Thank you to the inspiring Alice Paul for so succinctly summing up the importance of individual, distinct pieces in the formation of a social movement. A mosaic, indeed.
[Authors note 1: To fully understand the content of this post, I highly recommend that you read this article. This essay, too. If not, and you just want to read the excerpts I directly respond to, that’s cool.]
To Rebecca Traister: When I saw “Clumsy Young Feminists” web headline, I began reading your article with my own prejudices. And then you start with an “I wanted to, but…” statement? [Author’s note 2: Rebecca, I know you didn’t approve that web headline (you just keep digging yourselves deeper, NY Times), but goddammit, I am not a clumsy young feminist.]
I wanted to love SlutWalks…
But at a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent, I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort.
Alright, I thought to myself. It’s her opinion and she’s entitled. Hear her out.
So I continued reading, hoping beyond hope that I could either (A) agree with you or (B) agree to disagree with you. Anything but (C) feel rejected, judged, and unfairly categorized due solely to my age. Oh, god, anything but C.
You were unsure and had reservations about your own reactions. I can respect that. The conclusion is great. I think it captures the importance of Slutwalks and other grassroots efforts in organizing social movements:
Fighting for power is a complicated, messy process, especially for complicated, messy human beings. Often, the best we can hope for is that our efforts draw a spotlight.
Which, I guess, is enough to make SlutWalkers of us all.
I thought the ending was possibly redeeming. And then, there it was. After a few re-readings of “Ladies, We Have a Problem”, I still felt (you guessed it) rejected, judged, and unfairly categorized.
Scantily clad marching seems weirdly blind to the race, class and body-image issues that usually (rightly) obsess young feminists and seems inhospitable to scads of women who, for various reasons, might not feel it logical or comfortable to express their revulsion at victim-blaming by donning bustiers. So while the mission of SlutWalks is crucial, the package is confusing and leaves young feminists open to the very kinds of attacks they are battling.
I would totally agree with this point if it were mandated that participants engage in “scantily clad marching.” Check out this photo gallery from Slutwalk Toronto. Or this one from Asheville, NC. Clearly, all of the participants are dressed provocatively. (In case you didn’t click through, please note my use of heavy sarcasm.) I’m not discounting the race, class, and body-image issues you mention; I’m simply showing that Slutwalk participants can wear whatever they please because it’s not the clothes and appearance that matter, it’s the message (which is, in fact, the message).
Nowhere on SlutWalk’s “Why?” page do the organizers encourage participants to dress in “hotpants.” In fact, they encourage all communities of people that are willing to get involved to come and speak out against rape culture. I plan to attend SlutwalkDC and I haven’t seen any tweets or FB posts from their page that tell me that I should wear a bustier. I think that the openness and sense of inclusion is just what the feminist movement needs.
That lack of precision and self-protection leapt out in another recent example of a woman grappling with issues of sexual power.
McClelland’s strategy, like that of SlutWalks, was to regain sexual power through a controlled embrace of the dynamic that had initially rendered her, and women around her, vulnerable. But the story read as if McClelland was so jumpy about writing it that she did so with eyes closed and face scrunched up, rushing to get the words out before she lost her nerve.
Seriously, read Mac McClelland’s essay. She describes how her experiences as a human rights journalist lead to a PTSD diagnosis and severe anxiety. Her detailed account of the violent sex that forced her to confront her fear and the trauma was heartbreaking and unnerving. But what do you expect? Have you ever written about something deeply personal, painful to recall, and difficult to describe because the memories are so inextricably linked to the pain that you fear the emotions you’re feeling? To articulate that and post it for public consumption is terrifying, yet empowering at the same time. Sometimes you have to face your fears and talk about them to help yourself heal. We all deal with pain, fear, and discrimination in different ways. Who are any of us to criticize Mac or anyone else for their honesty and bravery in admitting the very frailty and desire for connection that makes us human?
After referring to Anita Hill’s testimony that she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas, you write:
Thanks in part to her, we were, by now, supposed to be braver and more skilled at calling out injustice, at exposing or reversing sexual-power imbalances. But 20 summers later, we’re marching in hot pants.
If fancy words and bravery and logic won battles, I wouldn’t be fighting to keep John-Fucking-Boehner and his goddamn, anti-choice cronies out of my uterus. I wouldn’t have to write multiple posts calling out the NY Times for their handling of women’s issues and perpetuation of rape culture. So while I appreciate the idea that our words should be our strongest weapon, sometimes you have to get the world’s attention before they’ll listen to what you have to say.
And how dare anyone claim or insinuate that the women and men marching, chanting, and participating in these incredible, widespread grassroots movements are anything less than brave and skilled and successful at exposing imbalances. They have the courage of their convictions, regardless of whether they’re wearing hotpants, a bra and undies, or sweatpants. They are taking to the streets and shouting out against the injustices that countless people face every fucking day.
We’re supposed to be braver? What do you want from us?
If I wrote for a high-profile publication and a headline such as “Crotchety old feminists” or “Feminists that came before me: Thanks for nothing” appeared, can you imagine the backlash I would face? I imagine that I would be told (rightfully so) to respect the women and men that came before me that carried the torch and have carried the movement this far. So PLEASE have respect for the young women and men that are taking to the streets and to the blogosphere and anywhere else our voices can be heard. Pass the torch. Don’t discount us; we may not have the published work or the vast amounts of experience that you have, but let us take chances. Let us get our hands dirty. You don’t know us; you have no idea what we’ve been through. We’re all facing our own uphill battles everyday, young and old alike. Mentor us, but let us learn. Let us do. We’re not begging for your respect; we are demanding it. The same respect that we show you in reading your articles, listening to your talks, admiring and benefiting from your accomplishments. We know we wouldn’t be where we are today without those that have come before us, but know that we sure as hell won’t go anywhere tomorrow if you don’t trust us.
This post brought to you by Dawn who respects and admires all feminists, regardless of age.