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What’s in a name? This weekend, women and men from around our region will converge at the White House for D.C.’s first “SlutWalk.” It’s part of a global movement of young feminists trying to raise awareness about sexual assault and challenge sexist attitudes by reclaiming a hurtful word. But the language and the dress code of this grassroots movement is also generating a backlash. We talk with organizers of SlutWalkDC.
- Carmen Rios Co-organizer, SlutWalk DC; Director of Women's Initiative at American University
- Ben Privot Creator, The Consensual Project
- Aiyi'nah "SimplyNay" Ford Artist and Activist
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, mystery and intrigue from the basement of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We find out about old measuring devices and the quest for precision measurement. But first, a unique feminist march comes to D.C., the SlutWalk. This weekend, women and men will converge at the White House wearing nightgowns, lingerie and other scanty outfits, embracing a term that has long been hurled as an insult. So what's in a name?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOrganizers are raising awareness about sexual assault and rape. They say our culture and institutions continue to blame the victim. It began with a simple act of protest by five women in Toronto. But over the last year, the movement spread to 75 cities across the U.S. and around the world. And joining us now to discuss it in studio is Carmen Rios. She is an organizer with SlutWalkDC 2011. She is director of Women's Initiatives, a student program at American University. Carmen Rios, thank you for joining us.
MS. CARMEN RIOSThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Aiyi'nah Ford. Aiyi'nah, known as SimplyNay Ford, is an artist and activist. She also hosts a radio show called "One Mic Stand." Aiyi'nah, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. AIYI'NAH "SIMPLYNAY" FORDGood afternoon. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIDo you prefer to be called Aiyi'nah or SimplyNay?
FORDWhichever makes you feel most comfortable.
NNAMDIWell, I'll call you both. Also with us in studio is...
NNAMDI...Ben Privot. Ben Privot is creator of The Consensual Project. Ben Privot, thank you for joining us.
MR. BEN PRIVOTThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do we still have a blame-the-victim culture in cases of rape and sexual assault? How do you think activists should go about trying to challenge it? 800-433-8850. Carmen, in Washington, we've grown accustomed to the visuals of a protest march, the mass printed placards and slogans, the cordoned off street, the face paint, the people dressed as the Founding Fathers. But this protest will look different. What is the SlutWalk?
RIOSA SlutWalk is a march where people from all different backgrounds and people with all different lifestyles are going to come together and try to change the world. And it's basically an international movement. It started in Toronto when a police officer told women that they can stop being raped if they stop dressing like sluts. And I think it's important to remember that the word slut doesn't really have an actual meaning, it's more just a word that's thrown around a lot.
RIOSIt's an insult. It's a word that's supposed to make people feel bad about themselves. And so it's a way for us to allow ourselves to blame people for the bad things that might happen to them. You know, someone might be sexually assaulted because she's a slut. And so she was dressed inappropriately or she was alone. And she was doing something that makes us feel safe blaming her for that when it's really not her fault.
NNAMDIFor many years, activists have complained that our culture suffers from a blame-the-victim mindset when it comes to sexual assault and rape. That mindset usually is not out in the open these days. It lurks in our institutions and our attitudes. But this movement actually began as a response to a police department. Can you explain? What was the police department's involvement in this in Toronto?
RIOSWell, the police officer told women that dressing like sluts would cause rape and that they could avoid rape by not dressing that way which, I mean, is both fundamentally untrue and horribly offensive.
NNAMDIAiyi'nah, you come at this from a unique perspective as a person of color, as someone from the LGBT community, but most importantly as a survivor.
FORDIndeed, I do.
NNAMDITalk about that, please.
FORDFor me, I was abused when I was very young. It was brought to the adult's attention when I was four years old. I had severe trauma. I actually -- you can get Strep of the throat. I received Strep of the vagina. And, you know, how can you say that a four-year-old is responsible, is a slut, is provocative in any way? This took place by a relative. And in my life, I've dealt with it a lot. I still do not sleep in the dark. I still, you know, there a lot of things that I still deal with, but it was never my fault and I know that.
FORDAnd in my healing -- this is a very important part for me to be there, to speak out, to empower others and let them know that it isn't their fault and to ultimately say that, yes, I am a lesbian. Yes, I am an activist, but I'm not gay because I was abused, which is something that we often hear. You know, are you an abuser because you are a same-sex lover? Or have you been abused and subsequently that is why you choose to love the same gender? And that's not the case at all.
