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Transcript from a speech given by Jaclyn Friedman at this weekend’s Boston SlutWalk.
Well hello you beautiful sluts!
Do you see what I did there? I called y’all sluts, and I don’t know the first thing about what any of you do with your private parts. (Well, maybe I know about a couple of you, but I’ll never tell.)
That’s how the word “slut” usually works. If you ask ten people, you get ten different definitions. Is a slut a girl who has sex too young? With too many partners? With too little committment? Who enjoys herself too much? Who ought to be more quiet about it, or more ashamed? Is a slut just a woman who dresses too blatantly to attract sexual attention? And what do any of these words even mean? What’s too young, too many partners, too little committment, too much enjoyment, too blatant an outfit? For that matter, what’s a woman, and does a slut have to be one?
For a word with so little meaning, it sure is a vicious weapon. And, while the people who use it to hurt may not agree on what they mean by it, they’ll all agree on one thing: a slut is NOT THEM. A slut is other. A slut is someone, usually a woman, who’s stepped outside of the very narrow lane that good girls are supposed to stay within. Sluts are loud. We’re messy. We don’t behave. In fact, the original definition of “slut” meant “untidy woman.” But since we live in a world that relies on women to be tidy in all ways, to be quiet and obedient and agreeable and available (but never aggressive), those of us who color outside of the lines get called sluts. And that word is meant to keep us in line. To separate us. To make us police each other, turn on each other, and turn each other in so that we can prove we’re not “like that.” That word comes with such consequences that many of us rightly work to avoid it at all costs.
But not today. Today we all march under the banner of sluthood. Today we come together to say: you can call us that name, but we will not shut up. You can call us that name but we will not cede our bodies or our lives. You can call us that name, but you can never again use it to excuse the violence that is done to us under that name every single fucking day.
Because make no mistake: the consequence of being a slut is violence. The people that yell that word at us in the hallways and on the street know that. The people that call us that on the internet when we dare raise our voices, and the ones who tell us they know what’s best for us, what we should or shouldn’t do with our bodies if we “value” them, they know that. They know that labeling us as sluts marks us as easy targets for sexual violence. Who would come to the defense of a slut? Why would anyone bother? If we don’t play by their rules, why should they care about our bodies or our lives?
This is not hyperbole. In Manitoba this year, a judge refused to sentence a convicted rapist to a single day of jailtime because his victim had worn a tank top and high heels and acted “inviting.” This after the rapist admitted in open court that he’d told his victim that his violation of her “would only hurt for a little while.” When two young Swedish women accused Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of sexual assault after they each voluntarily invited him home with them, blogger Robert Stacy McCain said, “you buy your ticket, you take the ride.” When an 11-year old was gang-raped in Texas by 18 grown men, the New York Times found it relevant to report on how much makeup she wore. Right now, there’s a serial killer loose on Long Island, and the police aren’t doing fuck all about it because he’s mostly killing sex workers.
The word “slut” is an act of violence. Not just metaphorically. It gives permission for people to rape us, and the person who wields it doesn’t have to lift a finger. It sends a signal: this one is fair game. Have at her. No one will blame you.
Which is why, when a Toronto cop told a group of law students at York University that the best way to avoid getting raped was to not dress like a slut, the people of Toronto took to the streets. And so have the people of Dallas, TX, and of London, England, and of Orlando, FL. So too are thousands and thousands of people planning to take to the streets in the months to come, from New Zealand to Amsterdam to Honolulu and beyond. All of us are coming together to say: enough. Enough. You cannot blame us for the crimes you commit against us anymore, no matter what we wear, what we say, or what we do.
And make no mistake about it: we can be called sluts for nearly any reason at all. If we’re dancing. If we’re drinking. If we have ever in our lives enjoyed sex. If our clothes aren’t made of burlap. If we’re women of color, we’re assumed to be sluts before we do a single thing because we’re “exotic.” If we’re fat or disabled or otherwise considered undesirable, we’re assumed to be sluts who’ll fuck anyone who’ll deign to want us. If we’re queer boys or trans women, we’re called sluts in order to punish us for not fearing the feminine. If we’re queer women, especially femme ones, we’re called sluts because we’re obviously “up for anything,” as opposed to actually attracted to actual women. If we’re poor, we’re gold diggers who’ll use sex to get ahead. And god forbid we accuse someone of raping us – that’s the fast track to sluthood for sure, because it’s much easier to tell us what we did wrong to make someone to commit a felony violent crime against us than it is to deal with the actual felon.
