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SlutWalkNYC, Rape Culture, and Reproductive Justice

July 5, 2012

Photo by David Shankbone

When people ask me what I’ve been doing this past year, I always end up asking “Have you heard of SlutWalk?” It’s kind of a loaded question; people often balk at the risqué name, and sometimes people are familiar with the well-placed controversies surrounding the movement (If you haven’t heard of SlutWalk, here is a brief history). I was an organizer with SlutWalkNYC last year, and it was an incredible event. It also served as a crash-course in antiracism and I emerged with a more nuanced understanding of systemic oppression.

When I first heard about SlutWalk, I wasn’t into it (for different reasons than the ones above). I thought that “slutting it up” wasn’t the best way to draw attention to an important cause. I thought it would send the wrong message. But then I saw Jaclyn Friedman’s speech at the Boston SlutWalk, and I changed my tune – the wrong message, as it turns out, are all the OTHER messages we’ve been given about what is acceptable behavior for women. Being “slutty” isn’t the wrong thing to do; the idea that being slutty leads to rape is the real problem.

We call this Rape Culture: the belief that what goes on between womens’ legs should have any bearing on the legal or medical services provided to them. The idea that women “ask for it.” When someone (usually a woman) gets raped or assaulted, people ask “what was she wearing?” “What did she do to provoke the rapist?” “Why was she out so late?” “Why was she so drunk?” You know, instead of telling rapists to not rape.

You might be thinking “Where’s the connection?” Celebrating promiscuity might not be something you can get behind. But I see the connection pretty clearly. Telling women to “cover up” in Park slope (or Toronto, or Shanghai, or anywhere ever) isn’t that far removed from the mandatory waiting periods in 26 states before being able to obtain an abortion. Both assume that women don’t know what they’re doing. The idea that women “got themselves pregnant” and should “deal with the consequences” is based on the same rhetoric that tells survivors of rape that they “asked for it.” The violence of rape and assault isn’t separate from the violence of pharmacists, doctors, and politicians who engage in slut-shaming tactics when they decide to withhold medical services or only provide them after imparting their own moral judgment.

You can’t fight for reproductive health without looking at victim-blaming. That’s why I proudly organized for SlutWalkNYC.  If we are going to fight against rape culture (which we most certainly are!), we are fighting for reproductive justice, too.

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