Mi nombre es Stephanie Gilmore y yo soy una puta.
My name is Stephanie Gilmore and I am a slut.
Men and women, boys and girls, label me as such. Why? I wear short skirts. I wear makeup. I drink alcohol. I am a woman. So, in the United States, I can be – and am – a white, middle-class woman from Alabama who now lives in Wilmington. I can – and do – possess a Ph.D. in history. I can be – and am – a professor at Dickinson College and a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University. I can be – and am – an out lesbian. These things do not matter because I am a whore. A slut. As a slut, I am always-already asking for it because of this short skirt and tight t-shirt. Because I might get drunk. Because I will walk alone. Because I will do something to provoke uncontrollable sexual desire in men, or I will threaten men’s power, or I will simply be. And when I say no, they will become so enraged that they will rape me.
This is the current social script for many women and men in our society.
It is a script bounded by histories of race, class, and sexual identity, as well as by gender. Black, Latina, Native American, and Asian women can – and do – point out that their bodies are often accessible not just because of their womanhood but because of their racialized histories and realities of enslavement, trafficking, and entrapment in global battles of colonialism. Women who work outside of the home have long been assumed to be sexually available to male coworkers, bosses, and men passing by on the streets as they move from home to work. Women who are lesbian, bisexual, queer, gender nonconforming, or otherwise just not monogamously heterosexual trace long histories of being assumed that they are, at best, sexual entertainment for men, and at bottom, need only a good fucking by a man to get back on the straight and narrow. There are significant differences, then, among women’s experiences. But as a wonderful Nahuatl spiritual guide and man shared with me recently, beneath our differences we are the same. If you hurt us, cut us, rape us, we all bleed red.
So I look out here and see all of us, and with our differences and our similarities, we come together to take back the DAY! We unite under the banner of SlutWalk! We reject the notion that women – any woman, all women – can, will, even should be raped because a sexist, patriarchal society says so. Sexism and patriarchy are symbolized in this particular movement through a Toronto constable who told women to stop dressing like sluts, but very apparently this officer could be any person who seeks to dominate and dehumanize others. Um, Earth to Dan Rottenberg: this cop’s nonsense is not unique, but you surely know this by now. Just this past Thursday, I heard a fellow college professor say that she tells her female students to mind their dress so that they do not taunt men with the Three B’s – breasts, bellies, and buttocks. I am a lesbian; I love women’s bodies. I see breasts, bellies, and buttocks and I have NEVER raped anyone. We hear all sorts of statistics when it comes to helping women avoid being raped. Here’s the one statistic that matters: 100 PERCENT of rapes happen in the presence of and at the hands of rapists. We are here to say NO!
We do so because of a long and deep history of feminism. Feminists are women and men who reject entrenched economic, political, and cultural power of men over women. Feminists recognize that sexism intersects with racism, classism, and heterosexism to create the white, heteromale-dominated culture we live in today. Feminists recognize that this system is very detrimental to all women, individually and collectively. We also recognize that this system is not doing men any favors either – after all, who wants to be always-already a rapist? So feminists envision a better, more just and equitable world, and work every day to make that possible. A world without rape.
Indeed, we owe this opportunity in Philadelphia not only to the organizers – especially Hannah Altman and Jake Marcus – and the many people who donated time, money, energy, space, creativity, and more to make SlutWalk possible. We owe it to the many strands of feminism, past and present, and the many feminists who have been speaking up and out about sexual violence. We owe it to Rosa Parks, who fought tirelessly against the ritualistic rape of Black women by white men – and who endured attempted rape in 1931. She wrote about this, stating “I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.” Never, indeed – because consent is not negotiable. We owe it to Ellen Willis, rock critic extraordinaire and radical feminist in New York City, who actually gave us the term “pro-sex feminism.” Through pro-sex feminism, we know that No Means No – and that Yes Means Yes! We owe it to women and men who spoke softly and quietly in their families, churches, and communities, as well as to the women and men who shouted, marched, and demonstrated. We owe it to Lauren Chief Elk, who, in 2007, attended a party with two of her soccer teammates at De Anza College when they found a vomiting, 17-year-old semiconscious girl being gang raped by a group of cheering baseball players. She and her friends immediately intervened and took the girl to the hospital. No Woman Left Behind. (Four years later, a civil court dropped charges against all of the suspects.) We owe it to the little girl who was raped repeatedly as a child, to the girl molested and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, to the young woman who was incested, to my dear friend who consented to sex but not to the terms surrounding the sexual act, to the transmen and the transwomen who were physically and sexually abused today, to the girl who was raped at prom, to the prostitute who is raped everyday, to the family of sisters sold into slavery and trafficked around the country – all of whom have told their stories in a variety of ways in an effort to reach us and teach us. These people are not just out there somewhere. They are right here, they are me and you. They all are a part of the tapestry of our legacy, and we are continuing this work today to build a just world, free of sexual slavery and trafficking right here in Pennsylvania and around the globe. We work to expose and end sexual violence in homes, workplaces, churches, classrooms, and communities. We are here in the streets of Philadelphia, decrying the realities of rape, but we do this work everywhere we go.
In closing, I would like to point out that I am not reclaiming the word “slut” by participating in this event. The word “slut” does not have feminist origins or meanings, and it does not belong to me or my people. So when it comes to the label “slut,” take it or leave it. It isn’t mine to give, accept, or reclaim. But I am reclaiming my body, my space, my own sexuality, my NO’s and my YES’s. And perhaps simply doing that makes me a slut. I commit myself to fight with each and every one of you – in this fight against rape and sexual violence, you will never be alone. I am thrilled to be a part of this day, of this movement to end sexual violence in Philadelphia and around the world. From Toronto, to London, to Chicago, to Buenos Aires, to New Delhi, to Cuernavaca – a shout out to DDESER Morelos – to San Francisco – a shout out to my homegirl Lauren Chief Elk, who is heading up the SlutWalk San Francisco today! – some bi-coastal protesting! – and back home again, we are in solidarity, we are putas sin fronteras. The context for each march is a local struggle, and we face a global reality that women and girls are deemed sluts and whores simply for being women and girls. We fight back, here and around the world, putas sin fronteras.
With love and peace, I thank you for your dedication, energy, and commitment to our shared feminist goal of ending sexual violence. We have been fighting this fight for a very long time. We build on our differences, understanding them as our strength, from our sisters and brothers in the past and for our daughters and sons in the future. And we fight back against sexual violence. In Philadelphia, and around the world, our time is now.
Stephanie Gilmore, August 6, 2011
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US