Why do cis men defend the outing of trans women?
[Trigger warning: discussion of transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, self harm]
This was going to be a post about Caleb Hannan, a man who calls himself a “journalist” and who, in the course of what he thinks “journalism” is, hounded a trans woman into suicide, and then (because that wasn’t enough) turned his “story” – and the details of her suicide – into a self-aggrandizing, sensationalist narrative about himself.
But you can read many other excellent people’s writing on it:
- Aoifeschatology: Dead Trans Women in the Print Guillotine [note: includes description of suicide attempt]
- Maria Dahvana Headley: Hostile Subjects, Vulnerable Sources and the Ethics of Outing
- At Autostraddle: Why we can’t accept lazy, transmisogynistic journalism
- Shakesville: Careless, Cruel and Unaccountable [note: Shakesville has a history of shitty treatment of trans issues]
I want to discuss a different aspect of this article: the reactions of journalists, predominantly cis men, who have tried to insist:
- we can’t tell her life story without mentioning her gender identity! (when the article was never about her life story)
- it’s just like how we mention people’s past marriages! (when there are obvious differences in how our society treats divorcees and trans women)
- we should focus on the “fascinating” ethical side of this! (when a woman is dead)
And those points are all just so utterly irrelevant to the facts – that a journalist invaded an interviewee’s privacy, ignored her pleas for respect, and exploited her suicide – that I can really only come to one conclusion.
Y’all are a bit fucking insecure about trans women, aren’t you?
Every objection, every insistence that we treat this case as part of a “wider discussion”, every excuse about “telling the full story”, every lie told that Dr V’s gender identity was somehow relevant to a story about a golf putter and possible discrepancies in her academic record, boils down to one thing: WE MUST KNOW THAT SHE IS TRANS! WE MUST! THE WORLD MUST KNOW!
And we have to see this in the context of a society which treats trans women as a punchline – where the scenario of cis-men-who-have-sex-with-trans-women-without-knowing-it is treated as the height of “gotcha! oh snap!” comedy. Ally McBeal. The entire plot of Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Austin Powers. Nip/Tuck. And in a more serious vein, God knows how many episodes of the various Law & Order and CSI franchises – which usually highlight (in their sensationalist way) the real, terrible issue of trans women being murdered by their “betrayed” sexual partners – who are usually portrayed as violent thugs, but you know, violent thugs who maybe had a good reason this time.
The “reverse” situation – cis-woman-has-sex-with-trans-man-without-knowing-it – is almost non-existent.
So we end up in a society where heterosexual cis men are told that having sex with a trans woman is tantamount to having homosexual sex (and therefore wrong! And unmasculine!!!) Where trans women are seen as inherently deceitful, to the point that being-a-trans-woman-and-not-disclosing-your-history-before-sex is tantamount to a deliberate conspiracy to make poor hetero cis men have gay sex (and therefore become Not Real Men!!!) Where the good and proper dudely thing to do is to make sure that all the other dudes know that someone is a trans woman (and thus, to them, Not A Real Woman).
And we end up in a society where Dudes Who Journalise vehemently defend the rights of another Journalist Dude to invade a woman’s privacy, threaten her safety, ignore her pleas and cause her suicide. Using arguments which are irrelevant to the actual facts of the matter.
We end up saying, “how dare you treat this real-life tragedy as a thought experiment”, but what I wonder is: are they really treating this story as a thought experiment? Or does it all just boil down to hetero cis men’s sense of ownership over bodies-they-might-want-to-fuck?
Random recommended reading
I just keep finding so many interesting articles on the dozens of blogs I follow that I’m thinking random recommended reading may become a thing, so I’m sticking it on a Monday after my warm fuzzies post because no one should have to do too much thinking on a Monday.
