many of the events have taken place in cities with large Black populations, and statistics say nearly one in five Black women will be raped in her lifetime, the rallies have included few Black faces.
Susan Brinson, author of “Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self,” explains why Black women and their organizations distance themselves from SlutWalk, even while acknowledging that sexual assault and domestic violence are issues are community needs to address and eradicate as well.
“[Black women] are perplexed by the use of the term ‘slut’ and by any implication that this word,” Brinson wrote in an open letter to SlutWalk organizers. “Much like the word ‘Ho’ or the ‘N’ word should be re-appropriated.”
She added, “Black women have worked tirelessly since the 19th century colored women’s clubs to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular of slut, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent. Although we vehemently support a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants anytime, anywhere, within the context of a ‘SlutWalk’ we don’t have the privilege to walk through the streets of New York City, Detroit, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, L.A. etc., either half-naked or fully clothed self-identifying as ‘sluts’ and think that this will make women safer in our communities an hour later, a month later, or a year later… we do not want to encourage our young men, our Black fathers, sons and brothers to reinforce Black women’s identities as ‘sluts’ by normalizing the term on t-shirts, buttons, flyers and pamphlets.”
Alison Turkos, one of SlutWalk NYC’s many organizers, told Gothamist that a name-change, which would be more inclusive of all women was being considered.
Does the name SlutWalk offend you? Would you participate in a rally in your city?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: Your Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk