Slutwalk Speech 2013

****Content warning: rape, rape culture, victim blaming***

I have been pretty busy over the last few weeks so haven’t managed to write anything new, I am hoping to put up something this weekend around prevention. I read and write rape prevention content all day at work and sometimes it’s hard to do it again in the evenings!  However, what’s on my mind today is the Select Committee Inquiry into Sexual Violence in New Zealand, the oral submission dates have been posted and I will have 5 minutes to speak to the personal submission I wrote as a sector worker. Whenever I need inspiration for speeches for work I always go to the writings of Andrea Dworkin and bell hooks as they have helped me many times before. For now I am posting the speech I gave fior Slutwalk last year which incorporates some of the teachings of these two great feminists.

Kia ora and thank you all for coming along today, and to those of you who turn up each year to make a stand against rape culture.

According to Rape Crisis tikanga, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge those women who have come before me, who have struggled and fought on our behalf so that we may be here today. For those of us in the now, for the mahi we all do in carrying on this legacy. And for those who are yet to come, partly for whom we stand here today in the hope that this mahi will no longer be necessary.

I would also like to acknowledge that the words I speak today are a compilation of the knowledge of Rape Crisis womyn and many other feminist womyn who have said all of these things before, and more elegantly than I.

As many of you will know the Slut Walk began in 2011 in Toronto when a male police officer told a group of women that they should avoid dressing like ‘sluts’ in order not to be victimised. Since then SlutWalk’s have taken place each year all over the world. Each of these marches has a different Kaupapa or ideology depending on where they are, so today I will speak to you about what this march means for us, the women of Rape Crisis.

Our aim for this march is not to call ourselves sluts, as we do not believe that such a thing exists. It is useful here to note that ‘reclaim’ has multiple meanings. Reclaim has its origins in the Latin reclamare: “to cry out” or “appeal” in protest. Our SlutWalk movement is about ‘crying out’ against a word that is used to police women’s sexualities according to sexist binaries. We want to highlight that ‘slut’ has no meaning beyond what patriarchy imbues it with. Our aim is to highlight the way slut is used against many women to police our sexuality and behaviour, to degrade and humiliate us. We want to draw attention to the way that slut is used to justify sexual violence, to wrongly blame survivors for sexual abuse and minimise the actions of perpetrators.

We want to highlight the way ‘slut’ contributes to a culture of victim blame. The way slut contributes to rape myth and the false belief that survivors are to blame for sexual violence because of:

the way she dresses; the way she walks; the way she talks; the way she sits; the ways she stands; she was out after dark; she invited a man into her house; she said hello to a male neighbour; she opened the door; she looked at a man; a man asked her what time it was and she told him; she sat on her father’s lap; she got into a car with a man; she got into a car with her best friends father or her uncle or her teacher; she flirted; she got married; she had sex once with a man and then said no the next time; she is not a virgin; she talks with men; she talks with her father; she went to a movie alone; she took a walk alone; she went shopping alone; she smiled; she is home alone; she is asleep… 

And so it goes on.

We are here today because we oppose this rape culture that blames survivors for the crimes of offenders. We oppose this rape culture that makes excuses for perpetrators and fails to hold them accountable for their choices. We are here because we oppose this rape culture that tells women what we should wear, where we should go, who we should socialise with, that our sexuality is equal to our worth and value as individuals. We oppose this rape culture that tells each of us that we are not valuable just as we are.

Rape culture teaches us to be afraid. A culture of domination relies on a cultivation of fear in order to ensure societies obedience. So as we come together today we do the work of challenging rape culture, we choose to move against fear, against the alienation and separation that rape culture encourages and we choose to love. The choice to love is the choice to connect and find ourselves in one another. As bell hooks has said we have to be courageous. When we learn to face our fears we embrace love, and while our fear may not go away it will not stand in the way. Love is a practice and when we act, as we do today, we do not feel inadequate or powerless, we foster light within ourselves and when we shine that light we draw to us, and are drawn to others with that light, and we are not alone.

I stand here today knowing that the way we are going about sending this message is for many people controversial. I acknowledge that for many people this march is not part of their pathway towards ending rape culture. But there are many feminist pathways towards this goal, and this is only one of them. Each of us can, do, and should, act in ways that support the multiple pathways of creating a world free from sexual violence.

When my colleague and I spoke of this day we imagined a festival full of families, music, dancing and colour. We talked about a celebration of our community, a practice run for the day when not one person is raped. Here today we practice for that day but we also help to create it. We walk towards that day where rape no longer exists and we will begin the real practice of equality. And on that day we will for the first time in our lives begin to experience freedom. Here today we help to make that day a reality, and I hope that each of us will be able to experience at least one day of freedom before we die

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Love and violence prevention

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bell hooks’ work has been a major influence in my own feminist politics but also in my research more generally. Today I am writing about the ways her work on loving ethic can be utilised for sexual violence prevention interventions.

