Open Letter to Paula Simons and Editors of the Edmonton Journal

protestThis was originally posted at the Edmonton SlutWalk blog. Cross-posted with permission.

The organizers of this year’s Edmonton Slut Walk we were initially delighted to hear you would be covering the emergence of posters which mock a well-established and successful anti-rape campaign. Upon reading your article, those feelings quickly changed to horror that an ally would use their large platform to spread misinformation about rape and false rape allegations.

Though your piece did appear in the “opinion” column, that isn’t license to spread an opinion that makes the world safer for rapists and harder for victims, and inevitably that is what you do when you focus on the behavior of the victim versus the intent of the rapist.

In a piece by the CBC, who showed demonstrably more responsibly in reporting on the posters, acting Insp. Sean Armstrong from the serious crimes branch of Edmonton Police said that false allegations are “extremely rare”. Armstrong goes on to say “I was sexual assault detective for 4½ years and in that time I only dealt with one, and I dealt with numerous files. Many, many, many files,”. Additionally, police fear the posters will deter victims from speaking out. “We want to encourage people to come forward and report these horrendous crimes,” Armstrong said.

“Let’s be clear.” You, Ms. Simons, write, “any man who’d have intercourse with someone passed out cold or too drunk to stand or speak is both a criminal and a loser” well, Ms. Simons he is also a rapist, and we believe in calling a lemon a lemon. The number of women from all walks of life who have been raped and have spoken to the organizers of Slut Walk individually is a high enough number to make your skin crawl and those are only the ones willing to speak about their trauma. We don’t dance around this issue anymore.

jusbecauseposter_21False rape accusations are terrible and they are destructive to people’s lives, it would be ignorant to pretend otherwise, and you do highlight some of the problems that occur in these cases including sexual agency. Yet, what your letter and the entire mocking ‘don’t be that girl’ campaign miss is that one of the largest obstacles to justice and healing for sexual assault victims is excessive disbelief. This skepticism of sexual assault survivor’s regularly sees victims lambasted online and in their communities. In the real world, rape very often happens without witnesses, or physical evidence of non-consent. Many rapes go unpunished. Statistics that float around on the internet claiming 41% of rape charges are false are based on bad data that was unable to be verified by any secondary sources. Quite likely the reason you made no citation about the prevalence of false rape statistics is because they are difficult to pin down. Researchers are often counting different things. In Canada the data illustrates between 2-5%. Instances of false reports of auto theft are higher. Read more

Posted on by YEG Slutwalk in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment

My Reality: To Want to Kill a Rapist

cryingby Rachael

[Trigger Warning: rape]

People say that there is no right way to break, there is no right way suffer, no right way to get over things as traumatic as this. Yet growing up I got the distinct feeling that there were certain expectations. That there was a certain degree to which “Yes, this is normal”. But if you crossed that unspoken line, then you were either in denial or maybe it just wasn’t such a huge deal after all. If you reacted in the wrong way, people might think that maybe you yourself were ill.

Women aren’t supposed to feel the rage that men do: that would be wrong [insert sarcastic tone here]. That was the subliminal message I got as a child and a young woman. Hence, if I didn’t break down the way I was “supposed to”, I would force it. I was always scared that people wouldn’t take my pain seriously if I didn’t. I knew they wouldn’t because they hadn’t in the past. The irony of this, of course, is that in following the unspoken script put out for us girls I never really dealt with anything. Things don’t go away if you have to force yourself to cry, they don’t get resolved if you have a faux nervous breakdown. If you don’t embrace your own unique way of letting things go they will stay with you endlessly.

While for life’s smaller injuries and incidents the rules have become more relaxed, society still hasn’t fully accepted that there are more reactions women can have when it comes to things like rape than denial or teary breakdown. There is a standard narrative put out for us rape victims. Even today we are often times expected to behave a certain way, and feel certain things. Thing is, not all of us fit this narrative. In fact many of us don’t.

