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Posts Tagged ‘slutwalk’


I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while. Even as I sit here now beginning to type, I can feel my stomach tying up in knots. I’ve written at length about my sexual assault on this blog, but most of it has been in relation to some political rant or another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in “the personal is political,” but this is a different type of post here.

I’ve decided to write this post today because the 1-year anniversary of my sexual assault is approaching. And so much has happened and changed in the past year. The truth is, though, it’s all been for the better. If you had told that to myself in October, 2010, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was at the lowest low in my life. The fact of the matter is, when a sexual assault happens to you, it’s like a domino effect of your entire world being shattered. It’s not just the assault–it’s the way others treat you because of it (no wonder so many choose to stay silent). My assailant was my best friend and a collaborator. I lost all of our mutual friends. I broke up with my boyfriend despite him being my biggest support system, because I couldn’t fathom the idea of being romantic with anyone ever again. I barely had the strength to go to school and complete my homework, despite my being just a few credits away from graduation. Literally, my entire world had been shattered.

And the assault couldn’t have come at a stranger time in my life, either. I had just gotten back from New York City a few hours before, where I’d seen my all-time favorite band, Pavement, perform the last leg of their reunion tour from the front row in Central Park (which, at that time, was probably #1 on my list of coolest experiences). I was set to perform in The Encyclopedia Show, one of the world’s (let’s be honest, probably the only) fastest-spreading literary variety shows, in the coming days, and I’d just finished writing the perfect poem on my topic: somewhat ironically given the events to come, “Bare Naked.” The same night I got back, I jet-laggedly rushed to meet up with my musician to show him the piece and finish writing the song–after all, the performance was just in a few days. When he offered me an adderall, I accepted, even though I’d never tried it before and had no idea what to anticipate, because I wanted to stay up all night to perfect the piece. How could I have known his intention would be to wait until I passed out, drugged out of my mind, and take advantage of me?

It was a Friday night. The show was on Tuesday. I won’t focus on the event of the assault here, because that’s not what’s important. What is important to me, today, is that I decided to do go through with the performance. Despite the fact that I had spent all weekend in a hospital room getting a rape kit done and talking to various authorities about the event, despite the fact that for at least an entire month after the event I was so depressed I literally did not get out of bed, I had to make a decision about what was important to me. And that decision was whether or not I would let my assailant take away an important opportunity in my life, or be strong, and find a way to perform my piece without the way I had practiced and prepared it with the man who had taken advantage of me. I asked my sister, a musician, to help me, and we came up with something the night before the show.

It’s strange for me to watch this video. The trembling in my hands and legs, the sadness in my eyes, seems all so obvious to me, although there were only a few people in the room who knew what had happened. I remember the moments while reciting that poem when my mind would wander back to what had happened to me just a few nights before–and I remember pushing those thoughts away to stay focused on my performance. There were several moments when I almost started crying, and didn’t. And in the end, when I crack a smile and look back at my sister, who smiles back at me–I can see the shared moment of trust and triumph. Needless to say, I feel very blessed to have this video as a relic of this small victory.

What’s more, this performance was a very important moment in my life for another reason–not that I knew it at the time. Like I previously mentioned, I lost all of my close friends in the wake of my assault. But today, I have something even more valuable–my sister, the people in the room, the poets who performed and came out to support me, would come to be my lifeline in the coming months, although they would be almost completely oblivious to it. Who would have thought that something like a sexual assault and the loss of all my close friendships would come to be the event that propelled me forward in my passion? Who would have thought that the utter despair and loneliness I experienced would send me somewhere completely unexpected, into a poetic community, that would welcome me with open arms and a type of love and understanding that I would never have to question or doubt?

There was another moment that came a little later that was very important in my recovery as well. Like I said, I spent literally months so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. Then, one day, instead of choosing to do nothing about my emotions, I decided to write a poem. I’ve often said that I write a poem when I feel so much of a certain way that I can’t do anything else–this was precisely the moment when that first happened. I wrote a poem that contained all of my sadness and struggle from the past year. I made all of my emotions small enough to be contained in letters on a page. And then, a few months later, I performed again, in the Louder Than A Bomb College Indy Slam.

