Of Slut Shaming, Rape Culture and SlutWalk

I was going to wait another day or two before writing anything about SlutWalk Melbourne 2012.  I needed time to let it sink in.  Did it really change how I felt or was it a short-lived buzz?  I was keen to see what other people had thought about the experience and I expected images to turn up as cameras and phones were everywhere on the day.  You notice this acutely when you are standing publicly for something which for several years has rendered you frightened to go to the shops where HE might be, lest you be seen, judged, violated again…

I was surprised to find that aside from material derived from the organisers of Melbourne’s SlutWalk, so far, not much else at all.  The first article that pops up is this .  There was a blog post or two from people who attended.  I tried a few different search phrases.  Then I clicked on this.  The title: ‘Historical Perspectives on Slutwalk’.  Written by a Gender Historian.  Rather than create a picture of gender politics and sexual inequality which would seem quite obvious, really, Dr Hamilton asked ‘what is this ‘rape culture‘ you speak of?’  (Quotes from Dr Hamilton are in italics throughout)

“But now, aside from reading press  reports of increasing sexual activity among teenagers, the  prevalence of porn, the bringing of sexual harassment suits against  sleazy bosses, and the continuing difficulty of bringing rapists to  justice, I feel insulated (with some relief, to be honest)  from the issues many women deal with daily”

I would suggest (and I can only speak for myself) that what we call rape culture and slut shaming infiltrates or is influenced by every issue she mentions.  Personally, I would like to add that bringing about a law suit after sexual harassment requires nothing short of a miracle.  One does not simply decide that their boss is a ‘bit much’ and run to Court.  It is in fact an extremely long, arduous battle.  I can’t even get there yet, five and a half years in.  And my boss pled guilty.  You see?  Short of inviting you all back in a time machine, my case couldn’t be clearer.  But that is not how the system operates.  If you’ve read my babbling before, you may know that I even HAD a witness.  Who has spent the last five years lying for all she’s worth, because if she admitted what she actually facilitated and then ignored, she’d be, in the words she used when asking me to shut up, “deep shit”.  Dr Hamilton is correct in asserting that in no way is slut shaming and the perpetuation of a rape culture specific to men.  Indeed, I have read other women’s accounts of finding this abuse and denial so much more painful coming from another female.  Even more of a betrayal.  I certainly felt that way.

 “That my daughters  are only three and one respectively means they have (hopefully) at least a  decade before anyone starts flinging the insult ‘slut’ at them”

To me, slut shaming when we are talking about assault and rape is not referring to some wanker you walk past making a  lewd remark.  The slut shaming that cuts to the quick, that makes the victim feel that they orchestrated or facilitated their own violation, is the reaction she gets from the people around her if she is brave enough to disclose.  The Police, her partner, friends, colleagues, acquaintances.  The supposedly trusted people who can look you dead in the eye and say, “Well, he told us he’s not getting any at home” or “You did always laugh at his jokes” or “What did you expect, wearing THAT?”.  FYI, it was flannel pyjamas.  Whoa, provocative, huh?

Slut shaming comes in the questions you are asked, even by the most sensitive of law enforcement (I know there are some – I was blessed with one); Was there alcohol involved?  Did you fight back?  Did you say no?  How did you say no?  Did you say no really loudly?  Did anyone see this happen?  And then what did you do?  And then what did you do?  And then what did you do?  The onus is on you to prove that you made your NO clear enough for other people to accept, not on the people who force/coerce/ignore/belittle/shame/threaten you; before, during and after.  Over and over.

Slut shaming is the silence.  The tumbleweeds.  The immediate wipeout effect; when individuals who yesterday stood beside you run so fast in the other direction that you wonder if you are losing your mind.  In my case, colleagues were a bit short with me and had a gossip when I was simply clear about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.  You know, strong and consistent communication about HIM crossing the line?  What I was TOLD TO DO to keep safe?  The backlash was swift…She’s a loudmouth…Troublemaker…Who does she think she is? As if being a woman being assertive suggests an ego the size of Milky Way.  As if sexual harassment and/or assault is somehow akin to simple flirting, a ‘misunderstanding’ by another hysterical female.   Who’s a bit ‘up herself’, thinking every man fancies her, ay?