Help Family Planning with an international study on period pain. You need to be:
- Between 18 and 50 years old
- Having regular periods with moderate period pain
- In good general health
- Not already taking hormonal contraception or have an IUD
- Prepared to use condoms during the study if contraception is required
The News With Nipples takes on the endless fight against bullshit passive-language reporting of sexual attacks (trigger warning for sexual assault.)
Best headline of all time / proof we’re living in the future: Giant NASA spider robots could 3D print lunar base
Mississippi douchebags protest against a school respecting a student’s gender identity. Because letting a person meet the dress code already in place for their gender is exactly the same as not meeting the dress code at all, and that’s how you know it’s the trans student who wants “special treatment”.
HIV has been cured in a child for the first time. YES.
Want a good reason to oppose a 4-year parliamentary term? Check out who’s in favour, and why.
Melissa Harris-Perry on the real Harlem Shake and why white folk seriously need to stop mockingly appropriate shit which isn’t theirs.
How Nusreta Sivac has helped to get rape treated seriously as a war crime.
Evil transexuals bully innocent white cis lady!!!!
[Content warning: transphobia, silencing, white cis women’s tears]
Note: since drafting this piece, the Observer and thus the Guardian have taken down Burchill’s piece with this editor’s note attached:
We have decided to withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’. The piece was an attempt to explore contentious issues within what had become a highly-charged debate. The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views. On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece. The Observer Readers’ Editor will report on these issues at greater length.
Which is so many levels of bullshit it’s not even funny, but also straight from the “I wanted to bump pageviews by offending people, just not this much” mainstream media apology handbook.
Or as @cnlester put it,
Observer’s statement totally meaningless – Burchill’s hate-fest can’t possibly be described as “an attempt to explore contentious issues”.
At least, that’s the spin Julie Burchill is putting on the backlash against Suzanne Moore’s decision to associate the “perfect body” which women are supposed to aspire to with that of “a Brazilian transsexual”.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt as a relatively-privileged feminist blogger? Just stay the fuck away from analogies. Just don’t go there. If it’s not a system of oppression you yourself experience, don’t appropriate it to discuss your own issues.
This is why you’ll frequently see me use square brackets and “insert racial group here!” phrasing when I’m trying to explain why something is fucked up. Because to say “this is just like what happened to Maaori” or “this is just like when people attack Muslims” or “I feel the same way lesbians feel” isn’t just a giant can of actually-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-talking-about worms, it’s also just fucking pathetic.
I’m quite capable of explaining bullshit like the pay gap and workplace sexual harassment and the lack of availability of abortion in New Zealand without co-opting the struggles of other groups and pretending our issues are totally the same.
Then I stop and remind myself that the issue with Suzanne Moore’s piece is that she isn’t co-opting the struggle of trans people in Brazil. She’s erasing their struggle by using a stereotype. Hey, you may be denied basic human rights and run a massively higher risk of getting murdered than cis people, but at least you look hot, right?
Suzanne Moore treated trans women like they were cookie-cutter male fantasies in order to inspire solidarity among cis women, and she and her good pal Julie Burchill are going to talk about being bullied?
Julie Burchill is literally going to type the words “vociferous transsexual lobby”? Yeah, there’s a powerful group whose influence on global politics needs to be critically examined.
What’s especially bitterly hilarious is how Burchill’s whole argument in defence of Moore is exactly the same silencing, bullying shit which spawned second-wave western feminism out of leftwing activism – “stop talking about your silly little issues, focus on the big picture, we need to fight the real enemy together.”
I’m pretty sure that for a lot of trans people, the “real enemy” definitely includes being used as stereotyped punchlines by mainstream feminists while the actual risks of oppression and violence they face get swept under the carpet.
Oh, and making hilarious comments about “having your cock cut off” in an article headlined “Transexuals should cut it out”? Pretending that you don’t understand the issues around the word “sh*m***”? Yeah, that’s fucking classy, Julie Burchill. And not at all belittling, bullying, or silencing.