I will provide an overview of hooks’ work on love primarily from the following three books “All about love new visions, Men Masculinity and Love and Feminism is for everybody”. However, this being a big part of her scholarship I have drawn from other texts as well.

For me hook’s work lends itself very readily to feminist discussions of rape prevention and I am interested in three aspects of her work on love which highlight this link:

Her contention that we need to work from a shared understanding of love and work to practice this in all of our relationships, not only romantic.

Her work addresses the complications of love for individuals who have witnessed and/or experienced abuse and provides a space to consider how we draw a boundary between love and abuse which she considers mutually exclusive. She argues that “the myth that love and domination can coexist is one of the biggest lies told to us by patriarchy”.

Her work speaks directly to the reimagining of patriarchal and hegemonic constructions of masculinity, a piece of work that is fundamental to sexual violence prevention. Effective rape prevention engages men not as potential perpetrators but as allies in eliminating gendered violence, approaching men within a framework of love gives us the opportunity to draw on what many men already do in their relationships and working towards harnessing love, empathy and compassion in order to behave safely in public and private.  

Love has long been a foundational principle in anti-violence work, and is a key principle in many faith based schools of thought and in many indigenous communities. I am thinking quickly here of Martin Luther King’s speech on loving one’s enemies “hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”, of practicing loving kindness during meditation and of the principles of tika, pono and aroha in Te Ao Maori. These understandings of love are not equivalent, but rather I am using them to show that love may be a way for different groups to find shared meaning, in a way that speaking of gender, sex and sexuality (sometimes) cannot do. Indeed hooks reminds us that “all the great movements for social justice in our society have strongly emphasized a love ethic”.

The study of love in feminism and also queer studies has been influential in many ways. Romantic love as a social institution and a form of social control as described by Kate Millet in Sexual Politics, ‘love of the self regardless’ as described by Alice Walker and the complexities surrounding love, sex and sexuality outlined in Lynne Segal’s Straight Sex, are a small selection of a large field of theoretical work on love.

bell hooks’ conception of love argues that love acts to transform relationships of domination. Her theory of presupposes that everyone has the right to live freely and to live well. According to hooks love is a practice, love is not instinctual we choose to love but in patriarchal culture, romantic love is tied to notions of possession and submission. The idea of love catches you unawares, you fall into it and it renders you powerless. Luce Irigary speaks also of the way love is framed in language in I love to you, “I love to you means I maintain a relationship of indirection to you. I do not subjugate or consume you. I respect you (as irreducible).”

Because there is no school to teach us how to love, we do not work from a shared definition or understanding of what it means to love. And thus hooks provides us with a definition of love, care, commitment, knowledge, integrity and the will to cooperate.

Part of her work involves speaking of her own childhood abuse at the hands of her father and mother and also witnessing abuse between them, and the way she grappled with understanding what love was when she never felt as though she experienced it. I think her work on love is significant to discussions of preventing the revictimisation of people who experience abuse, as well as preventing before it happens, as witnessing abuse is a risk factor both in perpetration and victimisation. To have a clear understanding of what love is and is not, is to me a fruitful space for thinking and talking about violence prevention. An example of this is work done in Australia in a project called ‘Spreading the Love’ where one woman said:

“For us it’s almost like lump (love + hump) is the same as what anyone else would call love but because I guess my experiences have lent themselves to people saying that they love me and then doing stuff to me that I don’t want them to do then it’s kinda like twisted inside my head. So it’s almost like the creation of the word ‘lump’ gives me a way of expressing that without associating it with something that I don’t want to experience”. So love is a concept that can be used as a basis to understand one another and the way we wish to be treated, working together we can create shared meanings of love but also the behaviour we expect from others.

Finally, hooks argues that feminism has offered amazing critiques of patriarchy but few insightful ideas about alternative masculinity which, I would argue is something that is actually a primary focus of violence prevention. She argues that men are brainwashed to consider violence against women as part of male privilege and this stops them from seeing the damage that is done both to others and to themselves. She states:

“men who win on patriarchal terms lose in their substantive quality of life. They choose patriarchal manhood over loving connection, first forgoing self-love and then the love they could give and receive that would connect them to others”

Utilising her work on love, helps us to provide an alternative to violence. We can encourage people to practice new positive behaviour as Baker (2013) argues “True prevention moves beyond stopping violence to promoting healthy behaviour. This requires positive and specific words to describe what we want to do”. To make love a verb, an act of doing, is to re-frame our behaviour and actions and orient them towards more equitable and respectful relationships.