Take Back The Night v. Slut Walk

In 1978, the first “Take Back the Night” March in the United States was held as a public demonstration against the connection between sexual violence, trafficking of women, and pornography. Thousands of women marched and chanted through a section of San Francisco heavily inhabited by purveyors of pornography, blocking traffic and access to these vendors. Today’s marches focus more on awareness, survivor healing, and wellness on college campuses and in communities rather than challenging oppressive practices by vendors. -“Take Back The Night” Event Handbook

Take Back The Night has a long history of encouraging the survivors of sexual violence to speak out about their experiences and to create a structure for those who want to see an end to sexual violence. It is also important to note that many TBTN events are working towards being more inclusive. Nevertheless, some passionate organizers of events who have moved for gender neutrality have had their concerns dismissed by feminist leaders as “impossible attempts to please everyone.” An organizer clearly stating that they were uncomfortable with having to police gender was told that there would always be criticisms of the event and to just let them go. Let’s be clear- gender policing is not the same as choosing a color scheme that everyone will appreciate, especially when it is often femininity that is attacked with violence rather than femaleness. Gender policing is a form of violence, by the way.

It is vital to support any and all victims of sexual violence, assault, and rape. It is also important to help promote the power of consent and to acknowledge firmly that sexual assault is not a man v. woman issue. There is such a thing as male privilege; there is also such a thing as mainstream feminist privilege.

I am very deeply uncomfortable with Take Back The Night despite its meager attempts to modernize and become inclusive. Although TBTN “no longer focuses on the oppressive practices” of the adult industry it has not denounced them.

Slut Walk is a model that picks up where TBTN has refused to go. Slut Walk Toronto has received its fair share of criticism and it has listened. At first the original organizers developed a model of “official satellite” slut walks but have decided that a hierarchical model would be less effective for its mission than a general collective. In lieu of a formal handbook and trademark, it states that the needs of each and every community are distinct and beyond the jurisdiction of a ruling body and represents many of the values that distinguish 2nd Wave Feminism from 3rd Wave Feminism. Many supporters of Slut Walk, like myself, may not even identify as feminists at all.

The word “slut” is contentious and the website acknowledges this and outright states that making use of the word “slut” may not work for every community. Is reclaiming “sluttiness” an extension of white privilege? Are the self-described “spinster aunts” of I Blame The Patriarchy right when they say that slut is an innately patriarchal word? (As a note, IBTP can go take a hike for referring to themselves as “aunties” here to help young misguided slutty women like myself.) I do worry about diversity within pro-sex and anti-oppression movements. I also worry about the fact that as an out and loud sex worker, my rights as an American have been more or less stripped from me. Sex Workers rarely receive justice for homicide committed against them let alone sexual assault. The mainstream feminist movement is in bed with right wing religious fundamentalists more concerned with eradicating offensive images than social justice.

Reclaiming the word “slut” is about the fact that no one has the right to dictate the right clothes to wear, what constitutes an appropriate sexual fantasy, how many partners one should have in the lifetime, or the type of media anyone should be allowed to consume.

16 Comments

Filed under activism, community, culture, feminisms, opinion, politics, slut shaming

16 responses to “Take Back The Night v. Slut Walk

  1. “As a note, IBTP can go take a hike for referring to themselves as “aunties” here to help young misguided slutty women like myself.”

    Hi. I believe you may have gotten rather the wrong idea about I Blame the Patriarchy. Just to clear things up, I do not refer to myself as “aunties.” I do not desire to “help young misguided slutty women.” I do not desire to “eradicate offensive images.” As an atheist, I am most assuredly not “in bed with [any] right wing religious fundamentalists.” I have neither the desire nor the power to tell you or anyone what to wear, who to screw, what to believe, or in any other way foist any ideology on anybody. My sole purpose is writing my blog is to advocate for women’s liberation from the global culture of oppression. We are on the same side.

    • Hey there, thanks for replying.

