Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ahh, to be famous...

**Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault, rape and victim blaming**

What do the President of the IMF, the former Governor of California, an information 'freedom fighter' and a Hollywood Director have in common? Why, sexual assault of course!

I know what you're thinking. "No, no Ms. FC, you mean sexual assault accusations." Ahh yes, pardon me! Rape accusations thrown at famous men because womyn are opportunistic whores. Ahh yes, my bad.

So the President of the IMF, Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) has been arrested on charges of at least 1 sexual assault of a hotel room cleaning staff. He's also been accused of sexually assaulting at least 1 journalist a few years ago. In fact, Mr. DSK was known as being quite the 'charmer'.

Then you've got the Governator himself who is not only filing for divorce from his Democratic wife Maria Shriver over allegations of cheating (and fathering a 'love child'), he also has a well documented history of being well... grabby.

Julian Assange was accused of sexually assaulting two womyn, but we all know that didn't happen because he's a lefty who wants to take down the greedy government, so it's clearly all just a big old conspiracy to take him down.

And Roman Polanski? Look dude might have anally raped a young girl that he had plied with drugs, but her mom shouldn't have let her come over anyway and it was such a long time ago. Plus, have you seen Chinatown? Cinematic gold!

FYI - This list fails to include athletes, although we could easily talk about Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, and Check-Out-Photos-Of-My-Dick Brett Favre.

See, when it comes to sexual assault, you're pretty much off the hook to begin with, but if you happen to be famous? You're in the clear, my dear!

Every time these 'scandals' come out, we hear the same victim-blaming bullshit, we have other 'celebrities' coming out to 'support them' and we have this whole conspiracy theory machine that states that they're being unfairly scrutinized because they're rich and famous.

To which I say - so what?

Why are we appalled that Paris Hilton only spent a few days in jail for drinking and driving but we're downright infuriated that DSK's case is being investigated at all?

Sexual assault, unlike most crimes, is rife with stereotypes. There are stereotypes around who commits sexual assault, who is actually sexually assaulted, who 'cries rape', etc.

According to the myths, who commits sexual assaults? Well, old men with mental illnesses, of course! They are always strangers to the victim in question, have some sort of sick sexual fetish and in many cases are a person of colour/Queer/disAbled, etc.

Does that mean that never fits the profile? Absolutely not. But the % of people who sexually assault who fit this very narrow and specific profile is slim.

And because we continue to perpetuate this same sadistic bullshit, we are equally appalled by the profile of the rapist as we are by the crimes themselves.

Need I remind you of Colonel Russell Williams? People were SHOCKED that a decorated Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces committed such heinous crimes and yet, it makes perfect sense. Here is a man with ample amounts of power who leads a secretive life where people who know him fully understand that they don't really know him. Not to mention how he was trained to do just that.

And because we continue to perpetuate the stereotype of who is a rapist we continue to victim blame those who are assaulted by someone who doesn't 'fit the profile', because we just don't believe someone like them could do something like that.

Newsflash, skeptics: Rapists come in every size and flavour. They are decorated military colonels, actors, directors, governors, weight lifters, city councillors, janitors, fathers, sons, cousins, colleagues and people of every background, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, ability and sexual orientation.

Maybe we don't want to believe this because it's too scary to think about. Maybe we want to believe that rapists are easy to spot so that we can sleep better at night, knowing that our radar is on the right people. But this isn't helping anybody.

This mentality is blaming womyn unnecessarily, it's framing men of colour/queer men/ disAbled men/ poor men as sexual predators and it's allowing rich, entitled, privileged piece of shit dudes walk away, consequence free.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a world in which we let people get away with sexual assault just because they wear a nice suit and have cushy bank accounts. I gotta believe that we are better than this.

** I'm willfully interchanging the words sexual assault and rape here just for the sake of being concise **

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I SlutWalk(ed)

Alright so I'm a terribly absentee blogger, but the election results kept me depressed for a while.

But all the media kerfuffle and critiques of SlutWalk have got me galvanized to write again. Now, I'm not going to link to any of these critiques because they are just way too many and many are shit and I don't want to increase their page views. But just Google "SlutWalk" and you'll get more responses than you'll ever have time to read.

This blog post assumes that you know what SlutWalk is and what prompted it. If you don't know, Google that shit then come back and join me. It's been said all over the world over and over again, so I won't bother to repeat it.

So Ottawa had its own SlutWalk and you better believe I was there. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I was asked to speak at it, too. But that's where it ends, for the record. I've never organized a SlutWalk, have no part in organizing future ones and quite frankly, spent 5 minutes at the Ottawa one talking about systemic violence against womyn.

I must admit that I was initially a little apprehensive about the whole thing. I'd heard about it in its planning stages and felt that it might have been a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to highlight an issue.

But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.

It seems that people want to talk about sluts, sluttyness, slut-shaming, slut-positivity and all things slutty. People love sluts, other people love to hate sluts and some people hate that they love sluts.

And that's the fucking point.