To be honest, I didn’t score that well in the slam (well, in my opinion–my goal was to win the whole thing of course). I was more interested in getting involved in LTAB for the opportunities to work with high school poets than to compete. I’ll be the first to admit that my competitive side isn’t pretty, and I’m a pretty sore loser. I cried a lot after the competition. But getting on stage and sharing a poem I’d worked so hard on, both in terms of literariness and performance, was incredibly important to me. As Robbie Q. Telfer, the co-founder of the aforementioned Encyclopedia Show and director of LTAB, says frequently: “The point is not the points, the point in the poetry.” And although I didn’t know it at the time, and certainly wouldn’t try to perform that poem again, opening up about my experience to a room full of strangers, unafraid of their judgment, was a profoundly empowering experience, and one that’s propelled me forward in the aftermath.

I’ll get to the point, here. A year ago, I was a senior in college, the president of a student poetry organization, oblivious to the fact that school was going to be over soon and I’d have to figure out how to make this whole “being a career poet” thing work. My priorities lied in getting drunk with my friends and having a boyfriend at all times. Of course poetry was important to me–it always has been–but it wasn’t my life. And for most people, it probably shouldn’t be their life. After all, everything I’m trying to say is that it took a life-changing, post traumatic stress-inducing event for me to get to that point.

But that’s not it, exactly. Yes, I threw myself into my poetry as a way to get my mind off of what had happened. But I did something else, too–I threw myself into the community here in Chicago as well. I surrounded myself with people who were poets, a couple of whom were my age and had merely been friends through association, who now are my very best friends in the entire world and have my back in a way no friend has ever had before. What’s more is that the poetry community in Chicago is a very special place where things like sexism, ableism, homophobia, and the rest won’t fly or get politely golf-clapped off stage when performed (unlike in New York where I watched a guy perform a poem about how “all women are whores” and “gay marriage isn’t in the Bible” get wild applause at the Nuyorican Cafe). I’ve become more than just a poet, but an organizer–someone who has given back to the community a hundred fold what it’s given to me–because I wanted to surround myself with intelligent people who had the strength to share their pain the way I did, but also the strength to just keep trying to be better. I think about the people who have become important in my life in the past year and scoff at what was important to me a year ago–people who held me back and distracted me from my dreams.

It’s weird how, a year later, I can look back at something like my own sexual assault and subsequent depression and see it as such a valuable and life-changing experience. I can’t say I wouldn’t have found my way to the 24/7 poetry lifestyle if it weren’t for my assault, but I do know that my life would be profoundly different. I wouldn’t have the good, supportive friends I do if I didn’t have a good reason to forget about the old ones. I wouldn’t have had the balls to compete in a slam if I didn’t write a poem that I thought was good enough for it. My life and work as an artist has taken a dramatically different turn–from organizing SlutWalk Chicago to having the opportunity to work with some of my most idolized poets–if I hadn’t had the hard life experience to propel me in that direction. And I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to speak out about my own experience and help others who are going through similar situations if I hadn’t lived it.

So, here’s a final video: me, today, performing a new poem that addresses my beliefs as a feminist in a different way than the videos above. I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this, either, if I hadn’t let go of the pain that haunted me for so long.

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Let the backlash begin.

More and more “articles” seem to be popping up opposing SlutWalk. You get the typical Fox News conservatives, right-wing bloggers, and proud anti-feminist women who miss the point completely. I can understand the argument that the term “slut” is problematic and people may not want to identify with it; however, about five minutes of research on any official SlutWalk website will explain why the term was chosen — it was taken right from the mouth of a victim-blaming police officer. There’s the misconception that SlutWalk is about dressing as scantily as possible; in reality, the wardrobe of protestors gets the least attention from those who are actually involved. Despite preconceptions, there’s absolutely no dress code for SlutWalk — the whole point is that the label “slut” is what others use to describe women, and that therefore being a slut cannot be defined by what type of clothes you wear or any other choices — only misogynistic point of views. So why not reclaim the word and say that we’re all sluts, regardless of attire, gender, nationality, age, or anything else? I tend to think it’s quite empowering, both for victims and allies working in solidarity. Sure, the message is radical and unpleasant to some — so is the harsh reality of the treatment of sexual assault victims.