      I used the plural form for “auntie” to include the many vocal voices commenting on IBTP who have been quite hostile to sex positive feminists, trans women, sex workers, BDSMers, etc. While your writing is tempered with more logical and rational thinking, the community of IBTP as a whole makes statements that make me feel distinctly unwelcome as a “feminist,” especially as other bloggers and IBTP commenters have adapted the phrase, “feminist spinster auntie” as a way to very explicitly condescend to sex positive feminists.

      What I found problematic in your article in particular can be better described as tone. This quote does stand out to me: “When you’re standing up against your own oppression as a member of the sex class, it is problematic and of questionable revolutionary efficacy to stamp yourself and your comrades-in-arms with the mark of the oppressor. In other words, calling yourself a slut, in the middle of a flippin’ patriarchy, can only have the effect, as Germaine Greer noted, of reinforcing men’s sense of their own superiority.” Following that with an anecdote from your days in the Riot Grrl scene does depict slut walkers as naive and misguided. Communities do have nuances; I frequently perform for queer crowds with the word slut (or even more obscene phrases) scrawled on my body and it is received by folks offering up a “you go girl” who get in touch with me later to say that my performance helped them feel less ashamed about their own desires and fantasies. Slut doesn’t work for all communities but it does work for some. It isn’t something that can be written off entirely as missing the point.

      Public demonstrations like marches and walks have many objectives; making a statement to law enforcement and to the general public is one part but it’s also about what participants can take away from the ability to gather en masse and express themselves like this safely. The Riot Grrl movement, for instance, was hugely inspiring to me as a young woman even years after the scene hits its apex. It made me feel comfortable with the sexually aggressive side of my personality that was emerging and it let me know that it didn’t make me less of a woman.

      I would also like to clear up the fact that I don’t see you or your writing specifically to be in bed with the religious right. IBTP has nuances and stances that aren’t in alignment with the mainstream feminist movement. Assumptions lead to trouble, but I would wager that you began your blog to open up conversations about new dialogues about feminism that weren’t being covered by the mainstream. That comment was in conversation with the mentality behind the 1978 San Francisco “Take Back The Night” which was hosted specifically in opposition to porn and the sex industry and still thrives today with the likes of Gail Dines and the anti-porn movement. Although I separated it out from my callout to IBTP I could have done a better job differentiating between the two and for that I do apologize.

  2. Mike

    Note from Maggie: I’m publishing this comment without a response because hopefully my crafty readers will have something to say.

    You will rarely see a hot babe at one of these parades of misfits, and that’s not because she gets lost amongst the pillars of heaving blubber. You see, hot chicks, having high sexual market value, work hard to avoid being labeled a slut. The last thing they would want to do is associate their hottie hotness with a bunch of self-proclaimed sluts. A hot chick has no trouble getting the attention of alpha males, so she doesn’t need to advertise her sexual openness to lure men. In fact, she prefers to do just the opposite: play coy and project an aura of discriminating prudery so that the man who lands her feels she is a worthwhile long term investment.

    Fatties, cougars and fuglies, in contrast, take the opposite tack. They know that they won’t be turning men’s heads, so they rely on signaling their sexual promiscuity to capture some horny man with no other options. Advertising that they are an easy lay is a strategy that enables them to compete with better looking girls. Of course, it’s a myopic strategy, because most men who aren’t total losers will bolt as soon as they bust their nuts in the bloated vagina vortex of one of these wildebeests. But in the EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptation), an ugly broad needed to get sperm, and fertilization took priority over pair bonding.

    There is also the self-soothing psychological angle at work here. Beasts who love to brag about their sluttiness aren’t convincing others so much as they are convincing themselves of their imaginary desirability. A grrlpower slut walk is just the medicine for a lonely loser girl who’s spent one too many nights with her purple saguaro, which now vibrates in fear. She can bellow at the top of her lungs along with the rest of the sideshow freaks what a DYNAMIC and MAGNETIC piece of ass she is, and for that brief moment — that sweet afternoon escape on the streets of the city — she believes it, and her happiness swells as she fondly misremembers all those depressing, sloppy one night stands as some sort of twisted proof of her femininity and sexiness.