See, the organizers knew that if they organized another "Take Back the Night" or "Anti-Sexual Assault" or even a "Stop Victim Blaming" march, you'd get the same little handful of diehards, maybe a blip or two in the media but not much else. The unfortunate reality is that the average person and media outlet doesn't give a flying fuck about violence against womyn and sexual assault. Because only sluts get raped, and womyn falsely accuse men all the time and feminists are whiny and don't know how good they have it and on, and on and on.

A name like SlutWalk catches people's attention, provokes a reaction and is just downright impossible to ignore. The sight of stiff journalists on the nightly news saying "And now, let's go to Marcie who is over at SlutWalk" can't help but solicit raised eyebrows.

And once again, that's the fucking point.

Whether you want to reclaim the word 'slut' or not, you can't help but perk up your ears when you hear the word being used in mainstream, every day conversation by your average folk. And the organizers knew that. They knew that the only way to ensure this cop's comments didn't go unnoticed was to shock people into reacting.

They hoped maybe a couple hundred people would show up, they'd find some solidarity and be able to sleep better at time. Instead, thousands of people showed up, an international media machine was started and there are Satellite SlutWalks around the world. Not bad for a handful of novice organizers in Toronto.

But what about this reclaiming business?

That part is tricky and complicated.

Many womyn of colour have commented that it's not easy for them to do, considering how slut-shaming and labeling is so tied into racism, colonialism, etc. Makes sense.

Others (including myself) think it's also classist and rather 'in-crowd' to assume that everyone can safely embrace the label. Tell that to poor, 16 year old rural girls who are just trying to survive gym class.

But that's okay. See, SlutWalk isn't really about everyone embracing the label Slut because like most things in life, if everyone is one, then nobody is.

But you can embrace the name on a political level while still recognizing how problematic it is at the individual level.

Example: We can embrace Ottawa's annual "Dyke March" while recognizing that a 16 year old high school girl has no desire to embrace the 'dyke' label that is thrown on her daily.

Ideally, everyone who identifies as 'dyke' could choose to do so and others who don't could escape the labeling. But we're not there yet, although we're working towards it.

SlutWalk is not an end, but a means to an end. It's a way to rip open the universal covers on sexual assault and to expose the deeply entrenched stereotypes that enable it to continue at epidemic levels. It's meant to prompt discussion, to test your knee-jerk reaction.

You don't want to call yourself a slut? - Why?
You don't think it can be reclaimed? - Why?

Regardless of what your answer is, it got you thinking and that's the point.

As someone who has been doing anti-sexual violence work in Ottawa for close to 8 years, I've been to every conference, march, demonstration, letter-writing campaign kick-off, red tape cutting, award ceremony, you can imagine. I've been there, I've spoken at them, I've shaked my head at them and I've marched in them. And none of them had the turn-out that SlutWalk did.

Ottawa is an extremely conservative city with a small, (too) tight-knit feminist community and here I was, standing amongst a thousand other people, many of which I had never seen before. The crowd was diverse in age, background, gender identity, ethnicity, etc. And despite what you might have read or seen about the celebratory nature of SlutWalk, it was a rather sombre event. People were angry, not laughing. As they should be - sexual assault isn't funny.

So you've got a conservative community out on a Sunday afternoon, talking about womyn's sexuality and sexual assault in a constructive and meaningful way. Regardless of how you feel about reclaiming language, you have to be impressed by the power it had that day in Ottawa.

(Say it with me) and that's the fucking point.

I have no desire to call myself a slut. None. My reasons for this are many but include the fact that I don't want to define myself by my association with other people (ie: how many people I sleep with, who I sleep with, etc). It's also difficult to call yourself something when a definition doesn't exist. We know that a slut has something to do with sexuality but ask ten people and you'll get ten different answers.

I was called a slut for holding a pro-choice sign at an anti-choice rally.

I was called a slut for attending a new school in grade 10 with no friends or history in that city. A rumour was started that I was chased out of another town for having slept with someone's boyfriend. The truth? I was a virgin who'd had to move for her dad's new job.

Hell, I was called a slut for defending SlutWalk. (The irony.. it hurts...)

But even though I do not long for the label doesn't mean I fail to see its importance. As Jaclyn Friedman so amazingly said, we must all stand under the banner of 'Slut' and recognize that when it is used against one womyn, it is used against all womyn. Because we can all be called a slut by someone at some point and in many cases, the sting of that word not only offends us, but decides whether or not our rape is convicted properly, whether we get access to housing, a job, a promotion, a reference, or even someone's Facebook friend request.

So even if you don't want to call yourself a slut, learn to respect those who do.

And finally, to Gail Dines and every other 'prominent' feminist out there who is using the media as the soapbox from which to criticize SlutWalk, shame on you. I'm particularly upset by Gail because she has some truly excellent things to say and has contributed quite a lot, but her methods for critiquing SlutWalk are downright patronizing. Ironically, she's accusing SlutWalk organizers of shifting the attention away from victim-blaming and yet she's the one doing just that on every major media outlet.

The media longs to create tension and division between womyn and thankfully for them, Gail Dines is ready to do just that. *sigh* Get a clue, lady.