Ending the SlutWars

This is a call to end the SlutWars.

On the off-chance the global SlutWalk movement hasn't hit your radar, here's a brief primer: SlutWalk is worldwide grassroots movement challenging rape culture, victim-blaming, and working to end sexual violence. It started in January 2011, when a Toronto cop warned students that to avoid getting raped they shouldn't dress like sluts. By April, activists took to the streets demanding the end to victim blaming. The rest is history still in the making.

TV cameras came calling. The feminist blogosphere lit up. Anti-rape listservs raged. Late night Twitter debates ensued. Controversy followed.

Some charge that SlutWalk perpetuates the unchecked privilege that gives a pass to white women chanting the word "slut" in their underwear. Some accuse so-called mainstream feminists of ignoring race, class and ethnicity.

But the problem is that rape is mainstream, feminism is not.

Most people will go about the business of their day while anti-rape activists fight mightily to prevent and address sexual assault. Folks will think about their grocery list, their midterm exam, or paying their bills before they worry about feminist politics.

The point is there is strength in numbers. We need as many as possible involved in preventing rape and sexual assault. Critical self-reflection is important to any political movement. But, at some point that self-critique becomes unproductive -- or worse, it divides a movement from within.

In the spirit of loving critique, instead of writing about the shortcomings of SlutWalk, what if Keli Goff wrote an entire piece about the problem of rape? What if Wendy J. Murphy used her media reach to attack rape, not other feminists? Rather than reducing SlutWalk to an event that involves "stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts" -- then quickly dismissing this as "passing for keen retort" -- I'd like Rebecca Traister to consider the far deeper concerns about sexual assault that underscore these events. I'd like to request that Gail Dines stop perpetuating divisive misinformation about race and anti-rape protest. (Dines claimed white women didn't take to the streets over the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape scandal because the survivor wasn't white. In fact, a robust, diverse group of protestors opposed DSK. The Ms. Magazine Blog retracted its original use of Dines' misinformation, but errors get repeated and this is dangerous.)

COINTELPRO was an FBI surveillance initiative designed to destroy anti-war and civil rights movements from within by fostering internal mistrust, disagreements, and factious misinformation.

Today, we don't need COINTELPRO to divide feminist groups. We're doing it to ourselves.

To be perfectly clear: I am not suggesting that SlutWalk is one-size-fits-all. Many have raised astute and warranted critique. But it is time to keep our focus. The word "slut" is obviously contentious. That's the whole point. It's the reason media is paying attention to the demonstrations. Activists have been addressing sexual assault issues for centuries. If it takes a controversial word to encourage people to sit up and listen, that's fine. We owe it to ourselves to take our activism -- and our critiques -- to the next level. We owe it to ourselves to maximize our collective goals not our individual differences of opinion.

SlutWalks are a spectacle to grab attention and encourage people to shake off complacency. SlutWalks provide information about sexual assault prevention and resources for recovery. SlutWalks have been safe space to publicly speak out against sexual assault. People show up wearing sweatpants, jeans or everyday shorts, carrying signs that read, "This is What I Was Wearing When I Was Raped." They wear flip-flops, thigh-highs, clogs, and running kicks. A particularly heartbreaking sign held high at the June 5, 2011 Los Angeles SlutWalk announced, "I was raped when I was 4. I didn't know that footsies were slutty." Slutwalk marchers around the world show up in a variety of outfits as Trixie Films video montage of the 3,000 person-strong New York City event attests.

I'm not opposed to those who want to reclaim the term "slut" by sartorial display. Personally, that's not my political priority. Stopping rape is. That said, ending rape and reclaiming the term slut do not have to be mutually exclusive goals. I spoke at SlutWalk L.A. to say yes to freedom and to say no to sexual assault. Like others who showed up on the grass that day in West Hollywood, I was there because I want to see an end to rape. I spoke because I want to see an end to blaming victims and survivors for their own sexual assault. As filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman writes on behalf of The Line Campaign, the "SlutWalk Movement is a tidal wave against rape culture and victim blaming, something that women of all backgrounds need one another's support in resisting. Women have organized across the world, from Toronto to Buenos Aires to Mexico City, Kyrgizstan, and Morocco under the universal agreement that we, as women, have had enough."

The facts about rape and sexual assault are cause enough to unite those who care about the safety and well being of all:

•The United States has among the highest rate of rape among industrialized countries. Nearly two women are sexually assaulted every minute. About three percent of American men experience rape at some point in their lifetime. As author-activist Jackson Katz points out in his book, The Macho Paradox, over 95 percent of sexual assault perpetrators are men, regardless of the victim's gender.

•Only 20 to 50 percent of rape or sexual assault is ever reported to the police.

•The FBI only counts rapes that include penetration of a penis into a vagina by force. This means that coerced rape, men's rape, drugged rape, anal or oral rape, and rape by objects or fingers don't even count as rape to the FBI. After 80 years, the FBI is finally considering a change to this archaic definition.

•A survey conducted by Koss, Gidycz and Wisnieweski found that one out of twelve college men had committed acts that met the legal definition of rape. Yet most of those men did not believe that what they did was rape.

•Sexual assault is never the survivor's fault, just ask rape crisis counselor Kimberly Inez McGuire, Iowa graduate student Rebecca Epstein, anti-rape activist Jaclyn Friedman, or the countless number of people who remain anonymous yet bravely tell their stories.

It's time to change our culture so that we would never dream of asking, "What was the victim wearing?" It is time that we hold rapists and assaulters accountable because the question is never what was she wearing but why is he raping?

It's time that we stop victim blaming and rape because all of us have the right to be safe in our homes and in our streets. No matter what we look like. No matter who we love. No matter what we wear. It's time to fight rape, not each other.

It's time to end the SlutWars.