  3. Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for the post. It does very good job of not only defining the difference between TBTN, and Slut Walk, but I like how you also illustrate the difference between 2nd and 3rd wave feminism. If you like here is a link to a 3 part blog series outlining the different waves of feminism for readers to relate to if you like. http://blog.trinityromance.com/2010/09/history-of-modern-day-woman-part-1.html

    • Thanks for sharing that link! I’m glad you noticed that I was having a conversation about 2nd and 3rd wave feminism because that is the summary of differences between the two types of protest against sexual assault and rape. I’ll be watching your series with great interest. :0)

  4. Maggie, if you don’t like the url in the post please just edit it out. Thanks again..

  5. S.G.

    Women do need to be aware of their surroundings and the danger that men (particularly men of a certain caste), with their higher propensity to violence and sexual aggression, pose. This used to be common sense among womanhood for centuries. It is only in the past two generations that a bunch of put-upon dyke-lite broads in academia and the media have inculcated the opposite message in young women that they can do no wrong, have no obligation of personal responsibility, and should live in a world that caters to their need to behave however they see fit, free of consequence.

    Since it is a guarantee that some egregiously dumbass readers here will misinterpret the very clear line of thought laid out above, an analogy should help fix their muddled thinking. I make it a point to not blithely walk around at 2am in majority black, Latino, or otherwise poverty-stricken neighborhoods of whatever color, even if it would inconvenience me to practice this avoidance. I know, from simple observation and the collected wisdom of the masses, that doing so would increase my odds of getting mugged or killed. If I were mugged or killed, the perpetrators would bear full responsibility for their crime. I would hope they got the chair, pronto. Better still, bullets to the knees, followed by execution to the back of the head. And yet, I recognize that I can make smart or stupid decisions with regards to my safety, and that these decisions are solely within my power to effect.

    • Everyone should pay attention to their surroundings but it’s also important to note that the vast majority of rapes occur in acquaintance scenarios rather than stranger attacks. Stranger rape is relatively rare. It’s horrible when it happens and I don’t want to diminish that but most women who are raped know their assailant.

      • Not to mention that one of the key points of SlutWalk is not to do with how the rapist or victim see’s the assault, but rather how society sees it. Victim-blaming makes rape and sexual assault permissible. We have police officers, judges, juries, the media, politicians and other public figures pointing the finger at the victim, and it is this behaviour/mindset that SlutWalk is opposed to.
        No one is suggesting a lack of common sense, but we certainly aren’t going to accept the continually perpetuated rape myths and double standards. It’s time to change our thinking.

  6. Thanks for the post Maggie.
    Here is a link to part 2 on 2nd wave feminism
    http://blog.trinityromance.com/2010_09_01_archive.html
    and part 3 on 3rd wave feminism
    http://blog.trinityromance.com/2010_10_01_archive.html (the 2nd post down)
    Please if you have anything to add please comment.
    Have a great day:)

  7. redpesto

    Thanks for this: it captures a lot of both what I’ve been thinking re. SlutWalks, as well as why some feminists seem so hostile to the whole idea. Time to dust off that copy of Rubin’s ‘Thinking Sex’…

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  11. laura krueger

    the meaning of the word IS changing. young girls prefer to be called a slut rather than a bitch. is this better? I don’t know. when I was at highschool, if they started calling you a slut, you could forget it. not one boy would ask you to go out. this has changed, I think. I even found a brand of t-shirts using the word slut, and not in the negative way: http://slutshirt.spreadshirt.com/ is it better? I don’t know. but it IS changing.

    • Language is always evolving and the connotation of words can easily vary from community to community. The word “queer” is incredibly common in the bay area as an identifying label for sexual preference. In other communities, the word “queer” is still very loaded and defamatory. I happen to love the word queer but for some people it will always refer back to violence they have experienced.

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