NNAMDIWhat I find striking is that this occurred when you were four years old but still plays a prominent part in your consciousness, correct?
FORDIndeed, indeed. There's not a day that goes by that I haven't thought about my abuser, his other victims. He's not alive anymore, but it isn't -- his death was not something that liberated me at all. It has to do with the way I look at my body image. It has to do with the way that I communicate with others. It has to do with what I watch, what I encourage others to watch. It's not something that you move on from just because you wish to be healed. And so, I'm hoping in this walk we walk towards the healing regardless what it's called.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Ben Privot, men really have an important role to play in addressing rape in the case of violence against women and in the case also of violence against men, why are you participating in this march?
PRIVOTI'm participating in the march, because we all stand to gain a lot when we dismantle rape culture. For example, rape culture suggests that men have no boundaries, which I think is absolutely preposterous. And no matter who you are and no matter what your sexuality is that we all have desires, we all have non-desires. And no matter what, they need to be respected.
NNAMDIYou work with young people. You conduct workshops around the idea of consent. We'd like to think that this is a pretty straightforward concept. Why is it not that simple?
PRIVOTWell, I started my work because I grew up like most people, not being given a comprehensive education around consent. So I started this project because I attended a conference. And at the conference, there was a workshop on consent. And they stress that it would make your relationships more accountable, more trusting and more safe, which is absolutely true. So as I did it for those reasons, I started to find a very surprising result, which was it also makes your intimacy a lot more pleasurable because consent isn't just being able to find the desires of the person that you're with. It's being able to find the depth of their desire, which is really exciting.
NNAMDICarmen Rios, you also do work around this issue of consent. Same question to you, why is not -- why is it not a simple, straightforward concept?
RIOSWell, I think it's mostly because consent is so personal and it will change person to person. But there are definitely things about consent that are universal. Consent is not something you get after you coerce someone into it. Consent is not something you get because someone's black-out drunk at a party. Consent is basically just, you know, you need to respect your partner and only you have the ability to judge how to do that because, I mean, no one else is in the room.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. We will start with Maggie in Bethesda, Md. Maggie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAGGIEThanks for taking my call. Unfortunately, boys and girls are trained at an early age to think that somehow they've invited the problem by what they wear. An example here, Montgomery County, Md. dress code at school, a girl, my daughter, is almost disciplined because her bra strap was showing, because somehow that was enticing to the boys. I was able to set the vice principal and principal straight that it's tantamount to saying that the rape victim is at fault because she wears a tight outfit or a short outfit.
MAGGIEAnd I explained to them that they need to redirect and educate the boys that merely by what a woman wears, it doesn't invite them to do anything. And they need to redirect and control their own thoughts.
NNAMDIWell, you know, Maggie, allow me to complicate that a little bit for our panelists. Because if you ask most parents of teenagers or tweens these days, especially young girls, you'll often hear them talk about how sexualized our culture has become, whether we're talking about kids' Halloween costumes or the things they wear to school, as in the case of your daughter. Do you guys see that? Is this even relevant to this conversation, in your mind, Aiyi'nah?
FORDI do think that is relevant to the conversation. I think that is very important that we are speaking to our children instead of letting others speak to our children for us. However that looks in your home, I can't dictate that, but I will say that for myself as a survivor of sexual abuse, my family felt it best to keep me far removed from anything that had to relate to the opposite sex or anything sexualized. That was not helpful for me. In fact, when I was given the talk, I was already engaged. So -- and by saying engaged, I mean engaging in sexual acts.
NNAMDIYou don't mean engaged to be married.
FORDIndeed. As we know, in same-gender loving places, D.C. is liberated, but we still have a ways to go. Another conversation for another time. But for me, I just think it's about communication. And I think it's about framing that conversation in a healthy way and what's best for your home, be your, you know, your political identity, your religious identity, your ethnic identity, whatever looks best, but do have that conversation. And that's one of the important things about SlutWalk is it's cultivating a community conversation.
NNAMDIAnd, Ben, you work in schools, so you can talk a little bit about what this looks like from the inside of schools.
PRIVOTYeah, absolutely. I love to build off the point that Carmen made because I think it's really important as educators to bring up this coercion piece. Because one of the best things that you can do and furthermore to elaborate off the point that you brought up, which was why isn't this just understood. Like, why don't we just naturally know about consent? And one example is that if you approach consent through this coercion framework, what you start to notice is that it's very ubiquitous. It's very prevalent.