Slut shaming comes through the wider vernacular used around the subject of sexual appearance, behaviours and yes, gender.  No one denies males are also unfortunately victims of rape and sexual assault.  To describe the female experience is not to demean or deny a male one.  The facts are undoubtedly stacked against females and this is not a statistic women celebrate, believe me.  Ben McKenzie spoke at SlutWalk yesterday of the gender difference regarding sexuality.  There remains a chasm between us in terms of acceptable sexual pride.  Man who scores?  Stud.  Women who scores?  Slut.  Showing some cleavage?  Slut.  Went to the pub with him?  Slut.  Kissed him?  Slut.  And you probably screwed him, too.  Slut.  You didn’t sleep with him?  Frigid bitch.  *brain explodes*

Slut shaming is not just a stranger calling out that you’re a slut or asking for a blow job (just on my train line, then?).  But that name calling and the way it is ignored and excused feeds into a much more dangerous culture.   A rape culture.

“I’m at a loss to know  what, exactly, ‘rape culture’ is. Who, aside from the high profile  figures perpetrating or justifying sexual assault and harassment, are  the ‘shamers’? And who are the ‘sluts’  being shamed?”

“I haven’t seen what’s happening  on city streets at night or worked in an office for years…”

People need to admit to themselves that sexual offenders are neighbours, professionals, trusted citizens and to someone, family members.  Slut shaming is not restricted to (though it does encompass) what takes place on a dark night to a woman ‘wandering the streets’  somewhere .  The evidence is clear and has been there for some time now.  Victims of sexual assault and rape most likely to know their attackers.  Can’t you see how that actually magnifies the fear and intimidation effect possible?  Is it too uncomfortable to acknowledge that this happens in homes, workplaces and shopping centres, everywhere, all too often?  To that I say, please imagine how uncomfortable it is to be raped by someone you know, in the daylight, when you thought you were safe.   Yes, that’s right.  I thought so.

It is a rape culture that trivialises or jests about sexual violence, crime and the ultimate betrayal of trust.  We can almost admit sexual offenders are sometimes priests or scout leaders these days, but even that’s become a joke now.  You know what they say about Catholic priests, right? *wink wink*… But no one WE KNOW is a perpetrator.  This is the domain of other people.  I was told that exact thing by one of my bosses, “MY friend would never do anything like that”.  Well HE DID.  They DO.

The image of a rape victim as a lonely woman walking home late at night, or more importantly, the image of a sexual offender as a masked assailant with a knife is for the most part A MYTH.  They are men in positions of power (language is so loaded, I’m struggling to find words that do not have other meanings…) and yes, they are celebrities.  But it is a rape culture that allows screen time and millions of dollars to a convicted rapist, because like, other than that, he’s a cool guy.  That was in the past, get over your nagging As if he raped her, he could have anyone.  Rape is not a crime of status or good looks.  It is a crime of violence, power, control and manipulation.

It is a rape culture which demonises the victim through the accusations, deconstruction of her personality, presentation and moral fibre.  Jodie Foster.  The Accused.  Things haven’t changed that much.

It is a rape culture that refers to ‘groupie’ sluts, hangers on and “strays”.  Kerry Anne, I am talking to you.

It is a rape culture that allegedly (a bullshit word when you have gone through the Justice System in this area) allows a local Police station to mis-handle (at best) the investigation of serious crimes because it included their favourite football team.

It is a rape culture that says ‘boys will be boys’.

It is a rape culture that questions the victim as a criminal, as if she made up a story to gain attention when statistically, less than 2% of rape allegations are found to be false.

We do not just live in a rape culture.  This imagined sense of ‘otherness’ and perceived detachment from dangerous behaviour also plays out in issues of race, age and gender on a wider scale.

