Tag Archives: Feminism

Finding a Role for Women of Color in Anti-Rape Movements

10 Feb


The first SlutWalk in Toronto, ON, April 3, 2011 Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, ON, April 3, 2011
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg

I wanted to weigh in on a topic that I’ve been following on twitter lately, and I’ve been getting many requests from peers about my opinion on this topic: the idea of a community SlutWalk. For those who are unfamiliar with the term SlutWalk, the basic premise is that women and feminist allies can gather in solidarity and parade the streets of their local communities wearing whatever choice of garb desired, however skimpy or “scandalous”. The message that is being conveyed is a powerful one: As women, our choice of clothing, or lack thereof, is not a license for intercourse. Moreover, by embracing flaunting the word “slut” on picket signs, it is perceived that feminists are taking ownership over the word, eliminating use of the term as one of verbal assault against women.

As a self-identifying feminist and a resolute believer in equality, I support the underlying message of this anti-rape movement. However, as a woman a color, I acknowledge that feminism and one’s expression of liberation via sexuality becomes more complex when the intersection of gender and race is considered, and, as feminists, we must remain conscientious of the interplay between various levels of oppression: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Recently, a friend of mine raised the topic of women of color participating in slutwalks on facebook. Here was my response:

As women of color, we are often hypersexualized for our skin color and stereotyped before our credentials are discussed. Whether through being assigned playful (read: dismissive) nicknames…”my Turkish delight” or “my spicy Latina”, being asked where we are from or  what we are mixed with, or labeled an “exotic beauty” for our “sexy accents” or our curves, we are readily branded, dismissed, and relegated to sexual objects. For many of us, it’s our skin color and our body type that make us subject to sexualization and objectification, not necessarily the clothes we wear (as the SlutWalk would suggest).

Matter-of-factly, I believe that the idea of a slutwalk is proposed and executed from a position of power and privilege that is not available to women of color. As a woman of color, I do not feel safe calling myself a slut (even within a group setting of “solidarity” with other women), in the same way that I don’t feel like I can participate in the “casual Friday” look at work without compromising some of my credibility or professionalism, as a non-white person. Whereas white women are presumed to be born innocent, WOC are hypersexualized first, so there is already stigmatization involved before we can even discuss what clothing we wear….it’s an added level of oppression that the traditional slutwalk does not address.

Furthermore, I think it’s important to take into account that rape is most often not about the sex, but rather, exerting control over another person. Historically, WOC–minorities, in general– have been consistently relegated to inferior statuses. Rape has also been historically used to oppress minorities during colonialization and during the slave trade between masters and their “property”, which also calls attention to a greater need to focus on the issues of WOC when discussing sexual assault and gender-based violence.

Many of my peers, especially fellow Duke grads, are confused when I don’t respond enthusiastically to this topic, since I am often considered sex-positive for my work with HIV prevention and sex worker advocacy, but I DO think it is especially difficult for WOC to subscribe to a sex-positive and liberal culture at times. It’s not impossible for us (I certainly identify with this culture, indeed), but certain platforms, ie. slutwalks, while radical and forward thinking, can also create drawbacks for minorities. Representation of minorities in this walk is critical, and the sexualization associated with being a woman of color–beyond clothing–should be addressed.

-Not your princess Jasmine

email me at rachel.safeek@duke.edu
tweet me @RachSafeek