But that’s okay. I understand the deep bonds that exist between white cis women who have Bolly for lunch together. You had a moral duty to put those trans people in their place. I guess the real tragedy is they won’t even realise you’ve told them to shut up for their own good, right?
Related reading: @auntysarah on Twitter has created a version of Burchill’s column with the transphobic bits taken out; Paris Lees has written an open letter to Suzanne Moore in response to both her and Burchill’s comments; Sianushka has sent a letter to the Observer about their printing of transphobic language
ETA: Burchill’s piece has been reposted in full by The Telegraph, and is of course available as a PDF (H/T Emma). Trigger warnings for vile transphobia stand.
Judge Duncan Harvey sanctions abuse of a trans woman
[Trigger warning: transphobia in the judicial system]
Judge Duncan Harvey has decided that a trans woman will serve her prison sentence in a men’s prison.
The bit which just highlights how repugnant this is?
Her sentence is 2 years, 1 month.
If it were under 2 years, she could serve home detention.
But Judge Harvey decided to just “reduce” her sentence:
in recognition of the difficulties she would have in serving her sentence in a men’s prison.
So he recognises that she’ll have “difficulties” (vomit) in a male prison. He’ll reduce her sentence a little bit because of that. But he just can’t reduce it that 1 extra month which would mean she could serve home detention and not face “difficulties” like, oh, violent physical assault.
Fuck you, Judge Harvey.
Props however to the Northern Advocate for gendering her correctly.
Fuck you, Sisters of Compassion marketing department
[Trigger warning for suicide and emotionally-blackmailing religious proselytizing]
You know what’s not fucking compassionate?
Leaving anonymous, unbranded envelopes in people’s mailboxes which read only:
“You will never know what it meant to me to be able to come and see you at the lowest time in my life… you stopped me from doing something I would have regretted forever.”
And then contains a fucking marketing letter signed by the Sisters of Compassion Congregational Leader Sister Margaret Anne Mills, full of “here’s all the good work we do” and “we’re praying for Christchurch” and oh, “please give us money and remember us in your will”.
Sorry, Sisters of Compassion. I’m not in much of a fucking giving mood towards religious organisations which indulge in cheap emotional blackmail and don’t give a fuck about considering that in a country with a massive youth suicide rate, people may be a wee bit fucking sensitive to being reminded of the people who have done something which we get to regret forever, the people we couldn’t fucking help, the times in our lives when we ourselves have had to reach out to people who we don’t even know how to thank.
(And don’t fucking start me on how, given the fucking tragic proportion of gay, lesbian, bi, trans and other queer youth making up those aforementioned suicide statistics, the lack of fucking compassion they’ve received from the fucking Catholic Church makes this beyond ironic.)
Queer the Night/ Hand Mirror clusterfuck: the fail continues
[Trigger warning: links include discussion of transphobia, mainstream Feminist silencing tactics and more than your recommended daily intake of cis/white women’s tears.]
I think if we’ve learned anything from the internet it’s that when white cis feminists on “mainstream”/large/established blogs commit massive fail, it only gets worse when they try to apologise (admittedly, a large number never get to the apologising stage, so hey, points for effort!)
Thus it is with Julie’s “apology” (yep, scare quoted it) at The Hand Mirror, where those commenters who didn’t get to show their own pantlessness in the original debacle decided to make the most of their second chance.
Let’s start with Scuba Nurse, who is totally sure they don’t allow abusive comments, and then happily conflates “abuse” with “disagreement”:
Offensive comments: As far as I know, we do allow comments as long as they do not personally attack anyone, are abusive or demeaning.
We have allowed several people making some comments I found exceptionally offensive because of my personal viewpoint on their beliefs around abortion, women’s clothing choices, racism etc etc. The trans-phobia discussions are certainly not the first time we have had differing opinions debating.
QoT’s Words of Wisdom: Commenters stating “I refuse to consider calling a specific trans woman a guy transphobic because I don’t think it is” is simultaneously personal, abusive and demeaning! Pretending that “”guy” is just a gender-neutral word!” is a matter of “differing opinions” which exists in a complete vacuum unaffected by cisgender privilege is douchey!
