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Interview with writer, feminist, Boston SlutWalk speaker Jaclyn Friedman

As reported in week’s Phoenix, the Boston SlutWalk goes down this Saturday -- a demonstration of solidarity to fight "slut shaming," a common response to sexual violence. The march follows April's SlutWalk Toronto, launched after a police officer told York University students to "avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Following the march -- which we are told will start and end at the Boston Common Gazebo, but check their Facebook page for updates -- Jaclyn Friedman will speak at Encuentro 5. Earlier this week, The Phoenix spoke with Friedman -- a writer, performer, activist, and co-editor of the book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. She’s also a founder and the Executive Director of Women, Action & the Media, a national organization working for gender justice in media. Below is the full transcript of the interview, in which she speaks in-depth about SlutWalk, her planned lecture, and how this topic is relevant to “anyone who cares about women.”

What do you hope people get out the Slut Walk? What is it’s main purpose?
I am not an organizer, I’m a speaker, so I can only talk about what my own intentions are for participating. It is really to say that we as women - well everyone really - has the right to walk and behave however they want, wearing whatever they want, acting however they want, sexually, without being violated. So it’s not about saying all women should be sluts or that any particular sexual behavior is better or worse than others. It’s quite the opposite, which is that what we wear or how we act and what we do with our lives personally shouldn’t have any bearing whatsoever on whether or not someone commits a felony, a violent crime against us. It’s really that simple.

Have you been to a SlutWalk before?
I have not. This is a brand new movement. It started in Toronto a couple of months ago. Basically it started when a Toronto policeman told students at York University that in order to avoid being raped, his advice for them was for them to not act slutty, to not dress slutty. So there was a lot of outrage in a lot of corners… Feminist activists in Toronto organized the first slut walk as a response, and it was so inspiring and such a success that it’s inspired more events like it around the country and the world. I was just talking to somebody yesterday who is organizing one in Amsterdam and I know there have been ones in the UK. There are definitely ones happening all over the US as well.

What should people expect if they show up?
I would expect people of all genders to be dressed in a wide variety of ways. I heard that people showed up in pajamas, people showed up wearing whatever they wanted to, which is the point … the point isn’t that everyone needs to dress slutty, the point is that we get called sluts if we are sexually assaulted or if we speak up in any way about it. Even if what we’re wearing is jeans and a t-shirt or pajamas. So people wore a wide variety of things. There’s a great sense of humor…

One of the things I love about the slut walk is that it’s for something, it’s not just against something. Of course it’s against sexual violence but what it is for is our freedom to act as our authentic self in public without being subject to sexual violence. So a lot of that great fun self-expression I think will be informing the march as we go.

What will you be speaking on specifically?
I want to talk about sluts as troublemakers. Often times when women get called sluts, it doesn’t have actually anything to do with  what we are or aren’t doing sexually or whether or not the person calling us a slut even knows what we are or aren’t doing sexually. A lot of times when women get called sluts it’s because we’re being too loud and opinionated or acting in ways that are considered out of bounds for nice, proper young ladies, and it really is a form of social control. So I think claiming the title “sluts” for a day even if you don’t identify with that in your regular, ongoing life, is a way to say, “you can’t control me, we are going to be trouble makers, we’re here to make trouble for the people who want to police our behavior.” And refusing to be shamed. Refusing the shame and the control that is inherent in the people who call us sluts.

You speak at colleges about things like “Shameless Straight Talk About Rape, Drinking, & Hookups.”  Recently in Boston, some city councilors called for a hearing to revisit and talk about the issue of sexual violence on campus. If people are interested in combating sexual violence on college campuses, why could this be relevant for them? Especially this being Boston, such a huge college town; a lot of the people at the Slut Walk will be from colleges.
Yeah I mean, Boston is such a huge college town, of course, so the issue of rape on college campuses should be one that we’re focused on much more. I’m really happy that there’s some initiative in Boston to deal with that. I know the White House just this spring has come out and taken some leadership on the issue of sexual violence on college campuses so I’m really encouraged that our leaders are starting to get involved in doing something about what is really a public health crisis. And I have to say, it is on every college campus that I go to, the problem is really deep. Part of what happens is that our conception of the kind of rape that quote-unquote counts or gets taken seriously is a stranger jumping out of the bushes and attacking an very innocent young girl who is, you know, walking home from church choir practice, right. And the reality is that over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by people who know their victims, and often times there’s alcohol involved. And there’s this idea of girls as slutty, and if a girl is considered slutty then sexual violence against her does not get taken seriously. And what gets said is, “Oh she wanted it and then she regretted it after” or “well what’d she expect to happen if she went back to his room?” So removing that shame, refusing the shame of being accused of being a slut is a huge part of combating sexual violence.

What would you say to someone who thinks “this isn’t relevant to me”? How is this relevant to everyone?
Well  I think anyone who cares about women at all really needs to care about the idea that when we step out of a very narrowly defined lane that we’re told that we’re putting ourselves at risk for sexual violence. And that no one is going to help us or give us justice, if someone else commits a violent crime against us. It’s a pretty horrible situation [to hear] “oh if she was dressed like that, she was obviously asking for it” … saying that if I go out of the house in a tight dress and some sexy heels that literally anyone I can come across has the right to do whatever they want to me. It’s preposterous when you spell it out like that, but that is the cultural assumption and that is what we are really trying to undo. I’ve seen some people really misunderstanding it and saying it’s about arguing that women should be slutty or that it’s about encouraging promiscuity, and -- I have to say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women’s promiscuity if that’s what you want, if that’s authentic for you. If women want to be slutty, I’m all for it. But if women don’t want to be slutty, I’m all for that too. The point is that its nobody’s business and it has nothing to do with whether or not someone has the right to violate us. And I really feel like that’s something that everybody should be able to get behind.

Some people aren’t into it because it is related to reclaiming the word “slut,” and some feel it’s a word that does not need to be reclaimed. What is your response to that?
I think of it very differently. I’m thinking about claiming the word slut on this day, in this particular context is more of an “I am Sparticus” kind of moment. This is an accusation that gets used to discredit women’s experiences with  sexual violence and to allow rapists to continue to go free in our communities and hurt other women. Because we know that the guys who commit the vast majority of rapes are serial rapists, a tiny percent of the population who do this over and over again. And when we excuse them and blame women we actually just let them go free so that they can hurt other women. So the point of the matter is saying, if one woman is accused of being a slut, then today we are all sluts. It’s not about saying we should all identify as sluts all the time. It’s a political act of solidarity with people who have been harmed by the label. We are standing with women who have been accused of sluthood and told that it makes the violence done to them not matter.

Boston SlutWalk 2011 starts at noon at Boston Commons Gazebo. Free workshops will be held and Friedman will speak at Encuentro 5, 33 Harrison Avenue, 5th floor, Chinatown. Visit bostonslutwalk2k11.tumblr.com.

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