Zama Ndlovu
Zama Ndlovu

Why I won’t be at Slutwalk

Nechama Brodie’s column left me cold, fuming and insulted, and that’s the version without the French. I followed her conversation with a few people on Twitter on Sunday and already expected an understandably defensive argument. I did not, however, expect her to equate disagreement with “a stranger groping my breasts in a club, because I was wearing a low-cut dress on my 30th birthday; a man pinching my bum at the airport because I was wearing a tight outfit, even though I was seven months pregnant at the time; men catcalling at me while I stood on the street corner — in my school uniform — waiting for my lift to school”.

Like many people in this country, I am fully aware of the rape epidemic in our country. When I was a young prepubescent girl living in Mamelodi, a neighbour was arrested and charged with raping his five-year-old daughter, and managed to get bail. While in university, a friend asked a group of our close friends, “who here has been raped or physically assaulted?” the number was higher than the national average. One of my best friends in university was gang-raped during a hijacking when she was 18, and these are all just a few more dramatic examples.

I also have war stories, but I do not need to share them to own my right not to walk under that banner.

Rape is a violent crime of control, a crime of power, not sex. The word “slut” on the other hand, is all about sexual behaviour, and therefore to me, the “Slutwalk” campaign sexualises a crime that isn’t about sex, when what is required is the exact opposite.

The victim’s attire has nothing to do with the crime itself. When a man (or woman) decides to rape, it has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with the rapist. Rapist blame the victim, citing the victim’s dress or actions as the reason for their behaviour, only to ensure the victim does not speak up. For this reason I don’t believe such a campaign will deter rapists, it just deters potential supporters.

I agree that it is very critical that we address the prejudice faced by victims from the police, public service health workers and our courts. But I do not agree that I must dress as a “slut” to do this. Just the idea that “sluts” dress a certain way, perpetuates the very stereotypes that the campaign is fighting against. I used to wear short dresses and shorts, I did not view myself as dressing like a slut, labelling myself as such would be a personal contradiction. Traditional Zulu outfits don’t leave much to the imagination and yet wearing them does not render me a slut, nor protect me from possible abuse.

The word “slut” is the worst example of society’s double standards, a label reserved mostly in reference to women’s sexual behaviour and I refuse to march under a derogatory label that should die.

The Slutwalk campaign imported from far more liberal Canada, but not adapted to a more conservative South Africa. The organisers and supporters should have expected the reactions and should have the patience to explain their provocative campaign, and the thick skin to accept conservative criticism. Ours is a multicultural society with varying degrees of liberal and conservative views, all protected by our Constitution.

People have the right to disagree with the campaign without being branded “rapist sympathisers”.

When disagreement is construed as a “grope”, debate halts and nothing is achieved. People should have the right to question or disagree with a campaign without being painted as rapist sympathises. All constructive feedback, positive or negative, especially from men, is helpful to all organisations that are fighting this beast in South Africa. If men (and women) are uncomfortable with the name, engaging them in a meaningful, non-defensive conversation would do so much more for the cause. To call people idiots for not supporting a campaign leaves your audience alienated and defensive and far less likely to support you.

The irony of burdening those who disagree with guilt and shame, symptoms of sexual abuse, is not lost on society.

I have read all the links sent on Twitter and I fully understand the campaign and what it aims to achieve, but they will not educate me into a different opinion. I fully support the cause, but supporting the cause does not mean I will support every campaign, especially one that does not resonate with my beliefs.

Nechama says “there were a surprising number of people online who appeared to believe that a) sexual abuse was a very bad thing but that b) calling something or someone a slut was worse”. Fact is many people believe sexual abuse is a very bad thing but don’t see how using the word slut, in any context, helps. I’m deeply disappointed at how she has let her wholehearted passion for this campaign get in the way of a meaningful and non-defensive discussion with society. The fact that people are not against the event being held, but rather, are questioning the event against their own personal references, speaks wonders to the strength of our young democracy.

I hope the supporters will stop defending their tree and look at the forest, and bury this thinking that all views are good as long as they are liberal. Many people are doing incredible things to increase the safety of women and children in this country, but they are doing it in a way that is most meaningful to them, in line with their own personal view. Not being with you, doesn’t mean I’m against you.

Related links: ‘It’s a dress, not a yes!’