ScubaNurse is joined by anthea and stargazer in the “oh, but we just didn’t know what to do and couldn’t interfere because we were such timid little flowers afraid of getting it wrong!”
QoT’s Words of Wisdom: This is hardly the first fucking time transphobic shit (not to mention misogyny, rape apologism, abuse apologism or general lack of moderating) has come up on The Hand Mirror. You had your chance to figure this shit out [and as demonstrated below, you’ve got a pretty fucking clear commenting policy which should have provided you all with a damn clue]. Instead you chose personal comfort over calling out a cis woman’s massive disrespect and triggering behaviour of trans women. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
George returns! Can you smell the fail already?
Don’t beat yourself up Julie. No one made any personal swipes at anyone, no one defamed anyone…quite frankly I think it was a huge misunderstanding based on the lack of voice intonation and body language on the internet.
TURN UP NEXT TIME EVERYONE! That’s the lesson here. 🙂 If you want a say in the kaupapa of an event, then come along and be part of it.
QoT’s Words of Wisdom: You know what, George? That nice apology I snipped out of the middle of your comment would’ve been marvellous if it weren’t bookended by the above assholery, in which you declared your version of how things occurred (guess what? The women you were an asshat to probably disagree! But gaslighting is so much easier when the thread is conveniently no longer visible …), continued to tone argument people, and finished off with a good ol’ tip of the hat to “if you don’t participate you can’t complain!”
People don’t actually have to show up to events which they find problematic and which because of you they do not feel safe at in order to express their opinions.
Julie clarifies that actually she wasn’t even apologising for the thing she should have been apologising for:
I haven’t addressed it because that wasn’t how I was thinking of it – as a stuff up involving transphobia – I was thinking of it as a stuff up of moderation. However I can see from this discussion that that was a mistake on my part – the stuff up is intrisincally related to the subject matter of the thread. Again, another useful aha moment for me, thanks.
Of course I think I’m not transphobic. I imagine Enoch Powell didn’t think he was racist either. And this has been a case where I’ve been blind to my own ignorance (of trans issues) and blind to my own prejudicies (of assuming cis as the default and not even seeing that I was choosing sides that lined up with cis versus trans until someone pointed it out).
QoT’s Words of Wisdom: Your self-education could also involve a 101 primer on ableist language, Julie! As for Enoch Powell? Probably entirely aware he was racist, actually, just probably didn’t see a problem with it. That’s how a lot of racism works.
I can tell this seems a lot like I’m having a go at Julie. That’s because I am. I really, really struggle with the notion that a person who has been part of one of the oldest, best-established feminist blogs in New Zealand, who is politically aware and internet savvy and has had the issues people have with The Hand Mirror’s moderation brought up to her on multiple occasions, is meant to be given a pass because she’s so busy, she chose to moderate while in a bad mood, she totally didn’t mean to thank people by saying she appreciated their efforts and found their contributions really useful, she thinks she totally moderates blatant transphobia but oops, maybe her definition of blatant is different to others’ because she’s so new at all this.*
Not buying it, sorry.
But the supreme award for fail simply must go to Stef.
I missed the details of this bust up (yet again) but I feel that comments that THM needs to be this that or the other thing fucking obnoxious as I do bitchy comments that it’s only a blog about cupcakes and THM doesn’t do feminism properly. Seems to me part of this (not scar’s comments) is about new bloggers trying to get a rep and followers by picking on one of the big players and THM is so mainstream yada yada that it needs to be taken down a peg or two. Seen it happen in far too many online communities to give it much more thought than that. *yawn*
QoT’s Words of Wisdom: Are you twelve fucking years old, Stef? “They just hate us ’cause we’re so cool, mm-hmm, pass the fruit-scented lip gloss, omg I’m so, like, over this whole thing, right, they’re like, so jealous, omg.” is your actual argument? With bonus passive-aggressive not-naming-names-because-they’re-only-doing-it-for-attention?