PRIVOTAnd one example of that is, is you can ask a question but still have it be coercive and you can do so, for example, through repetition. So in my workshops what I do is I provide students essentially an understanding of consent that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that if you create an environment that's entirely free of coercion, because that's what we're going for, an entirely free of coercion environment, then what ends up happening is you get safety, which is essential, which is ethically important.
PRIVOTBut also, you end up getting a lot more pleasure because people feel more comfortable providing you what their desires are, what the depth of that desire was, as I said before, which is really exciting.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining the conversation, Ben Privot is the creator of The Consensual Project. And we're talking about this weekend's SlutWalkDC with Carmen Rios, who is an organizer of it. She's director of Women's Initiatives, a student program at American University. And Aiyi'nah "SimplyNay" Ford, who's an artist and activist who hosts a radio show called, "One Mic Stand." Maggie, thank you very much for your call. We go to Kat (sp?) on Chincoteague Island, Va. Kat, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHi, how are you?
NNAMDII am well, Kat.
KATI would just like to jump in and say that I think, really, where we need to start is amongst our peers in changing our attitudes about blaming the victim. And I go to college. I see a lot of college kids. And on campus I hear, you know, not only the boys saying, well, you know, she dresses like a slut, but also the girls. And I am in huge support of the SlutWalk and people joining together and to start talking about this.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We got a caller who couldn't stay on the line, Ken in Severn, Md., who said, is this protest encouraging people to dress provocatively? To which you say what, Carmen Rios?
RIOSI think people should probably just wear whatever they want all of the time. The SlutWalk is definitely about victim blaming. And a lot of victim blaming is centered around, you know, clothing. And I'm pretty sure even in D.C., implied consent is something that people think is a stable concept. You know, the idea that, oh well, because someone went out dressed a certain way, you know, wearing a short skirt or something, then clearly they were looking for sexual activity and they're just going to have to have it with me no matter what, I don't care.
RIOSAnd so the SlutWalk does encourage people to dress provocatively if they want, not like it's a required part of the process. But I mean, it's just to make a statement about sort of, you know, we're allowed to look like this in a public space and still be safe and live lives free from violence.
NNAMDIAnd I guess when we use the term provocatively some people may say, well, what are you provoking? And I have read where you said, look, we can be provoking attention, we can be provoking stares, we can even be provoking the occasional whistle. What we are definitely not provoking is your desire to touch, because that would be a violation. Is that correct?
NNAMDIAll right. Many people feel that terms like slut and the images of women and sexuality we get from popular culture are deeply sexist and they have a problem with you celebrating the word, slut. What would you say to those people, SimplyNay?
FORDI would say to them that they need to be a part of the conversation in order to change it. For me and mine, I am aware that we live in a very popcorn society. There is constantly a cause, there is constantly a plight, there is constantly a problem. And we have to combat apathy and we also have to get the attention of everyone, which is the entire community who is affected by this issue. So if we have to use the word, slut, or anything, for me, it's just a word. It's just a term.
FORDThe work that's being done is far greater than that one word. And I'd invite anyone who has any negative connotations toward the word, toward the word being used in this work, to be a part of the conversation, to be open minded. To come with their ideas. I'm sure that the organizers and those who I've spoke with are open to all kinds of constructive criticism and conversations. Because we're trying to heal here, not harm or destroy in any way.
NNAMDIWell, would you say that the word -- the use of the word slut is working out to be a pretty good marketing term for attracting the kind of attention you would like to attract to this issue?
FORDYes. I'm a career activist, that's what a do for a living. And I attend several rallies, I attend several marches and it's very hard to get people even interested in going. But the contingent for the "One Mic Stand" with SimplyNay has been ongoing. There's been organizations calling and e-mailing. And I can't even keep up. And so I would say that it's definitely working to bring attention to the message.
NNAMDIOn there to Samantha in Columbia, Md. Samantha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMANTHAHi, I'm actually a friend of SimplyNay's, so hi Nay.
FORDHi Sam, how are you?
SAMANTHAOh, wonderful. So I wanted to talk about two points. One was that -- and I love that Nay is on the -- Nay is on the show because you get also communities of color. I think one of the issues -- and I'm not sure -- and maybe some people who've been involved in SlutWalk can say this, but I think the very interesting issue that I found with SlutWalks or Ho Strolls, with this movement is that...