After I was raped, I expected the reaction to happen like they said it should. I’ve spent the last 4 years feeling like damaged goods because it never did. I was supposed to cry, I was supposed to have the perfect breakdown like all the women I’ve seen on TV. I was supposed to go through steps A, B and C. I couldn’t fake a reaction to this, though; funerals sure, breakups no problem.

Not this. Read more

Posted on by Rachael in Feminism, My Reality 8 Comments

Watch TEDx Talk from SlutWalk Toronto Organizers

Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett at TEDx Torontoby Jarrah Hodge

Back in October I spoke with SlutWalk founder Heather Jarvis about what it was like to get ready to speak at TEDx. Now that that process is over, you can catch her talk with co-founder Sonya JF Barnett. As you’ll see in their talk, Jarvis and Barnett liken language to a virus and apply this metaphor to slut-shaming, calling “slut” one of many “infected words” that have become contagious and are used to dehumanize.

I have to say my favourite part starts around the 4 minute mark where Barnett talks about how much it sucks to be called a “slut” at age 15. That really resonated with me – I share that knowing that all those times I was slut-shamed still stick with me over a decade later.

“Separating my sexual identity from my self-worth has become very difficult over time,” says Barnett and I think a lot of women will know what that feels like and likewise hear their own experiences when Jarvis talks about coping with assault.

I’d encourage you to watch the video even if you have issues with SlutWalk or some of the ways it’s played out in different communities. I think it really grounds the discussion in the very real, lived experiences of women and girls who are slut-shamed and blamed for “asking for it” when sexually harassed or assaulted.

I’m interested to know what other GF readers think – feel free to comment below!

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 4 Comments

SlutWalk Meets TEDx

Heather Jarvis (photo credit: N. Maxwell Lander)

TEDx Toronto is coming up this Friday and one of SlutWalk Toronto’s founders, Heather Jarvis, will be one of the speakers around the theme of Alchemy: “the seemingly magical process of taking ordinary, common elements, usually of little value, and combining them to make something extraordinary of great value.” Heather Jarvis is a queer, sex- and body-positive feminist with a strong background in gender studies, social work and community activism.

I wanted to talk with Heather about the whole TEDx process and what she thinks being part of TEDx means for SlutWalk, a movement that has grown and evolved since it was started just over a year ago. We started out talking about what it’s like to get the TEDx call.

“I was really shocked and blown away,” said Jarvis, “I’ve known about TED Talks and TEDx events for some time now and I love them…it was really a far-fetched dream that I would be involved someday.”

For at least the last month Jarvis has been busy workshopping her ideas with the TEDx team, turning her talk concept into “a more personalized story” that she’s hoping will be engaging for audience members who don’t have a background discussing issues around slut-shaming and that will challenge all attendees to reflect on the issues after the talk.

Here’s her TEDx intro video:

The whole process has caused her to reflect on how SlutWalk has moved forward over the past year and how it’s been impacted by the media, particularly though spreading the misconception that SlutWalk is a women’s only event where attendees are encouraged to dress promiscuously (it’s open to all genders and people are invited to wear whatever they want). Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment

Gender Focus Panel: On Reclaiming Negative Words

I was reading one of my favourite blogs, GOOD, the other day and there was an article on “How to Reclaim a Dirty Name”, which particularly focused on the word “slut”. Here’s an excerpt from the intro:

Following the brouhaha in February when Rush Limbaugh called university student Sandra Fluke a ‘slut’ for arguing before Congress in favor of a private mandate for contraception coverage, a handful of campaigns have sprung up leveraging the epithet to further their cause. It’s breathing new life into the decades-long feminist movement to repurpose the word ‘slut’ from a shaming slur into a symbol of sexual choice.