  • http://gangsofgraffiti.wordpress.com Libby

    I recall Michelle Solomon, describing her experience of the silent protest against rape on the Rhodes University Campus earlier this year, speak of the intensity shared between a group of women, sharing hurt and demanding change. More so the feeling of a group of women walking streets, at night, without fear of attack. How peculiar and significant that seemed. It is what I hope to feel at Joburg’s Slutwalk. It is what I feel in Nechama’s piece, and what I want to feel in yours, because I know we’re on the same ‘side’. Yet, making your first stop at trivialising Nechama’s description of her violations because you can – nonchalantly – match them with your own, that is so sad. I don’t deny the issue of semantics. EVERYTHING about Slutwalk is supposed to bring anger, I think. We are supposed to hate everything behind the word. I believe “each to his own” is a cop out, but if you must prove that Slutwalk is wrong and another avenue is better, or whatever else you suggest in this battle which needs suggestions, I ask you to remember how we are already trivialised or punished- we don’t need more.

  • Carrie

    I read Brodie’s column as well, and she wasn’t equating being groped with disagreement over the slutwalk. She pointed out that she had suffered sexual assault based in part on what she was wearing. Based on her experience she supported an event that brought attention to the fact that a woman had the right to remained unmolested regardless of what she was wearing, or not. I think you missed her point.

  • nguni

    Let’s sum up this debate and say The Slutwalk did not go down well in this country as too many women here have obviously been labelled this way. Hence the touchiness. The idea behind the walk was a good one, though.

  • Myth

    So now, clearly, most agree that:
    1. The mode of dress confers no rights to a rapist
    2. Being a slut confers no rights to a rapist
    3. Walking like a slut confers no rights to a rapist.
    etc

    Other than a bunch of silly women acting silly, what is the point of all this?

  • http://www.haileygaunt.com hailey gaunt

    I think the whole idea of the Slut Walk misses the point entirely. It distracts from the main issue at hand, which is that rape is indicative of an individual’s warped relationship with society and themselves. Subsequently, it dilutes a worthy cause. If the point is to speak out against this deplorable act, its making the wrong argument – who cares what pathetic excuse a rapist uses to justify a behaviour?, that behaviour is utterly depraved. Entertaining such excuses as “she was asking for it based on her dress”, isn’t going to get to the core motivation of a rapist or stop rape. Like Zama says, rape is not a result of the victim’s actions, but wholly the responsibility of the perpetrator. Declaring our right as women to wear whatever we want – flying our feminine flag in the face of all those conservative rapists – c’mon, are you serious? We can go on wearing what we like and there will still be rape. It might have been fun to march together and think we’re radically challenging perceptions of who “deserves” to be raped, but we won’t change anything by attacking a moot argument.

  • mark

    @Zama @mark.. your point taken entirely. I meant to imply only that the tactic of appropriating the word is effective (response to this blog is proof enough).
    My second point is, I think, the serious one. The declaration that ‘rape is about power’ has fallen dangerously into rhetoric. I’m sure there’s much serious discourse around the observation.. but on platforms like this, it is aired as an unquestionable and singular truth.
    While I disagree with some of what @Robard says, the issues that he raises are vitally important and should not be swept under a carpet of activist correctness.

  • Paul Barrett

    @X Cepting: Black people in the US did it successfully with the N word. Perhaps you know this and were being sarcastic.

    @alan: Not sure what you’re trying to say. Read your post again and it still seems to say the same thing. On a side note, quotation marks are not parentheses.

    You also miss the point. This movement started because someone, who was not a perpetrator, blamed the victims.

    @Zama Ndlovu: I still don’t see how what you wrote is a valid response, or how the original column was saying you cannot make a personal choice. Quite possibly I’m missing your point; if so, that’s on me.

    You say “You can only re-claim what was once yours. The word slut was never ours as women, its a word specifically coined to label, degrade and hurt.”

    See my comment to X Cepting. The N word never belonged to black Americans, yet they (or a subset of them) claimed it as their own. You can debate about whether this was a good or a bad thing, but you can’t say it’s not possible.

  • Antoinette

    Brilliant!

  • http://www.gmail.com Luzuko Gongxeka

    ShuiaHB

    Nice poem and nice message, pity the would-be rapist, being an ignorant man; i assume, would not decode the message…..poetry is wasted on such men and so is the message within this particular piece…..the point is that people should try to protect themselves from being preyed upon

    X Cepting

    I am not sure if i have the words to demonstrate that process, except to say, things and people just seem to provoke certain reactions; even though it is not always ideal for them/us that they do

  • hds

    Thanks for this.

    You know, when someone tells a joke and it falls flat, rather than insisting that the hearers “just don’t get it,” they usually reconsider whether or not it’s actually a funny joke.

