I am Not a Slut (So I Didn’t Go to SlutWalk)

[Trigger Warning for Discussion of Rape, Rape Culture]

Or I am, who am I to argue? I have big breasts, long legs, and the occasional short skirt. Men twice my age whistle and blow kisses as they drive by.  The first time I was ever raped, I was 8. And then when I was 16–several times over. The day before it happened (again), my rapist told me that I was “such a slut,” and it took me a while to realize that this was abnormal, because slut is a thing that my parents, my teachers, and the girls I never seemed to get along with at school have all had the right to call me since the 6th grade.

It has very little to do with my personhood and a whole lot to do with victimization.

And, don’t get me wrong, I can’t possibly bring myself to give a shit about whether or not you consider yourself a slut. But I can tell you that I am no less of a survivor for wanting to keep my distance from such a term. Because slut is something that I internalized in a way that I could never internalize “stupid,” or “cunt,” or “dyke.” It didn’t mean anything to me, except that I was irredeemably available for sexual violence. “Slut,” to me, will always be a rape threat.

This doesn’t mean people will stop calling me that. I’ve learned pretty quickly that one of my litmus tests, now, has to be “will you invoke childhood trauma by calling me a slut? Does your love of shock value outweigh your distaste for making me feel unsafe? Are  you aware that words mean things?” Lots of people fail. Including Jaclyn Friedman.

And nobody is talking about it. Friedman addressed a group of survivors with “well hello you beautiful sluts!” but all of us who would have felt threatened already knew not to be there that day (fittingly, if I wanted to be called a slut, I could just hang around at home). It’s frustrating, and a little exclusionary. I mean, maybe if every Saturday a group of survivors got together and demanded an end to rape culture, I could be okay with SlutWalk. I wouldn’t go. But I would be okay with it. But the fact that I apparently have to “reclaim” a word that I’ve been fighting my whole life to escape if I want to be part of the one response to a dipshit rape apologist who is furthering oppression that I–and every rape survivor too triggered for SlutWalk–suffer from is inexcusable. Demanding that we call ourselves sluts or just shut the fuck up is what rape culture looks like.

Because I was too powerless when slut was first applied. It doesn’t refer to anything I’m proud of: it’s not my sexual orientation (dyke), my genitals (cunt), or my autism (stupid). It’s my vulnerability and status as a rapeable member of society. There is nothing to “take back,” for me. Keep it.

(ETA: This post has been getting a lot of hits, and in maybe an overly-cynical move, I would like to request that negative/dissenting comments be directed at this thread, because they won’t be approved here).

27 Comments

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27 responses to “I am Not a Slut (So I Didn’t Go to SlutWalk)

  1. Eli (polymorphously-perverse)

    though I have very mixed feelings about the SlutWalk since I will defend folks’ rights to identify as sluts though I hate that people try to force words, identities, and labels on other folks, I really really appreciated this post. Honest, fierce, and wonderful–this is what self-determination/identification is about, and you absolutely 100,000% counter the points that those who demand that a word be reclaimed argue. Just because i might identify as a tranny boy, a fag, a dyke, etc. doesn’t mean that those words aren’t triggering to other people, and in accepting our own identities and creating ourselves, we always have to be thoughtful of others. thank you 500bajillion% for this. kudos and rock on.

    • Thank you <33

      I've been thinking a lot about what I would have done differently to protest the remarks that sparked SlutWalk. Because I would have been sososo supportive of any survivor who showed up to a non-SlutWalk event with a sign that said something like "slut and proud," but I can't get behind the necessitating that everyone who wants to combat rape culture identify as a slut. I mean, JESUS.

  2. Amazing and brave response.

  3. omniavanitas

    I just wanted to say that I couldn’t agree more with your article here. Thanks for writing and putting it out there. I find this whole thing noxious.

  4. Pingback: Poetry! And Anti-SlutWalk Blog 2k11 | Somewhat of Something Other

  5. thank you for writing this post. i honestly didn’t even consider this point of view, which i immediately regret. i always associated “taking back” words as something positive and never thought about the people that don’t want those words attributed to their identity.

    i was considering attending a slutwalk that is near my town, but now i’m not so sure i want to. i mean, i support protesting the rape culture, but as you pointed out “Demanding that we call ourselves sluts or just shut the fuck up is what rape culture looks like.” it’s not very subversive to reclaim a word often used by rape apologists and rapists alike.

    • Thank you :-)

      The reclamation of the word “slut” is interesting to me, because it really is very vague. I mean, a twelve-year-old can be called a “slut” for having big boobs just the same as a porn star can or a genderqueer person who looks female and sleeps around can. The closest I can get to a definition of “slut” is “person who is targeted for misogyny”–which isn’t a characteristic that necessarily needs celebrating like race or disability status or trans* status.

      At the same time, I’m not *against* people who want to reclaim the word “slut.” It’s just that not all survivors do. But all survivors are hurt by victim-blaming. So it’s unkind to make an event that is very clearly catered one demographic (people who’re reclaiming “slut”), when really it should be in service of the affected demographic (all survivors, no matter what we call ourselves).

  6. Cooker

    Followed your link at Feministe…just want to echo the other commenters who thank you for this really valuable post!!

  7. Xeginy

    Thank for this very different point of view. Up until now, I have heard nothing but positive and wonderful things about Slut Walk. I had a vague idea that it was a positive event (though I had zero interest in participating), so thank you very much for giving me another way of thinking about it.

  8. Thank you for saying what I couldn’t. I’ve been struggling to verbalize my reaction to SlutWalk and you’ve hit the nail on the head. As a previous poster mentioned, I will defend the rights of any woman who wants label herself a slut with pride and take part in the walk to deliver whatever social critique they want to deliver to do so, I really don’t want any part of this.