For those unable to see the original post, Stef is probably talking about Octavia and Scar. They’re either two Kiwi women with relatively newish blogs who think transphobia is fucking awful and should be called out, and aren’t afraid to go into spaces they perceive as inherently unsafe and call out blatant misgendering and privileging of cis women’s opinions and feelings, and an acknowledged moderation method based on Who Is Annoying Julie Right Now, where it is acknowledged that moderator comments thanked and privileged people who were being silencing and personal and transphobic …
… or they’re just, like, totally ~desperate~ for ~attention~ and can’t handle that The Hand Mirror didn’t invite them to the after-prom party.
I find the latter to be a completely convincing argument.
But it’s their blog, their rules!
A final point a lot of the defenders are bringing up is “HDU tell the Hand Mirror writers how to moderate their blog! They can do what they want!”
And this is a very valid point. God knows I’m a huge fan myself of telling people to fuck off and make their own blogs if they want to do [insert obnoxious behaviour].
But here’s the problem.
The Hand Mirror does not anywhere state, “This is not a safe space for trans* people and gendered language and silencing tactics will not be moderated.”
Their commenting policy does say abusive comments or links to abusive posts will be deleted – yet moderators basically encouraged people to continue posts at their own sites,which was read by at least one commenter as saying “you have to go deal with [commenter who was accused of transphobia] at his own blog where he will probably continue to be transphobic at you but we don’t care about that.”
The commenting policy does say, “Disagreement should be written in a manner that does not demean either party.” But this was clearly not interpreted by anyone at the Hand Mirorr as do not refer to a trans woman as a “tough guy”, nor do not tell trans women that they shouldn’t be offended because “guy” is a totes gender neutral term.
And the explicit stated purpose of their comment policy is:
We want this to be a safe space for women, and indeed for those who are othered in an internet (and political) culture dominated by white heterosexual men of comfortable income and right-wing politics.
Scar and other commenters aren’t actually holding The Hand Mirror to any higher standard than The Hand Mirror’s writers have already set for themselves. If The Hand Mirror team want to clarify that no, they aren’t going to police transphobic language and no, they aren’t going to firmly moderate on any other basis than “I was tired and anyway you’re a troll” then now is their chance to make that clear to everyone.
Going on what has happened, and how they have followed up? It’s pretty clear to me.
*In case I haven’t repeated this slightly key point enough? “Blatant transphobia” apparently doesn’t cover referring to trans women as “internet tough guys” and refusing to accept that others find that offensive!
Academic white dude fights the [trans* Maori feminist] power
Paul at The Fundy Post seems to have a wee bit of an issue with me, off the back of a wonderfully juvenile Twitter argument over that whole “Maori weren’t actually innately abusive parents who were only saved from self-genocide by blessed Christianity” thing.
He took particular offence at the terrible, terrible charge that maybe there was a tiny bit of racism involved in rejecting oral histories as inherently unreliable as opposed to the mighty written words of white people (who incidentally back up much of this research, oops) because as we all know, there is nothing worse than being called a racist. Even actual racism pales in comparison. (Oh, snap.)
Matthew of Episto! tried to help by keeping it on topic, but Paul was determined to keep it all about how the word “kyriarchy” is “so, so 90s” (love to see a white-mandated-history defender saying that a thing being old makes it irrelevant) and how actually, *I* was the racist because I would clearly never question Western dismissal of indigenous oral histories as racist if Paul were Maori. Or something.
Anyway. I really didn’t think any more of this after hitting the “unfollow” button until today, when suddenly a bunch of referrals from Fundy Post showed up in my stats.
Because clearly Paul has been thinking more of it and has decided that adding some transphobia to his racism will totally put me in my place, or something.
