Neither Sluts, Whores, nor Saints: We Are Women

Posted July 2, 2011

I ignored the Slutwalk in Toronto. It only caught my attention when my friends and fellow activists started debating the nature of the walk. The critiques began immediately – that this was yet another white feminist project excluding women of color. There were articles written about the leadership’s colorblindness and charges that the only reason the media was reporting it was because scantly-clad white women were involved. My initial thoughts were to sympathize with demonstrators while questioning the leadership and the tactic of reclaiming of the word “slut.” In the back of my mind, I considered how the word “slut” elicits natural solidarity among women.  Every woman knows the intention of being called a “whore” and a “slut,” and many experience it one time or another. 

After hearing the debates for days, I checked my Facebook and saw that there was a La Marcha de las Putas (“March of the whores”) in Mexico against sexual harassment that was inspired by the Slutwalk in Toronto. The rally-goers protested how the term “whore” is used against women when they are assertive and challenge male authority. The message of the march confronts the double-edged sword used against women (sometimes called the Madonna/whore complex, or Marianismo): women are thought to be morally superior to men and at the same time considered over-sexed and untrustworthy. It was La Marcha de las Putas that really pierced me and made me pay attention. The women in Mexico (mostly) wore what is traditionally considered “normal clothing” instead of the so-called ‘slutwear,’ and they weren’t exactly reclaiming the word “whore,” but instead negating the whole concept. We are not whores. We are not Saints. We are complex human beings and not objects of male desire.

If it is true that Slutwalk Toronto excluded women of color, whether intentionally or not, then the transformational potential of the march was diminished and this should be rightly criticized. At the same time, the goals and tactics of the SlutWalk deeply resonated with women in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The spread of resistance is difficult to gauge, but it is obvious women are gaining inspiration from their sisters’ struggles around the world and are ready to fight!

We are seeing this march take different shapes in each place that it happens. It may have started in Toronto with white women, but it will not end there. It cannot end there. When reproductive rights are under attack, where women generally feel unsafe in most situations no matter how they are dressed, we should not sit on the sidelines and only criticize shortcomings of the march from the outside looking in. Instead, we should tap into the potential of thousands of women self-organizing for human rights and dignity and recognize that a chord has been struck with women all over the world: white, black and brown.  So as activists, let’s not make a mistake abstaining from engaging with SlutWalk activism, despite its limitations; there is room for growth in the movement and women of all class, racial and sexual orientation backgrounds are getting involved. Slutwalk or March of the Whores, or whatever title it may take, is fresh and desperately needed when the tide of right-wing reactionary legislation is rolling back women’s and reproductive rights as I write. 


2 responses to “Neither Sluts, Whores, nor Saints: We Are Women”

  1. Sofia Avatar

    Hi Beth! Thanks for the response. I would love to learn more about the SlutWalk Minneapolis and the perspectives of these women that you mentioned if they (and you) are willing to contact me via phone or email.

  2. Beth Johnson Avatar
    Beth Johnson

    First I want to thank you so much for the information about the La Marcha de las Putas. I hadn’t heard about it but am so happy that they are standing up for their human rights.

    I also just wanted to clarify a little known fact about the organizers of the Toronto SlutWalk, one of the primary organizers is a black woman. She says it loud, and says it proud.

    I am proud to be affiliated with the SlutWalk Minneapolis, where our organizer is also a woman of color…a beautiful Korean woman with a heart of gold and steely resolve to change rape culture. She is leading in a manner that I can only dream about. We have reached out to all of our marginalized communities and hope that they will feel welcomed and able to participate with us.