my slutwalk jhb speech

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.

moment captured by angel conradie

moment captured by angel conradie

 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).

pic by wonderwoman, jeanette verster

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!

pic by jeanette verster

slutwalk jhb thank you’s

about 4 months ago i came across a link to something talking about a slutwalk in toronto  and  i tweeted it.

my friend @angelsmind and i struck up a conversation and during a couple of exchanges during which she asked whether there’d be one here in south africa, she planted the seed that led to the email i sent to the organizers of slutwalk toronto on may 8th, asking if i could organize a slutwalk in johannesburg. so really, indirectly, angel conradie is responsible for the slutwalk that happened right here in johannesburg today. and she has supported this initiative from day one, blogging and tweeting and re-tweeting and i regret that when i was doing the thank you’s today, i did not point out that fact. so angel, here publicly, i would like to thank you – both for planting this crazy idea and for your support all the way. thank you, thank you, thank you!

ok, maybe if i’d known what i was letting myself in for, i might not have taken on what turned out to be a gargantuan task which is probably going to leave me with a major deficit in my bank account, seeing that we had no sponsors and credit cards were the only way to cover the costs. however, for me, this initiative was not optional. it had to be done and once undertaken, the only way out was through.

along the way i co-opted some amazing help. i could not have done this alone,  especially not without nadia assimacopoulos who became a confidant and sounding board and my go-t0 person, gina jacobson (@gnat_j) who was amazing at getting stuff done, sam beckbessinger (@greenham_sam) who did our website, media maven walter pike (@walterpike) who probably didn’t know what he was  letting himself in for the day he tweeted to find out whether there was a slutwalk happening in jhb, and blogger and ad exec akona ndungane (@akona1) with whom i conceived isaidno, a resource for survivors where they can tell their stories anonymously or otherwise (please spread the word).

we had amazing speakers, film-maker@gillianschutte, feminist writer @jen_thorpe, journalist @fionasnyckers and @akona1 and crimon organized the collection of rape survivor handbags which will be distributed via the jes foord foundation. andre van tonder of jmpd was an immeasurable source of help and information in getting the right permissions for our event and went beyond the call of duty to help us make it happen. and then without paul/stranger and the other amazing marshals from think bike, our event would not have been nearly as safe and successful as it turned out.

thank you. thank you. thank you.

i think we achieved our aim of turning up the volume on the conversation around sexual violence and victim-blaming. i think we engendered much debate,though this is but the beginning. i might have initiated this event in jhb, but it belongs to all of us and  i think we need to find our own ways to make a difference. how can you help change the prevailing mind-set? how can you educate someone else about the importance of respect and consent? it’s up to us. we have to make a difference. even though right now i’m exhausted and i want to forget about being an activist for just a nano-second, really, this is just the beginning of a long journey towards building a better world for us all to live in.

and though this might be very long-winded, i just wanted to make sure that i acknowledge the amazing people who made today possible, including everyone who dressed up and came out in icy weather to show their support. thank you to the people who donated, to the marshals who were amazing, to my friends who responded to my frantic calls and showed up to assist. and to the various women who came up to me, identified as survivors and thanked me for what i’m doing, thank you. i’m doing this for us.

just another day in africa.

thursday, june 26th:

“houston, we have a problem!”, says one of the actors looking out the window of the green-room yesterday. we shoot in the centre of town, in a building right next to the carlton centre and only a few blocks from the M2 which is visible from the 6th floor. i look to see what he’s talking about. nothing. as in no movement on the freeway. cars are literally, parked. a spar truck is clearly visible, trapped amidst innumerable other frustrated motorists. 2 hours later; it is still there. ditto an hour later. meanwhile lasz calls to tell me that there’s a problem on the freeway. the office starts getting calls. on the really sucky internet connection in production, the p.a. starts checking the news sites. 

the star front page today

metro police are protesting. their salary demands are not being met so they’ve taken to the streets and are basically holding thousands of people hostage by blocking off freeway on and off ramps. everybody’s lives on hold. what we don’t know till the next day, is that there is a shoot out. police are shooting rubber bullets, the metro police respond with live rounds. at least one metro police woman dies. people’s cars are damaged as the people meant to protect and serve, play shoot-’em-up. all over johannesburg, thousands of children are waiting to be picked up from school, waiting to be fed. waiting. i wonder about the countless stories waiting to be told by each of those trapped workers, travellers. people with their lives disrupted. what disasters happened elsewhere because someone could not be there on time, because someone got caught up in a knot of metal ants on the M2. most of these stories we’ll never know, but i wonder.

i finally get home at 9pm when the roads have cleared.

uh huh. just another day in africa.

(image from the star online)