  9. Cyn

    Followed this link from Feministe! :)
    Anyway, when I first heard of SlutWalk, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t think it had the potential to be triggering for survivors. I’ve always felt antsy about the word “slut” myself. I don’t think it should be a slur, because what it means is to devalue women ostensibly for sexual open-ness, but it’s been applied in so many different ways for so many different women that by now, it’s really just a generic insult for a woman you don’t like.

    Your words have also given me thought to the anti-rape culture movement. A lot of it does revolve around “sluttiness” because of the tendency for victim-blaming creates a desire to lash out against that. But we shouldn’t all have to call ourselves “sluts” to be unified against rape. Ideally, “slut” could be a word that we could reclaim, but it’s not a label that we should force. We should defend the rights of “sluts” because we’re defending the rights of all women.

  10. Nora, this is very well said, and like many of the other commenters I hadn’t thought about SlutWalks this way before, so thank you so much for making me think again. I think I basically want to say exactly what Cyn said above. The idea of SlutWalks is great, and I think they drive home an important point, but we shouldn’t force anyone to reclaim labels that hurt them.

  11. Pingback: To slut or not to slut? Not an easy question. « Feminism is Not a Four Letter Word

  12. This was a very powerful post, and I thank you for sharing, and for articulating so clearly what has always rubbed me the wrong way about movements to “reclaim” other pejorative, oppressive, shaming terms like “nigger,” etc. On the one hand, words are just words, and have only the power we grant them, but the fact is that some words have been invested with so much hatred and invective, and have been used to inflict so much harm, that they’re not worthy of rehabilitation. In my opinion, “slut” is one of them.

  13. Nikoel

    Thanks for this post. I’m privileged in that the word doesn’t trigger me, but it does leave a very bad taste in my mouth. The whole reclaiming thing just smacks of choice feminism to me and then they accuse us of being exclusionary to them. I wish I could say that I’d defend someone else’s right to call themselves a slut, but I’m just not there yet.

    • Thanks, Nikoel! It’s complicated, because I don’t want to run around yelling at other survivors for identifying in a way that I dislike. But at the same time, the word slut is qualitatively different from pretty much any other slur (that I’m aware of) in that it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. So you can celebrate “queerness” or “crip-ness” in a way that you just can’t celebrate “sluthood” because a slut is a member of the sex class that you’ve decided deserves to be raped.

      Incidentally, this is why you can argue “no I’m not!” when someone calls you a slut for having sex, but you can’t say “no I’m not!” if you’re Black and someone calls you the n-word. It wouldn’t make sense, because the n-word at least refers to something concrete, which is the basis of its reclamation.

      I think you’re exactly right: it really is “choice feminism.” Nobody has *ever* given “Take Back the Night” this much publicity because it doesn’t play into the patriarchy to this ridiculous extent.

  14. And How

    [Trigger warning for this sub-thread --Nora]

    Yeah, I was flickering in and out of consciousness when a dude, while anally raping me, kept saying “you’re a dirty little slut, aren’tchya.”

    Et cetera. “Slut” can’t be reclaimed. I’m still fighting to be a human being, for god’s sake.

    • Yeah, the more I think about it, the more obvious it is to me that sluts don’t really exist except as a character created by rapists/abusers/patriarchy-supporters/etc. I’m a little surprised they didn’t just call it the “I was asking for it” walk and then get mad when survivors started to come forward and complain about how they don’t identify as “asking for it.”

      Like, come on. At best, personally identifying as a “slut” is orthogonal to actually fighting rape culture. But SlutWalk hegemony toes the line at setting up a coercively sexual space by telling survivors that we’re either sluts or we’re not welcome.

  15. Pingback: The Politics of Slutwalk, reading group 1st June | Feminist Memory

  16. Thank you! As a survivor of abuse myself, and someone who cringes at the word slut, and someone who now works with women who’ve suffered rape and abuse, this whole slutwalk thing has really got me thinking.
    I think you’ve finally helped me pin down what bugs me about it above everything else… You’re totally right. The message is “Say you’re a slut or shut your mouth” … The exact message many abusers have fed to so many women.
    Surely instead of focusing on “you can’t keep yourself safe by dressing prudently”, we should be focusing on educating girls on how they CAN try to stay safe!

    • This comment made the connection between “you must call yourself a slut or be ostracized” and revisiting abuse soso much clearer–thank you!

      And also, yes! It’s interesting that rape culture can be perpetuated in any number of ways (calling someone a “prude” as a way of coercing them, for example). I’d much rather see activism that addresses the issue holistically.

  17. B.

    Thank you for writing this! I really appreciate the discussion here in the comments, too—thank you, commenters!

    I’ve been trying to articulate something like what you wrote but coming up short. My friends who are usually conscientious about labelling other people have been throwing “slut” around all the time, as though now that it’s been “reclaimed” it can’t have any power to trigger someone or make them uncomfortable. Hearing it all the time was really hard. :(

    I have a mobility impairment and can’t reliably walk for long distances, and the amount of shaming from local feminist friends that I have gotten for not going to my city’s SlutWalk is astonishing. Well, disappointing, not astonishing.

  18. Pingback: Woman on the Edge of Tyne » Blog Archive » Slutwalk

  19. I had never thought about it that way, I understand that you would not feel alright in a event where a word that means so much to you in a negative way would be so used.
    But I think you didn’t understand the idea of the slut walk, it’s not about reclaiming the word slut or identifying as such. It’s irony.
    The goal is to achieve awareness by satirizing how society blames rape victims, saying that it was their fault because they were wearing revealing clothes or flirted or drank or that they had already had sex with other people, as if any of it made rape excusable. The Slut walk is supposed to show how all that is just ridiculous.

  20. Pingback: Slutwalk: A critical note around coverage of criticism. | Feminist Current

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