NNAMDIWait a minute.
NNAMDIWait a minute. You used another term that I was not familiar with, Ho Strolls?
SAMANTHAHo Strolls, yes.
NNAMDIThat's an alternative term to SlutWalk?
NNAMDIOkay, go ahead.
SAMANTHAAlso described as SlutWalk.
NNAMDII've been educated. Go ahead.
SAMANTHA(unintelligible) But slut has been used in white communities and Caucasian communities as a term to degrade a women's sexual morality because, in our society and historically, white women have always been viewed are sexually chaste and they are the, you know, the -- I guess, sexually pure. Whereas in communities of color, sluts and slut ho, you know, even, you know, excuse me, but bitches. And if you look at rap culture, it's been used to reinforce the jezebel imagery, the hot momma imagery that's been reinstated in communities of color.
SAMANTHASo it's used to keep us at a sexually inferior place. And so I'm not sure how effective SlutWalk has been at reaching out to communities who have always been perceived as sluts, like, especially within black communities. Black women have always been viewed as sexually impure. If we go back to the 1600s with Sara Baartman and her experimentation and the experimentations that were done on her. And to the...
SAMANTHA...the, what is it, the wet nurses of slavery and unto the jezebels of the early...
SAMANTHA...18th century and then you go into some of the more, you know...
NNAMDIBut if your question, Samantha, is whether or not you think SlutWalk is going to have an impact on women of color, having to do with the participation of people like SimplyNay, I'll have SimplyNay respond to your question, Sam.
FORDCertainly. And thank you so much, Sam, for calling in for the continued support. I would have to say, for myself as a person of color and an activist, I look at things as being collectively oppressed. We are all collectively oppressed and we need to stop allowing, you know, the systematic division or segregation of one's oppression over the other.
FORDAnd I think that that is why I felt it very important to put my name in everything I'm affiliated with on the marquee for SlutWalk because we have, you know, in the black culture, it's stated that one in three people has been sexually abused. So you can literally walk up to a room of six black women or -- and what I've heard, black people, and go one, two, three, you. That's a problem, you know. And I wasn't raised where we were talking about it every day.
FORDI was placed in therapy from the time that it was brought to my parents' attention up until I was out of my parents' home. But we have to come to a point where we are having the conversation, where we are debunking these myths, where we are looking at what type of structures we have systematically set up, like BET which is owned by, if we want to talk about racial constructs, white Viacom.
FORDSo, you know, there's a bigger picture to everything. And we have to look deeper than what's being showed to us. And it -- we have a society now...
NNAMDIBut when BET started down that path, it was not owned by white Viacom, it was owned by black Bob Johnson.
FORDYou would be right. But again, that's another topic for another show. We can get really...
NNAMDIJust trying to give some historical context here.
FORDYeah, that's -- that is very true. When they started on that path, Lord have mercy, I just really feel as though we don't have a place to go. I didn't have a place to go where I was able to look at other people who were either saying -- patting me on the back and saying I support your healing, or saying that, it was me too, you know. And coming from a place, as a survivor, I had to be mindful that my remarks not remind someone else who may not be as far evolved in their healing as I have been with medical attention.
FORDOr someone who, because of racial constraints, may be embarrassed. You know, there are some cultures that will kill you if you've been abused. And this is just the reality. A lot of times, we live in America and we don't know outside society beyond TV. So again, I say -- I just invite the open invitation for everyone, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation. Come one, come all.
NNAMDISamantha, thank you very much for your call. And to add some historical context to the historical context, when BET started down that path, it was owned by Bob and Sheila Johnson. Ben, as someone who is very attuned to language and its power...
NNAMDI...what is your view of the use of the term slut, in this context?
PRIVOTGreat question. In terms of, do I support this movement? Or...
NNAMDII know you support the movement.
NNAMDIBut I'm thinking, how you feel that the use of the word slut operates in this context? Obviously it's a good marketing tool. But there are some people who will argue that it plays into the kind of sexist view that a lot of people, especially men, have of women.
PRIVOTA lot of my work is separate from the SlutWalk movement. And unfortunately, I haven't prepared to speak on that here today, my apologies. But, yeah, Carmen -- I think Carmen would be fantastic for this.
NNAMDICarmen seems to be more than anxious to speak on this.
NNAMDISince she got her headphones together.