Let me save you time and spoons:
- People just want to be offended
- Normal people wouldn’t even have noticed that the flyer didn’t mention cissexism
- People shouldn’t be criticised for failing in a basic aspect of their project (it wasn’t called Gay The Night) as long as they have good intentions
- “Taking offence is the motive force of leftwing trolls”
Oh, Paul. I’m sure it’s really comforting to tell yourself all this, and swipe your Martyrcard to pay for all those straw arguments. So much easier to convince yourself that that nasty research tries to paint pre-colonisation Maoridom as Fern Gully than actually question your own biases and prejudices and, yes, racism.
But I’m not offended. I’m contemptuous. And apparently was able to become even more so towards you. Who’d’a thought it?
Queer the Night: Can’t make this transphobic shit up
[Trigger warnings: transphobia, misgendering, tone argument, general shittiness and major Nice White Cis Feminist fail]
[On teh criticisms of pseudonymous posting and the big fucking issues with “real names” I recommend this post by Scarlet Sorceress.]
Queer the Night was held this week in Wellington, and by all accounts was considered a success.
And I’m kinda glad that this means that my little rant right here is after the event and thus I can’t be accused of harshing nice baby activists’ squees with my meanie pseudonymous criticism.
Because … wow. Gather round with some stiff damn drinks, kiddies, this is going to be rough, and in case you skipped the top, potentially very triggering.
The Hand Mirror hosted a guest post from the organisers.
Scarlet Sorceress pointed out in comments that there was a lot of talk about heterocentricity … but (shades of IDAHO, anyone?) ciscentricity wasn’t mentioned.
At which point a commenter claiming to be one of the QtN organisers decided to, um … well, fuck up as no up has ever previously been fucked:
Will you please give the organisers a break! Jesus…they are the least transphobic/homophobic/bigoted people on the planet,
Why am I reminded of Donald Trump? Oh right, because “I’m the least” tops even “some of my best friends are” for massive incoming fail warning signs.
So they missed out an academic term for people’s views about binary gender, so frickin what??
I mean come on, they’re only organising a Queer the Night march! They can’t be expected to have even the vaguest fucking understanding of pretty fucking basic terminology!!! What do you mean, this is about people’s fucking identities, nah, it’s just about “views on binary gender”! Not something people live every fucking day!
I’m pretty sure we all agree that gender binary is fake & stupid and hurts trans and non trans people alike.
Fake and stupid. Fake. And. Stupid. Yeah, when I think of the gender binary I definitely reach for “fake and stupid”, not “manufactured” or “coercive” or “harmful”.
heteronormativity implicitly includes a prejudice to 2 binary genders.
Um, if that sentence ended with “to 2 binary genders fucking” you might have a point. But it doesn’t, so you don’t, George, and maybe the fact that you’re arguing with a heterosexual trans woman who just kinda stated that she felt excluded by your language might have provided a clue on that one.
So why make a fuss over a bunch of ordinary people with the best of intentions missing out a specialised academic term…and worse, accuse them of being transphobic.
You see, George et al are just normal people. Unlike the trans woman George is arguing with, one presumes? And their intent is magical. And accusing a person of being transphobic is like nearly as terribly as calling a white person a racist, don’t you know?
But if you though George was already investigating genetic modification for the purposes of finding yet another foot to fit in her mouth …
You want a safe space? Then stop bullying people and being an “internet tough guy” online
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN AND ALL OTHERS IN ATTENDANCE, GEORGE HAS FOUND ANOTHER FOOT.
But it’s all totally okay because hey, George is a woman who just always uses “guy” as a gender neutral term and “tough guy” is just a phrase, dude and tee hee see she can play the “don’t misgender me man, lol” game too, bless, and anyway stop alienating your allies by being such Nazis.
I seriously wish I was making this shit up.
