Slut Walks

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Amber Rose made the exciting announcement on Twitter that she’ll be leading her very own SlutWalk this summer. SlutWalk is a transnational movement of protest marches, which began on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario, with subsequent rallies following all over the world. Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance, and call for an end to rape culture.

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Once again, I have been blown away by one of the most ridiculed—and yet one of the most desired—women in hip hop and pop culture today. It’s thrilling to see an underdog who once had to support her family through stripping grow into a fearless, unapologetic feminist leader in today’s sex-positive activism. Still, her choice to affiliate herself with SlutWalk gives me pause because it’s a movement I can’t rock with due to the pitfalls in its philosophy and the way it alienates the experiences of sexual oppression faced by Black women.

Let me explain.

In 2011, I was curious about the SlutWalk movement so I covered it for my college newspaper as a budding journalist and as a young woman flirting with a feminist identity. Marching and running alongside thousands of women protesting in the streets of New York City was invigorating. People had literally come out in all shapes, sizes, colors, orientations and forms of dress. Seeing women (as well as men and those who are gender non-conforming) shamelessly parade through the streets half-naked was my first introduction to body-positivity. I was amused, impressed and almost ashamed of my own bashfulness to participating with everyone else.

Covering SlutWalk was one of my most memorable and important experiences I’ve ever had as a young feminist. But reading the critical responses from Black feminists analyzing the movement from afar have had just as much (if not more) of an impact on my understanding and opinion on it.

On Sept. 27, 2011, the members of Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB) famously published an open letter to the organizers of SlutWalk that essentially gave them a read of a lifetime, breaking down all the parts of SlutWalk’s ideology that are problematic for Black women.

At the most basic level, BWB commended their intentions to fight sexual assault and gave them credit for their ability to organize and mobilize. But they made the insightful observation that sistas can’t find a space in SlutWalk or reclaim the word “slut” because it was never ours to begin with. We’ve been called a host of other names alluding to our mythologized sexual deviance. The rapes of Black women have been justified since the slavery era—and that justification has always transgressed our mode of dress. BWB went on to argue that setting a precedent for young girls and young men to use this word weren’t constructive to eradicating sexual assault. BWB completely stripped apart the validity of the SlutWalk philosophy in only a 1500-word essay. It underscored their point that American social movements must consult with people of color to be successful in their organizing efforts.

As one of my aunts-in-my-head, Dr. Brittney Cooper a.k.a. Crunktastic once said, Black women are caught in a binary of always being sexually available and being rendered invisible from having to comply with respectability politics. Furthermore, as Alice Walker once said, the word “slut” was originally meant to signify a woman unashamed of her sexuality and freely able to pleasure in it without being disturbed or distracted by persecution from her surrounding society. By this logic, we know that we can’t find empowerment in the word “slut” because it was never made for us in the first place.

I’m genuinely excited to see Amber Rose going out to host an event that is highly significant to (and emblematic) of the contemporary feminist movement. We need her presence in this movement because she’s a public figure with the power to sway people’s opinions whom wouldn’t be associated with the feminist movement otherwise.

However, given the compelling critiques that prominent Black feminists have made of SlutWalk in years past, I’m concerned that Rose’s participation in this movement renders critiques like BWB and Jones as irrelevant or worse, non-existent. Of course, feminism and Black feminism are vast worlds where we’re all allowed to disagree and having contradicting beliefs-with others and with ourselves.

But considering that this is such a divisive and alienating movement for my ladies of color, doesn’t SlutWalk warrant a harmonious response from a united front of Black women? I know Rose must have done some extensive research on this movement before she used it for her own branding purposes, so she has to be aware of these critiques. I’d really love to know what she thinks of the push back that SlutWalk has gotten in years past and why she continued with her own march anyway?

Are you going to participate in Amber Rose’s Slutwalk?

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