RIOSWell, I think it's important to remember that the SlutWalk is called the SlutWalk because it was inspired by a remark in which a police officer said that women are sexually assaulted because they are sluts. And it's people marching under the banner of slut-hood because they're saying, you know, if this person was assaulted because she's a slut or they're slut, then I must be a slut too.
RIOSAnd what happens when a bunch of people come together at a SlutWalk, is you start to realize just how ridiculous the term is. Because there's absolutely no way that, you know, a group as diverse as 6,000 people in the same place could all have that one thing in common.
RIOSThat's like a singular definition so it's -- the SlutWalk movement isn't called SlutWalk because they thought it would get attention. It's a very, like, intuitive and purposeful use of the word to combat what originally began the movement.
PRIVOTWhich is the phenomenon of rape culture.
NNAMDIOnto Gary in Washington, D.C. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYHi, Kojo. Hey, with respect to dressing provocatively, I think, that there are a lot of very bad people out there, whether we like it or not. And no matter how we form our society or reform our society, there's still going to be bad people out there. So when we dress provocatively, I think we put ourselves at greater risk of something bad happening to us. And the same way as if we were to wear very expensive and gaudy jewelry late at night and walk down Alabama Avenue, something very bad may happen to us. And I think it'd behooves us to be careful. And that's not about blaming the victim, but...
NNAMDIWell, are you comparing dressing very gaudily and expensively late at night and walking down the street in a crime ridden neighborhood, to a women dressing provocatively anytime, anyplace?
GARYWhat I'm saying is that different ways -- there are different ways of carrying ourselves at different places and different times. And some -- and...
NNAMDIWell, when would you think it...
GARY...it's a simple fact...
NNAMDI...when would you think it...
GARY...it's a simple fact that something bad may happen to you.
NNAMDI...when would you think it would an in appropriate time -- when would you think it would be an appropriate time for a women to dress provocatively?
GARYWell, I mean, if I had my draw, it'd be anytime. But as a matter -- but as -- but what I would prefer that people be, you know, be safe, be cautious when it's appropriate...
NNAMDICarmen Rios, what is your take...
GARY...and it's up to the women to decide.
NNAMDIWell, I'm going to have one of the women decide. Carmen Rios, what is your take on the issue of safety?
RIOSOh, I would like to make this decision. There's actually 100 percent nothing someone can do who has been sexually assaulted to prevent someone else from sexually assaulting them. And I think saying that there are bad people and that bad things happen, that might be true and it might be something we've accepted as a fact of life. But I would also say that, you know, bad things do happen, but that doesn't mean we have to be okay with them.
RIOSAnd telling people that they're at risk for being assaulted and that it's their fault they were assaulted because of how they were dressed, anytime, anyplace is just really not a logical response because they weren't the people committing and perpetuating the violence.
NNAMDIBut then there's this, SimplyNay, from Al in Columbia, Md. "So I'm the father of boys and girls. My question is, at the end of the day, I agree that what you wear doesn't make it your fault, but is there such a thing as consequences? The provocation is unfortunately not something that one can always control." Well?
FORDWell, since he mentioned that he is the father of both male and female children, I want to speak to that. That is the same as saying that the young boys who attend Catholic church are in some way asking for those selective priests who engage in those behaviors to assault them in some way when they are attending church. Where else wholesome could you be, in American society, but a church or, you know, or some religious home in which you have that. I want to use the word empowered because that is when a person is aware of the power that they possess.
FORDI think that both victims and perpetrators, in the instance of sexual abuse, I am in no way making an excuse for anyone, are often times not aware of how empowered or the power that they possess. That is why I do the work that I do, so that people understand the power that they possess. At the point that they choose to do something horrendous with that power, that then puts them in a horrible category. But we should not live in a society where we must dictate ourselves based on the injustices of someone else's use of their own personal power. And, that's true.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's going to have to be the final word. It comes from Aiyi'nah "SimplyNay" Ford. She is an artist and activist. She also hosts a radio show called "One Mic Stand." Aiyi'nah, thank you so much for joining us.
FORDThank you so much.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Ben Privot, creator of the Consensual Project. Ben, thank you for joining us.
PRIVOTKojo, it was a pleasure, thank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd Carmen Rios, who is an organizer with SlutWalk DC and director of Women's Initiative, a student program at American University. Carmen Rios, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break, when we come back, we'll be talking about all of those strange things that have been popping up at the National Institute of Standards and Technology from way back when and getting you to try to help to identify them. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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