Today, for my 43rd birthday, and on Mother’s Day to boot, I’ll be speaking at Appleton’s first Slutwalk. Here’s a preview of what I’m planning on saying:
Thank you so much, VDAY, for having the ovarios to put on this event here in Appleton.
For those of you who don’t know, Slutwalk began only last year in April, in Toronto, when a police officer admitted that he was told he wasn’t supposed to say that women shouldn’t dress like sluts so as not to be victimized. And by that, he meant they should dress in ways that hid their bodies in ways our misogynist, sex-obsessed culture would find acceptable. Aside from the impossibility of being able to decide what “dressing like a slut” means in any culture, he put together the idea that somehow women’s bodies are at fault for the violence and slut shaming perpetrated against them.
They are not.
Women’s bodies are beautiful and should be seen, and in a culture that had its act together – on both violence and sexuality – police officers wouldn’t say such stupid things. Mind you: he wasn’t trying to be hateful. His words, no doubt, came out of something like compassion for the women who he had seen victimized while doing his job. He wanted – like so many of us do – to keep women safe from sexual assault, from trauma, from fear.
But what many men don’t know is that it’s not what kind of clothing a woman’s body wears that has anything to do with it. It’s what a woman’s body IS that causes us all these troubles: bodies full of desire, desiring, desired; bodies of curves and straight lines and freckles and hair. Bodies of skin and fat and muscle and bone; bodies of organs, of hearts and brains and cervixes.
What I love is that every day of my life I can wake up & say that I was born with the one body part whose only use is pleasure. But if you think about it, which parts of us aren’t? Brains, hair, hands, hearts, breasts, legs, feet and elbows – the skin itself is about pleasure. Freud had this theory that we were all polymorphously perverse – meaning that when we’re born, we’re so awash in the pleasure of having a body that every touch, ever breeze, brings us rolling waves of pleasure and that the process of getting older is learning to move some of that sensitivity to a few precious locations – mostly so, as he figured it, we were going to get anything done at all. And so our nerves, so adept at finding pleasure, became located in our nipples and tongues, our fingers and toes, the backs of knees and the backs of our necks, our lips – both sets of lips - and of course in our genitals too. And somehow we managed to stop touching our selves long enough to write books and build buildings.
But women are a kind of warm, breathing repository of all of that pleasure, and it’s hard not to see, especially not in spring. Our sexual selves come out of hiding in the spring, and so our clothes come off – even here in Wisconsin, where “spring” and “warm” are not always the same thing – because we feel the joy of having bodies, of desiring and being desired.
What makes me sad about having to have a slutwalk is that people don’t realize that if everyone felt free, truly free, to desire what they wanted and to be touched the way they wanted, a hell of a lot more of us would. Sex is good for your health, for your immune system; it’s good for love and communication and even digestion. Really: look it up. But still people persist in seeing other people and deciding that somehow taking is better than asking, that forcing is better than being given, that the whole beauty of sex is how much more joyful, how much hotter, how much more amazing it is when it’s given freely. You don’t have to be in love. You don’t have to be committed, or married. You don’t have to have a goal – not even the goal of an orgasm – you just have to hear your body, feel your body, and know that being near another body is what makes us human, and alive.
And so for the reasons we do, we load all this anger and frustration and hate onto women’s bodies because they have become for us symptomatic of our unhappiness, our disconnect from our humanity. They have become objects to control, to vilify, to condemn and to judge.
I have known people who were so terribly sexually assaulted you can’t believe they lived through it. Many didn’t want to. I have known people so lonely that they steep themselves in self-loathing and shame. I have known people raised to believe that every physical pleasure is a test of moral will power, every glance at another a threat to monogamy & their own dedication. I have known people ashamed of the bodies they were given, the bodies they became, the bodies they made or grew into. They hate their hands, their genitals, their hairiness or baldness, their fatness or muscularity and even their skinniness. They hate their age or their youth; they hate their virginity or their worlds of sexual experience. But what we all have in common is shame, and all shame is slut-shaming. And all slut shaming is about controlling people into believing that their bodies, which are full of pleasure, are wrong.
There are serious objections to having a slutwalk, and to trying to reclaim the term slut in the first place. For plenty of women of color, the attempt to use the term in an empowering way is simply too mired in the history of the ownership of black women’s bodies and the way those bodies have been used, bought, sold, brutalized, represented, negotiated, ways which are so categorically different from the way white women’s have that they cannot and will not participate. The same is true for women who do some kinds of sex work; for trans women of color who work the street, “slut” is often only an overture to the kinds of violence I hear about on a daily basis. For some older women, “slut” just hurts too much and always will, just like “queer” does for older same sex lovers or the N word is for older folks of color for whom it was also just a preamble, the word that came before horrible, horrific violence.
On a personal note – today’s my 43rd birthday – I realized that I just have to say out loud: shave your heads, ladies. Don’t wear heels sometimes. Enjoy food. If you only ever feel beautiful in a full face of makeup or in this year’s styles, stop wearing makeup for a while. Find not just the beauty that they tell you you should be, but be the beauty you are. We are all of us too caught up in a culture that inundates us with how we should look, could look, ought to look; we know we can buy beauty. But don’t. Find it. Find ways to feel beautiful on days you’re not feeling it. Fuck women’s magazines and their messages that none of us are trying hard enough to be pretty enough or skinny enough or sexy enough.
Which is why when that cop said women are wrong for dressing the way we do, so many of us spontaneously said OUR BODIES ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. We know our bodies are right, our sexualities are rights. We know that we deserve to decide how to dress, and who gets to touch us, and that the only people who should feel shamed are the people who want to force others, through fear or violence, into doing things that they did not choose to do. We get to be strong, and we get to be careful, and we get to be beautiful, because our bodies and our sexualities are all those things.
And what we need is a little less slut shaming and a lot less blaming women for what we do or don’t do and a lot more laws that protect us. We need a culture that doesn’t prove, over and over again, whether it’s through professional sports or wars overseas, that taking what you want is how the game is won. We don’t need a rape culture that keeps women fearing for themselves; we don’t need protection. We need people to understand that NO means NO and it always means NO, no matter when it’s spoken or whispered or screamed. We need people to know that silence, or drunkenness, is not consent; we need people – and legal systems, and cultures – to understand that rape is about power – about power only – and has nothing to do with the beautiful sexualities our bodies express. Rape, violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault – all of these things are about taking away someone else’s choice, their power, and their beauty. They all say: you are not yours. You are mine.
But you know what? We are ours. Our bodies are ours, our desires – straight, kinky, queer, asexual, vanilla, autosexual, poly, monogamous – are ours. We get to pick who touches us and why and when. We get to be in charge of who shares our beauty, of who touches our souls, our arms, our breasts, our pussies. WE DO. So the only choice in a culture where people are free is the choice to keep your hands to yourself; the choice to ask for consent, not take; the choice to respect our own desires and everyone else’s, and the choice of what we wear – to school, to clubs, to church, to the beach – is not an important part of the equation. The only choice anyone has to make every day is to not choose force, shame, rape, violence, intimidation, harassment, or threat.
We will wear what we want, and we will be beautiful, and powerful, and insist that anyone who cannot see that and who does not respect it has no place in our world.
So walk! Walk with joy and pleasure; feel the swivel of your hips and the pain in your heels and the pinch of the toe of that shoe. Walk with power and beauty and love. So walk, sluts! Be powerful and beautiful and all the other things the violence and shame in the world tells you that you aren’t.
Helen Boyd Kramer
May 13, 2013