The article listed five steps for reclaiming a negative term (say it first, brace for backlash, embrace the stigma, make it mainstream, take action), implying that it’s possible to reclaim any word no matter its history or how degrading it has come to be. Now reclaiming the word “slut” has been hotly contested by feminists, which the article does acknowledge, and I admit I understand both sides of that particular argument. On the other hand, I would argue that a term like “queer” is an example of successful work reclamation. So I wondered what others thought: is it possible to reclaim any dirty/negative/stigmatized word we want? Are there cases where it’s okay but only if guidelines for use are observed?

Here’s what some Gender Focus contributors had to say: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics, Pop Culture 2 Comments

Feminism F.A.Q.s: What is Slut-Shaming

Feminism FAQs Title Screen

by Jarrah Hodge

Well SlutWalk hit the streets of my hometown, Vancouver, a year ago last week. This year many cities have opted to hold second annual SlutWalk marches. SlutWalk Vancouver will be holding an “Un-Conference” this weekend as part of their SlutTALK initiative to engage more people in the conversation about slut-shaming and victim-blaming. While SlutWalk as a movement is not without its issues (read Crunk Feminist Collective for some good reflection on SlutWalk and white privilege, for example), I think it started for the right reasons and I think SlutWalk Vancouver’s goal of engaging people in conversation is great and important.

While I can’t make the “Un-Conference” as I’ll be at a conference-conference for work, I thought the one year anniversary of SlutWalk would be a good excuse for me to put out another Feminism F.A.Q.s video. This time: What is Slut-Shaming?

Transcript after the jump:

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

How to Get your Messages Heard and Hold the Media Accountable, with Strategies from Jennifer Pozner

At SlutWalk NYC, note how cameras were trained on one protestor, ignoring the casually-dressed crowd

This is the 3rd post in  Joanna Chiu’s series of posts for Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services on media representations of violence against women. Read the whole series at the BWSS Ending Violence blog.

“Hey! We’re all trying to get the same thing here!”

This statement, hollered by one camera operator to another jostling to take video footage of a small group of “scantily clad” young women at SlutWalk NYC’s march last October, demonstrates what the SlutWalk NYC Media Team was up against.

While living in New York for a year, I perhaps foolishly volunteered to help with media outreach for SlutWalk NYC. I had mixed feelings about the movement, but I thought that joining survivors and allies to collectively protest victim blaming and sexual assault sounded like a good cause. I had written previously about SlutWalk Vancouver for the Georgia Straight and had analyzed the media coverage of SlutWalk Vancouver, so I wanted to help SlutWalk NYC articulate its messages to the media and learn something about the rough-and-tumble New York media scene in the process.

On the morning of the march, I rushed around Union Square Park frantically trying to figure out what to do with the hordes of journalists and camera crews that were literally falling over themselves in the presence of a few bras and fishnet stockings. Many media organizations had arrived at the scene looking to grab shots of the proportionally few women (mostly young, white and slim) who were wearing what some consider shocking dress, while rendering invisible the vast majority of participants (including men and people of colour) who showed up in the clothing they would normally wear to work or school.

The controversy that the SlutWalk movement had generated made it easy for SlutWalk marches to get attention from the media, but difficult for organizers to convey their messages when media organizations had preconceived ideas about the movement.

In retrospect, I thought that us organizers were pretty naïve to think that spending months in preparation, including sending out over 100 personalized press releases, could prevent the corporate media from sensationalizing a march called “SlutWalk,” or even to stop blaming victims of sexual assault in their news coverage. That night, after returning home to see that more than a dozen mice had moved into my studio apartment, I hid under the blankets on my bed and cried for a bit.

But while SlutWalk may have been particularly prone to attracting sensational media coverage, the struggle to get events covered accurately (or covered at all) in the media is an all too familiar problem that all activists face. It was something that I certainly encountered organizing events to help end poverty, promote gender equality, and remove landmines for well-established organizations like Oxfam Canada and Amnesty International. Read more

Posted on by Joanna Chiu in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment