An Open Letter to SlutWalk Chicago

Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines“. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:

  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.

If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless

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9 Responses to An Open Letter to SlutWalk Chicago

  1. Thank you says:

    Thank you for writing this. This is a voice of someone in the community and it needs to be heard just like everyone else. I think that maybe everyone can work together with these issues about SlutWalk, and resolve any conflicts that have arisen. Certainly if something is happening where someone feels left out it should get addressed, and then these events should also cater to the concerns of all people involved. Perhaps there needs to be more networking with each other, so that everyone has a place and a say in this so that all be can be counted. If people are feeling this way that their voices are not being heard then perhaps the recently-founded organization can get on reworking the structure of the org so that there is more direct input from the people participating. There’s got to be a way to do it, because it would be so sad to do any of these events without representation from every person confronting the issue of rape and shaming the victim. It wouldn’t fully speak for the problem at hand unless everybody had a say in it. I hope there is a resolution to your concerns so that all of this turns into a good thing.
    It just goes to show that rape has affected almost every person’s life out there in some way shape or form, and it is such an issue to tackle not for the faint of heart. Let’s all get together, and not leave anyone behind and out of the cause.
    Maybe there can be guest speakers at the events who address some topics to bring attention to what’s going on – with specific issues that need to have more of an awareness brought to it, so that people in the movement are all on the same page, and therefore can ally for each other better.
    Thank you for letting me comment. If there is something I am not getting, or something that I missed, please let me know.

  2. BriaGrace says:

    The post written by Aura was the first time I had heard any criticism regarding SlutWalk and, frankly, I was disappointed that SW had not made more of an effort to be more inclusive, especially since woman of color are disproportionally effected by sexual violence. But what really horrified me where the comments. Now, with this post, I think I am done with SlutWalk. I don’t think I can in good conscience be involved in an organization that harbors such hate and purposefully excludes already marginalized groups.

    Solidarity, sister.

  3. BriaGrace says:

    Just a follow-up, have you seen this?

    SlutWalk Chicago on Inclusivity, Diversity

    • Veronika says:

      No, I hadn’t seen that. Thank you.

      It is interesting that the major criticism they spoke of popped into existence ex nihilo around the time I published my open letter. I wonder if they will respond to me next.

    • Veronika says:

      Since what I said above arguably implicates that SlutWalk Chicago has not replied to me at all, I should add that I have received a private response. It was not all that I would have hoped for, but to my eyes it was significantly better than what SlutWalk Toronto said in response to Aura. So I am rather taken aback now to see that I have been made a part of some undifferentiated mass of multiply oppressed critics who have not been given the courtesy of having our words linked to so that others can see for themselves whether SlutWalk Chicago’s words are accurate and whether the criticism people have given them has been valid. I have expressed as much in a private e-mail that I just sent to SlutWalk Chicago.

  4. Lika says:

    I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

    YES. Let not the words and works of those who face multiple oppression who fought before not be ignored and dismissed.

    You know, when I was growing up and believing white = better human rights, white = not sexist, white = progressive forward thinking, I thought it was the white people who ended slavery by one day suddenly becoming enlightened. Same thing for straight people, that they one day accepted queer folks. The way “acceptance” was outlined to me was that “society became more tolerant.”

    That ignores all the sweat, blood, and work marginalized people put into being accepted. That ignores the fact that very likely, if wasn’t for marginalized people demanding their rights, the privileged would have been happy to go on oppressing them on.

    Acceptance wasn’t something that society became. It was something that was fought and worked for, and to ignore all the work that was done by marginalized people is a horrible act of exclusion.

    I hope they take that line of your letter to heart.

    That, and everything else you wrote.

  5. Hi Veronika,

    I’m one of the SWC organizers, and I hope that the organizer who checks the main email has gotten back to you, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m just seeing your open letter now. If there’s anything you’d like to discuss with me directly and/or if you’re interested in helping to organize the forum we’re putting together discussing class and race and the way that mainstream white feminism has traditionally crowded out or excluded other perspectives – that’s something we’re very conscious of and something we don’t want to participate in. The forum will take place in the days following the walk (we’re figuring out a time and date now).

    If you didn’t see it too, I wrote a blog post regarding the word ‘slut’ and the problems with reclamation (given the histories the word has in different communities) and one about acknowledging privilege/being an ally:

    http://www.slutwalkchicago.org/1/post/2011/05/about-being-an-ally-privilege-marginalization-naming-and-slutwalks-place-in-feminist-activism.html

    http://www.slutwalkchicago.org/1/post/2011/05/some-thoughts-on-slut.html

    I don’t want you to think that the organizers aren’t taking your concerns seriously and that we’re not listening – and I didn’t want you to think that we’d lumped you into a “faceless mass.” I would have responded personally to you had I seen this before. Unfortunately, there are only five of us organizing (and only two of us handling the bulk of communication) so we’re not as on top of things as we might be had we more folks/more personal time.

    Again, my email box is open, and we’d be very excited if you got involved with the forum (we think it’s going to be a great event too).

    With solidarity and an open heart,
    Jessica

  6. […] … criticism of sl*twalks – and not just once, here and here and here and here and here and here.  And these links are just the result of a quick Google search, by the way […]

  7. […] not even mention people who face more than one oppression. Veronika Boundless argues further in her open letter that there is a “lack of any mention of trans status” and that SlutWalk does not pay […]

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