this was my speech for slutwalk jhb, september 24th, addressing the crowd before the march.
because other speakers were dealing with the controversy around the name and with statistics, i kept what i spoke about pretty personal, seeing that i started this initiative out of a passionate need to “do something”. i did this not because of some intellectual understanding (that too), but more out of the knowledge of what it means to be a survivor and wanting to find a way to create a world where, idealistic as it may be, there will be no more of us.
Welcome to Slutwalk JHB – it’s been months in the planning and I can’t tell you have happy I am that today has finally arrived .
Though I have to say – I wish we didn’t have to be here. I wish we didn’t need a Slutwalk Jhb, I wish we didn’t need marches protesting sexual violence, marches that need to point out that there’s never an excuse, that no one by definition ever deserves or asks to be raped. That rapists rape people, not outfits.
When I first heard about that ignorant comment that women should not dress like sluts so that they don’t get victimized, I had a visceral reaction. I happen to know from experience that what one wears has absolutely nothing to do with getting assaulted.
What I’m wearing is the closest approximation I could find of what I was wearing when I got raped. Does this outfit really scream, “Rape me?” the reality is that rape is about violence – and a short skirt, or too many drinks at the bar, or a checkered sexual history, or choosing a same-sex partner is never an excuse for assault. The statistics are staggering – I won’t get into them as Jenn Thorpe will be talking about them later, but I will say that there are too many of us. You might see numbers on a page, but behind every number is a face and a name and a shattering experience that takes years and a strength you cannot imagine to overcome. I call us survivors the society of the secret handshake – the handshake that says, I know you. I am you. And there are way too many of us.
When we first started organizing slutwalk jhb I felt that reclaiming the word slut was not necessarily relevant to us here in South Africa. Addressing the issues of sexual violence that permeate the very heritage of our land seemed much more important. However, words are important. Words are powerful things. We can wield them to wound or we can rally them to right age old wrongs. And just recently I remembered something that made me rethink the reclaiming of the word slut.
When I lived in the states, I hadn’t been home in a long time and I landed up in Malta where I met a south African pilot. I was so excited to meet up with someone from home and to feel a connection with Africa – but then one day as we encountered each other, he said, “Daar’s die klonkie!” Now for those of you who don’t know, Klonkie is a derogatory term used for someone classified Colored. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard and I was outraged. I didn’t say anything in the moment, but I wrote him a letter and left it at the hotel desk, so he’d know just how offended I was.
However when I moved back to South Africa, and I had to name my company, I remembered that encounter and I wound up calling my company “Klonkie Made Media” – because some people might think that someone who looks like me should be the klonkie maid in the kitchen, but look at what this klonkie can do, just look at what this klonkie has made, and can make possible. And so I reclaimed what was a thoughtless insult and used it in a way that I felt validated me. Now I still might not necessarily want to call myself a slut, but it has made me rethink the value of reclaiming the word. Just think of the word queer. Or nerd.
And just what is a slut in any case? My first reaction when I heard that stupid statement was, “Hell no, I aint no slut!”, but if you follow the logic of that statement., “women shouldn’t dress like sluts so they’re not victimized”, – I was raped, so therefore, I must be a slut. Now, ironically I felt lucky that I was wearing my baby blue pj’s and was in my own bed in the middle of the night when I got raped, because it made it absolutely clear that I was not at fault.
However, what if I wasn’t wearing my baby blues? What if I was wearing this instead? (and this is where I took off my pj’s and put on my outrageous red tutu and revealed a much more skin-baring outfit).
Would this outfit make it my fault? Because you know, there are times when I dress like this? Would the logic of that statement make it ok for someone to violate me?
We live in an age of media and advertising. We all want to look good, to feel confident, to know that we can turn heads. However, our society seems to be at a point where the necessary education and guidance isn’t happening at home or at school. Our children are not being taught essential lessons about respect and consent . when I used to go to the burning man festival in the Nevada desert , the only rule in that temporary society was , whatever you do that involves someone else, ask them first. First get their consent. Maybe that’s a lesson that we need to carry over into the larger society – whatever you do involving someone else, first get their consent.
Maybe then, we wouldn’t need a Slutwalk in jhb. Maybe then my short skirt can be about the fabulous weather and not an unspoken invitation to unimagined horrors. I initiated Slutwalk jhb because I’ve been a firm advocate for survivor’s rights and for the need to break the silence, to realize that the survivor is never at fault, but I sincerely hope that there will come a time that Slutwalks and protest marches are obsolete. A time when consent is queen and yes means yes, and real men and women, honorable people, the kind we like to believe we are, can respect that no means no.
My dress is not a “Yes!” I’ll see you out there on the march!