So the articles are one thing. I tend to ignore them because, as of yet, any time I have actually looked into the opposition’s statement, it always goes a little something like “I agree that rape is always bad, but, [insert victim-blaming, sexist and/or judgemental rhetoric in here].” As a victim, this type of shit gets me mad real fast, not to mention sometimes boarders on triggering.

However, now the opposition’s rhetoric has begun to sink into my facebook newsfeed, meaning it’s less avoidable. I feel a certain responsibility to defend SlutWalk to friends or mutual friends since I’m helping to organize the marketing campaign for SlutWalk Chicago (June 4th, y’all!). And unfortunately, now I’ve come face to face with the fact that people are still ignorant as fuck.

I guess it still baffles me that people aren’t as educated about rape as I am. Then again, I’ve had the privilege of a college education at a notoriously liberal school, as well as the privilege of being a self-identified feminist since the age of 14. It doesn’t take being a victim to know that rape is all-too common. Every two minutes, someone in America is raped. One-in-four college-aged women will be sexually assaulted, making this issue especially relevant to my peers. Most rapists (15 out of 16, in fact) will never spend a day in jail. And also, police are often completely unsympathetic or unwilling to help victims of sexual assault. Case in point: I’ve been waiting for my rape kit results for seven months, and haven’t heard from my detective in five. While tons of friends, family, teachers, etc etc etc, have been supportive of me in the wake of my assault, no one in the position of authority has been cooperative in bringing my perpetrator to justice.

And I’m supposed to believe that this is my fault, somehow? That I’m not doing enough to prosecute him? That I didn’t do enough to stop my own rape in the first place?

One news article that’s started a recent facebook status debate that’s got me pulling my hair out states, “The attitude that rape victims bring it on themselves has largely (though not entirely) disappeared from mainstream society. When a Manitoba judge recently blamed the victim in a rape case for leading her attacker on, he was universally ridiculed. Everybody was amazed that any judge today would be so ignorant.” The sad truth is (other than the fact that this article is written by a clearly self-loathing woman) that this isn’t true. Rape occurs so often, if only it were possible for everyone to be universally ridiculed for their victim-blaming comments! And wouldn’t it be AWESOME if the amount of judges putting a rapist behind bars was proportionate to popular attitude against rape? Hell, lady, with such statements as “[N]o fewer than 62 per cent of female students say they’ve been sexually harassed at university – a figure that is credible only if you include every incident of being groped by some 20-year-old drunk,” you have to wonder where all these ridiculous victim-blaming attitudes have gone off to — oh wait, that’s right, they’re ingrained into how our fucking society views women, and you think you’re some great exception, right? In the same breath as you both undermine rape statistics and basically state that interpreting groping as sexual assault is overreacting. RIGHT! Victim-blaming attitudes have TOTALLY disappeared from mainstream society! (Hint: no they fucking haven’t, what a giant hypocrite.) As pro-wrestler Mick Foley would say, “The world gets an F in their treatment of women, but we’re getting a C-minus and we’re bragging about it.”

I wish people would just shut the fuck up about bashing SlutWalk already. It’s a protest to end RAPE, for god’s sake, don’t you want to fucking END RAPE? Okay, okay, so you think it’s morally irrephensible for women to be half naked in public… okay, fine, whatever, the cordgial invitation to the 21st century is still here, but seriously… what the fuck are you actually trying to say? Seems to me that most of the opposition to SlutWalk is either unwilling to do five seconds of research or completely, blatantly sexist. And if that’s the case, I guess I don’t want you on my team anyway.

It just seems silly to me… shouldn’t everyone be universally for the cause of ending rape? Isn’t it far more immoral to prefer that no one take any action against rape than to dress like a “slut?”

I guess this is why I’ve been avoiding the backlash for so long. It just doesn’t make any fucking sense, and if it doesn’t make any sense, it can’t be worth much of my time. All I’m saying is, before you write your poorly researched editorial or blogpost about why SlutWalk is counter-productive, do five minutes of research on the statistics of rape. I can guarantee that someone close to you has been assaulted. Why don’t you ask someone in your life what happened in the aftermath of their assault? How about reaching out to people with love, understanding, and compassion, instead of judgement, for once in your life?

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Yesterday I was browsing through GrrrlVirus, or maybe it was another of the other riot grrrl revival blogs I’ve been getting into lately, reading about SlutWalk Chicago.  My friend, Evan, glanced at my computer screen and asked, half-laughing, “SlutWalk Chicago? What’s that?”

I turned to look at him, thinking for a second how to best explain what the fuck I was doing, and finally said “Um… it’s a protest against rape culture.” He stopped smiling. I guess the seriousness of the message of SlutWalk is not an uplifting thing, despite the fact that it is fun enough to be approachable.

For a while now, I’ve been watching the GrrrlVirus community. I actually first heard about this whole riot grrrl revival phenomenon when a poem and non-fiction essay I wrote were published by Clementine Cannibal in her zine, “I Knew A Motherfucker Like You And She Said…” The zine itself impressed me–two volumes full of writing and art by women about their experience as a woman–and when my copy arrived, it came in an envelope stuffed with small flyers that looked like this:

or:

However, GrrrlVirus has never solely been organized long-distance, through exchanging zines and reading blogs.  They have always been about inspiring feminists to get together on a local level and organize their own protests and events.  There’s even GrrrlVirus international, which is having a meet-up in Germany in October. The most widespread and easy way to participate in the movement is by real-life “reblogging,” that is, taking these images and flyers and posting them up around your neighborhood. Instead of looking for feminist companionship in college gender studies courses or non-existant local political organizations, the idea is to go to the streets to spread ideas and find other like-minded people.

But I digress. GrrrlVirus is a great idea that’s quickly spreading, and there’s also a lot of other riot grrrl zines and organizations coming out of the woodwork now, but this sudden surge is all because of SlutWalk.  While SlutWalk, at first, may sound like a good way to see a lot of women dressed sexy with protest signs (and I’m not gonna pretend like there aren’t a ton of pictures of scantily-clad hipsters and crust punks floating around the internet that I adore), it is not just a sexual parade.  In fact, the entire point of the protest is to bring attention to the fact that simply being woman, or a man, or dressed a certain way, or religious or not, or anything else is not an invitation to be raped–rape is the exact opposite of accepting an invitation. In Toronto this past January, a police officer gave this statement at a campus safety seminar: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” So, a bunch of GrrrlVirus grrrls and other feminists got together in Toronto and decided to protest against this idea.  While it may not be an act of defiance against legislation, the importance is not to be understated—rape is the oldest tool of oppression and dehumanization, and it is disgusting that victims still carry blame for these crimes, even if it’s on a purely cultural or ideological level, because it’s these misogynistic opinions that allow women to still be raped, and even our laws and actions against rape are subject to this, first, before subjectivity of the law.

The fact that a police officer can walk into a room full of women and tell them the best way to protect themselves is to dress the way he thinks is appropriate is the symptom of a much larger problem. Outside the context of SlutWalk, it may seem silly to go out into the streets and picket against “rape.” Of course everyone hates rape! Yelling on the street about how much you hate rape isn’t going to stop it. All protests against rape or domestic violence that I’ve been apart of have always been more about providing comfort and community to survivors and their families–something that is equally valuable, but not the same as SlutWalk.  From their website:

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. … We want to feel that we will be respected and protected should we ever need them, but more importantly be certain that those charged with our safety have a true understanding of what it is to be a survivor of sexual assault — slut or otherwise.

So the people in Toronto got together and made a fucking statement. And the next thing you know, SlutWalks start popping up all over the world—New Zealand, Poland, London, all over Canada, Seattle, San Diego, Boston, Detroit, and, now I’ve caught wind, Chicago. Needless to say I contacted the person who made the blog immediately about how to get involved, and you should too, or start one in your town.

Despite the fact that the subject matter of this protest, and the experiences of rape, are not to be taken lightly, the reason I’m so excited about SlutWalk is because it’s an opportunity for feminists to organize together and make a statement about something, and not only that, but to call attention to a part of society that we do have the power to immediately change–how we respect and view women. The fact that this is all happening so quickly and on such a large scale is amazing. The potential for a global movement exists, as long as people continue to organize.

The most beautiful thing about it, though, is that SlutWalk is for everyone.

 

 

 

 

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