So Dr Hamilton wishes to know who are “the shamers”, “the sluts being shamed” and why couldn’t SlutWalk be clear about their target audience and what needed to change rather than seeming “nebulous and confusing” to herself and others?

The Shamers:  They are the name callers, the judges (That’s a slutty outfit…What do you expect…No one goes home with a guy for a Milo – Spider Everitt to Kerry Anne).  They are the women who turn on other women, who judge, dismiss, deny, deride and bully them for being violated.  They are the women who quietly comment on unwanted sexual behaviour they don’t like (correctly so) but run for the hills when someone gets the gumption to speak out, rather than stand beside them and agree.  The Shamers are the ones who believe this is an issue for ‘the others’, that they have nothing to do with it, no part to play.  The unfortunate professionals (unprofessional professionals, my friend calls them) who treat victims with contempt, such as the Policeman who kicked this whole movement off in Toronto.  The Shamers are those who make light of rape, of ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’.  You do not have to have said something awful to a victim of sexual violence to have played a part in this culture.

The Sluts:  Me.  A school teacher with two university degrees who loves her family and wants to leave the world better than she entered it.  Contribute to her community and help people.  I am the slut you shame.  The Sluts are anyone and everyone.  But you know what they also are?  The Sluts are someone’s baby daughter that they held in their arms.  Someone’s big sister who they look up to and admire.  Someone’s best friend.  Someone’s wife.  Someone’s mother.  They have their own little babies to hold.  They are SOMEONE and EVERYONE.  SlutWalk cannot encapsulate it for you because it permeates every sphere of our society.

Why is the protest so broad?  Because it has to be so.  And all of these answers, though they have spilled from my heart (and professional research background) tonight, also come in bite sized pieces on the Internet.  Google ‘rape culture’.

Taking part in SlutWalk Melbourne yesterday I experienced the first moment of real freedom in more than five years.  I walked with my head held high, took my sunglasses off and shouted out loud.  I was wearing on my person quotes from the people who witnessed these crimes against me and chose to attack me rather than help.  I don’t mind if you know who I am (I feel that I would gain a great sense of relief and perhaps regain some personal power by standing up and saying, this is me and I have no reason to be ashamed of that).  But I still can’t say my own name, just in case, until all legal avenues are exhausted.  Have you seen The Neverending Story?  Where Bastian has to call out the name of the Empress?  The Nothing is about to destroy everything, and she screams, “Say my NAME!”  (Aside: I love the crap out of that movie, and just realised The Nothing is possibly more apt than I even realised in this context, as the descriptor for the darkness that follows you after rape and sexual assault).

SlutWalk enabled me - in a safe place, surrounded by people who would not call me names or suggest I was a liar or think I was a freak – to say my name.  And it felt as powerful as when Bastian finally screamed out his name for the Empress and The Nothing ceased its destruction.  The bad stuff calmed down.  The place was a mess, mind, but that Empress would have it all under control and stronger than ever, I reckon.   Imagine what I might be able to do after breaking through to that?  And how each of us will continue to help people understand.  Watch this space.

14 thoughts on “Of Slut Shaming, Rape Culture and SlutWalk

  1. I was at SlutWalk in Melbourne with you. I didn’t see you, but I am glad to know you were there all the same.
    It appalls me that people can ask in seriousness ‘what rape culture?’
    I don’t even know how to begin answering that, though you have done a marvelous job!

    *some of the photos I took are on my own blog if you would like to see them.

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  9. This is a fantastic response to Slut Walk and to those who don’t ‘get’ rape culture. So comprehensive. So strongly worded. I feel stronger just reading it and knowing that some people, at least, get it. They know what’s at stake and why this matters so much.

    Great work! Thank you.

    • Thank you so much! I’m honoured that you read what I wrote! I remember typing it that night. The laptop was lucky to survive. I was punching those keys! The topic matters a LOT. May the conversation long continue…and more and more women and girls (and men) say ‘No more!’

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