    While nothing about this is a joke, the same principle applies: rather than bleating that people who don’t like the concept “don’t get it,” perhaps consider that we get it all too well and don’t find it clever/compelling/motivating. We will direct our efforts elsewhere.

  • hds

    @Paul Barrett: and yet despite those efforts, the n-word remains a demeaning one. There is much debate over who can say it legitimately and who can’t, but I believe educator Geoffrey Rush summed it up well when he said (I am paraphrasing from memory), “No one ever pulled up with a gun in their hand and said ‘Get ready to die, my black brother.’ They say ‘Get ready to die, nigg*.” It is a dehumanizing term.

    So: has the reclamation been successful? Many would argue it has not. There’s a whole conversation around self-hatred that you’re not acknowledging here.

  • alan

    @paul barret, the point I’m making is that so many posters are so ardently trying to make people get the idea behind the march and choice of the name “Slutwalk” that they miss out on trying on understand where Zama Ndlovu is coming from. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.
    I will admit that your point about “claiming” the N word is valid although as a black person I’ve never been comfortable with it. An African American civil rights activist once told me he believed the self describing N****er is black people turning their anger and loathing inward onto one another after the 70’s uprisings there. And now it’s pop culture.
    Slutwalk is quite different and I think it’s a class thing. Of course women from middle class backgrounds are also victimised but in general they do have some distance from the in-your-face everyday sexual violence in our ghettos. So calling yourself a slut may be easier for some than others.

  • citoyen

    The word “Slut” drives away potential supporters and is a bad choice for an anti-rape campaign.

    Male rape in SA prisons is a big issue.

    Imagine if men marched down the street against anal rape – half-dressed – calling themselves “Pimp Walk Against Rape”

    Would anyone take them seriously?

    Why do we have to kowtow to the West and import words like “slut” and concepts like “slutwalk” that are not appropriate to Africa?

  • pete ess

    You say: “Many people are doing incredible things to increase the safety of women and children in this country, but . . .” yet you attack one of them. Many of those you seem to be referring to are strikingly ineffectual (eg: almost all the State “efforts”).
    Methinks there’s something strange and unspoken underlying your antipathy.
    You said one decent (if confused) thing, though. It should have been your only sentence, leaving all the other splutter unsaid: “Not being with you, doesn’t mean I’m against you.”

  • ruen

    Thank you — I appreciate a look at the other side of this debate. I’ve been very uncomfortable with the “you’re either with us or against us” attitude that has been so prevalent. I support the cause; I wouldn’t join the march. And not because I don’t get it. I get it. I know what Slutwalk is trying to do. I just disagree with the methods it’s using.

  • X Cepting

    @Paul Barrett – I go with Alan on this and will take it further. So we reclaim the word “slut” as OK. This means that one will invite one’s fellow sluts to lunch and dress sluttishly for success. (I could go on but it leaves a nail scratch on the chalkboard of my spirit). I believe that words have power. I further believe that the successful reclamation of the n-word simply increased feelings of lesser worth amongst darker skinned Americans. So I postulate that to make the s-word a daily occurence would not make it OK for women to be sluts but would increase the perception that all women are sluts. The word “slut” has a very definite meaning as do the words “negro” and “kafir”. All words aimed to disempower by an incorrect charge, i.e. provocative behaviour, originating in Niger and being without faith, respectively. Some words like the k-word, has been outlawed why not add the s & n-words? They are not helpful in establishing amicable relationships between different races and/or sexes. It should be slander to call a women a slut since it is a charge very difficult to prove and woman calling herself one should consider a course in self-esteem building. None of this helps to stop women (and men) being raped.

  • X Cepting

    @Luzuko – I get what you mean but in that case the onus must be on the provoked, not the accused provocateur, to justify their reaction. It takes very little to provoke some people. Such people actually need psychological help to live in harmony with the rest of society.

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za Musa

    ‘Slutwalk’ got all of you talking, maybe somewhere there lies the point.

    I applaude whoever takes a stand against rape,whatever the name of their campaign. The victim, slut or not, is not to blame.

  • Just A Biker

    Everybody has an opinion on this issue. For, against – don’t like the terms used etc.

    I like looking at women/pretty girls – anywhere. I appreciate their beauty and differences.

    I don’t make any comments or whistle (or even let my tongue hang out)

    Rape is a hateful, dreadful and evil thing.

    AS A CITIZEN OF THIS COUNTRY, I THINK WE NEED TO MAKE MAJOR CHANGES TO THE LAWS, AND TO THOSE THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO UPHOLD THEM AS WELL.