There’s a word for all of this. And that word is bullshit. But there’s also a phrase for it: social license to operate. What that means is this: we know that a huge majority of rapes are perpetrated by a small minority of guys who do it again and again. You know why they’re able to rape an average of 6 times each? Because they have social license to operate. In other words: because we let them. Because as a society, we say “oh well, what did she expect would happen if she went back to his room? What did she expect would happen walking around by herself in that neighborhood? What did she expect would happen dressed like a slut?”
You know what I expect will happen when I’m dressed like a slut? People will want to get with me. You know what I don’t mean when I dress like a slut? That anyone I encounter can literally do anything at all they want to me. I know. It’s shocking. Because clearly you thought me wearing my tits out like this gives every single one of you carte blanche to do anything whatsoever you might want to do with my body. I’m very sorry to disappoint.
I don’t mean to make light of any of this, I just want to point out how ridiculous it all sounds when you spell out the meaning of “she was asking for it.” Because the rapists are not confused. Those tiny percentage of guys doing most of the raping? They’ve told researchers that they know full well they don’t have consent. It’s the rest of us that seem confused. We’re the ones that let them off with a little “boys will be boys” shrug and focus our venom on “sluts” instead, leaving those boys free to rape again and again. That’s right: every time we blame a slut for her own violation, we’re not only hurting her, we’re creating a world with more rapists in it for all of us to live in.
No more. We’re here to testify that this ends TODAY. It ends because there is truly nothing – NOTHING – you can do to make someone raping you your fault. It ends because calling other people sluts may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t actually keep you safer. It ends because not one more of us will tolerate being violated and blamed for it. And it ends because all of this slut-shaming does more to us than just the violence of rape. As if that weren’t enough. The violent threat of slut-shaming also keeps us afraid of our bodies and our desires. It makes us feel like we’re wrong and dirty and bad – and yes, very very unsafe – when all we want is to enjoy the incredible pleasure that our bodies are capable of. And that theft of pleasure – that psychic mugging, that ongoing robbery of the gorgeous potential of our souls – that ends today too. Am I right, sluts?
Because the secret truth nobody wants you to know is that, using nearly any definition, there’s nothing wrong with being a slut. Not a thing. It’s OK to like sex. Sex can be awesome. It can be life-alteringly awesome, but even when it’s not, it can be a damn good time. Our sexual desire is part of our life force. And as long as you’re ensuring your partner’s enthusiastic consent, and acting on your own sexual desires, not just acting out what you think someone else expects of you? There’s not a damn thing wrong with it. Not if it’s a hookup, not if you’re queer, not if you like it kinky, not if your number’s too high. If you’re playing on your own terms and you’ve got an enthusiastic partner? Please, I beg of you, just have a fucking awesome time. Our lives are way too often full of struggle and pain. If you can do something with someone else that brings both of you pleasure and joy? You’re increasing the pleasure and joy in the world. No one should ever make you feel bad about that. They should really be sending you a thank you note.
Speaking of which, I want to send a thank you note of my own, to those of you standing here today under the banner of sluthood who don’t identify with that word at all, but understand why we must come together to reject its power. There has been a lot of misunderstanding about the meaning of the SlutWalk, and none more egregious than those who claim our agenda is to encourage all women to be sluts. Whatever that means, our mission could not be further from that. Our mission here today is to create a world in which all of us are free to make whatever sexual and sartorial choices we want to without shame, blame or fear. If you dress and experience your sexuality in decidedly unslutty ways, and you know that there’s nothing we can do to make someone rape us, the SlutWalk is your walk, too, and I thank you for ignoring the hype and standing with us today.
Last summer, when I wrote a manifesto of sorts against slut-shaming, I was told by a pearl-clutching blogger who happens to live in this fair city, that if more than a few people followed my lead, we would destroy the economy, and then society. I have never experienced a clearer affirmation that my words and actions have power. Those who support the status quo in which women live in fear and that fear makes us easy to control will do almost anything to shut us up. But every time they try, we must commit to getting louder.
So let’s practice. Instead of distancing ourselves from those among us who are targeted as sluts, lest we get caught in the crossfire, let’s stand together today and say, if you use the word slut as a weapon against one of us, you’re using it against all of us. If you shame one of us, you will receive shame from all of us. If you rape one of us, you will have to answer to all of us.
If you’ve ever been called a slut, stand up now and say together – I am a slut. If you love someone who’s been called a slut – stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’ve ever been afraid of being called a slut, stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’ve been blamed for violence that someone else did to you, stand up now and say, I am a slut. If you’re here to demand a world in which what we do with our bodies is nobody’s business, and we can all live our lives and pursue our pleasures free of shame, blame and free, stand up and say it with me: I am a slut. I am a slut. I am a slut.