You might think this kind of shit is something that The Hand Mirror team would want to put a lid on,feminist blog and all, multiple trans women pitching in in the comments … but LudditeJourno reckons that actually none of the criticism counts as long as other trans folk turn up at the march and here’s what Julie had to say in closing at time of writing:
Acid Queen, you have been asked to stop commenting on this thread, looks to me like you are deliberately trying to inflame things, as you have done here before. ANY further comments from you on this thread will be deleted. You’ve said you have nothing further to say anyway so that shouldn’t be hard.
George & Kassie, it’s really useful to have the perspective of the main organizers in this discussion. It can’t have been easy to contribute here and I appreciate the effort. I will now be closing comments on this thread.
Yeah, thanks George, for being plainly fucking abusive towards trans women on The Hand Mirror, and thanks, Kassie, for not actually engaging with George’s shit but instead basically implying that you can’t be bothered identifying and educating yourself about transphobia unless the trans women hold your hand. It’s been a nice insight into everyone involved.
ETA: Octavia has a badass post up calling on The Hand Mirror to actually become a safe space for trans* people.
This slut is made for walking
Soooooooo the big ol’ SlutWalk issue. The ultimate expression of grrl power ever or massive enforcement of the dominance of cis white voices in gender-oriented progressive politics? THAT IS THE QUESTION. Nah, that’s just me being trite.
That Whole Reclaiming Thing
The aspect I probably have the least issue with is the reclaiming of “slut”, because it’s a reclamation I’ve made for years. Back in my Livejournal days I was a member of a community called sluts4choice, a group with a stated goal of fucking with the heads of antichoice scum by saying yes, we enjoy sex and yes, we can have abortions if that goes wrong and no, we aren’t going to keep our legs shut or apologise or play the moralistic but-my-contraception-failed-and-I’m-monogamous-and-my-life-was-in-danger, the distancing oh-I-support-choice-but-I’ve-never-had-a-dirty-yuck-abortion games.
And it was pretty fucking successful, and pretty damn empowering. I was a freaking virgin when I joined s4c, and for years during the beginning of my life’s quest to piss off antichoice scum online. And I was able to take that word, that entire message which was being used to control and monitor people’s (primarily women’s) sexuality and say “So. Fucking. What.”
It taught me that “slut” was one of the thermonuclear bombs in the misogynist arsenal (used primarily against white cis women in this way) because it was so fucking amorphous, so completely devoid of concrete meaning, it could be used against any of us and it worked because it was so ingrained in us to flinch, to withdraw, to immediately deny its assault on our (white cis) feminine dignity.
And when a white cis girl says nah, actually, I’m not going to be shamed into silence and I’m not going to make excuses to justify myself and qualify my defence of reproductive justice … well then antichoicers generally get paternalistic and pearl-clutchy and “I am ashamed of you, young lady” (another assault playing to our privilege because of course we should be expected to behave) … but eventually they shut up and fuck off, because there’s plenty of other “oh but I don’t believe abortion should be used irresponsibly” hacks out there to harass into incremental surrender.
These are my reasons. They don’t resonate with everyone and plenty of people choose not to reclaim slut, like other slurs – and as a lot of the critiques of SlutWalk have shown, it’s not a word that means the same thing to people who aren’t in a predominantly white, cis, middle-class Western environment so it’s not something they want or even feel they can reclaim.
That Whole Privilege Thing
SlutWalk is a protest form very specific to a certain sector/region/culture/demographic of the world, and one that generally has a lot of privilege and often dominates feminist discourse and certainly feminist media coverage.
This is a problem when it means that that privileged demographic gets more than the lion’s share of mainstream public attention, and when organisers start insisting that actually, it is a protest that does work for everyone and if you’re a marginalized person who ain’t feeling it then well you are just wrong because the nice white ladies say so. It’s a problem when /if the word “slut” becomes the be-all and end-all of sexual policing of people, primarily women, and the only way in which victims of sexual assault are ever silenced.
I don’t think these latter things have necessarily happened in the SlutWalk movement as a whole (the white cis women telling other marginalized women to shut up and get under the umbrella definitely has).
I like to think (and come from a position of privilee in doing so) that kyriarchal policing of sexuality and behaviour is something we can attack at all levels simultaneously: at the level of police officers telling college women not to dress like sluts, at the level of poor women of colour working in service jobs being targets for rich white men like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at the level of sex workers being assumed to have no ability to refuse consent or treating rape as “theft of services”.
The trick with SlutWalk is to make sure that we don’t just spend all our energy and vigour on it. The trick is to not sit back afterwards and pat ourselves on the back and then [in many cases, continue to] ignore the voices of other women and other groups who need our white cis asses to get in behind them – without fucking everything up by dominating the conversation and taking over and talking about ourselves all the time, thanks.
The Criticisms I Find Kinda Hilarious
You’re just giving men what they want!
Because “men” (I’m assuming here we use the term to describe “soulless hetero cis automatons of the patriarchy who are motivated solely by the whims of their cocks”) definitely “want” to see a pack of cis women and allies walking down the street chanting Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me and refusing to accept sexual assault being ignored via victim-blaming.
You’re actually making it harder for young girls!
Because young cis girls definitely need to have it reinforced to them that the word slut is bad and evil, and they will totally have the analytical skills to deduce that this is because it’s a patriarchal weapon of oppression. And they won’t basically end up associating “slut is a bad word” with “being a slut is bad” and ending up in the same fucking mess of questioning their feelings and urges and sexuality that their older sistren are already in. It would definitely be damaging for them to see large numbers of women marching in the fucking streets saying actually, we refuse to be shamed, actually, we refuse to accept your judgement and in 100% of cases would never lead to an awakening of feminist thought. At all.
You’re just making this all about what women are wearing!
Sorry, were you paying attention? Cause, um, I’m not sure how to break this to you, it’s already about what women are wearing, because of that whole don’t dress like sluts to minimize your chances of getting raped thing, which does in fact go back just a liiiiiitle bit further than this one Toronto douchebag (sorry, good peeps of Toronto).
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT WHAT WOMEN ARE FUCKING WEARING. Now go back to your pre-101 readings and look up male fucking gaze, objecti-fucking-fication, fucking beauty standards, and basic fucking victim blaming. In the meantime I will happily collect whatever ridiculous sums people like Gail Dines get paid to talk out their asses.
NB I’ve used the qualifier “cis” a lot here. I don’t think SlutWalk is universally or automatically exclusive of trans* people but it is an issue that has been raised and I want to avoid just referring to “girls” or “women” when my points are generally more relevant to cis women.
No refuge for some in IDAHO
Octavia Spitfire has been doing the hard yards putting together some facts on the extent to which women’s refuges in NZ “accommodate” trans women.
Yeah, nah, apparently.
I also share Octavia’s squeam about the IDAHO acronym. A squeam born, I have to admit, largely out of knowing that even a year ago I would’ve totally accepted that sometimes you have to sacrifice accuracy for a nifty acronym. The alternate meaning I’ve seen used, “yadda yadda Against Hate Of …” just doesn’t ring true to me, because you’re still saying IdaHO and that last syllable very strongly links to HOmophobia and I’m sure that link was one of the reasons the acronym was chosen.
After all, the top link for googling “idaho homophobia” (so as to weed out the poor Idaho tourism sites)? idahomophobia.com, which redirects to http://www.dayagainsthomophobia.org/, which has a nice friendly pink banner trumpeting “against homophobia and transphobia” which is grand just as long as you don’t look to the very top of your browser, where the page title misses one of those out. Guess which. Its origin story likewise.
That being said, blogging against homophobia and transphobia is a damn good cause and The Hand Mirror has done a roundup of the Kiwi blogosphere’s posts. And of course it’s a massive reflection of privilege that I get to quibble about acronyms; but it’s an acronym that probably speak predictable volumes to the groups it leaves out.*
*Who likewise I don’t want to presume to speak for as a hetero cis woman.