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Slutwalk – Let’s talk about sex in the various zones

November 23, 2012

By Wing

Originally posted at Illuminating Dreams.

Sex Along the Skyscraper’s Manifesto

Skyscrapers and economy, indicators of progress,

Yes, we have reached that stage.
Beaming as one of the tiny giants in Asia.
But have our morality remained?

My parents told me of days when they left their doors open,
The days when everybody helped each other,
when rape was a big crime of the defiler.
Why then have the blame shifted some to the victim now?
Look at her. She’s wearing too little, she’s asking for it.

But what would they say for the man, who
groped me in the bus? I was shocked, and didn’t know what
better move, but to stay further away from him. Was I inviting this
by traveling alone? Was I asking for it? Cladded in a Tee and a berm,
had that been arousing, or my cute kiddo face been undeniably inviting?
Was that all my fault that I look the way I look? And travel the way I travel?
And that I got what I deserved? Would you say that in my face?

Labels too conveniently, always inside people’s head.

This is a slut, that is a slut,
“Oh, hi slut”,
“This one perhaps I could fuck.”
It doesn’t matter that they are educated and compassionate,
it doesn’t matter that they have husband and children.
They are not individuals to be recognized with because they are merely sluts.
Look at the way they are dressed,
shoulders, cleavages and thighs, concession to getting rape.

Is this all that go in the head of our people?
To wrap up,
one simple solution to stopping rape?

What about those sexuality that differs?
They’re no any better,
says so in our holy grail.
Abomination condemned to hell.
We wouldn’t bother much, but to
distance ourselves away. Let the others, the warriors of truth and faith
salvage them from their dilemma.
Theirs’ are not love they experience, theirs’
are possession of devilry.

Really so? Rightfully so? Is there
only one way to be a better man? That the world is so upright,
we just have to follow one perfect path to live?
A label, everyone else has become,
a convenience in people’s head. Is it true,
that we need these beliefs – clairvoyant
we suddenly become – to justify
ourselves for our apathy?
Skyscraper dreams,
has this been what our society is all about?
How upright, I now could see.

I’ve written this poem in support of Slutwalk Singapore, a group formed by people who strive to take a stand against sexual violence and victim blaming.

SlutWalk started in Toronto in February, 2011. It was a response to Constable Michael Sanguinetti’s statement at a York University safety forum that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized,” a blatant case of condescension of woman.

As a woman and hobbyist belly dancer, I do not see any fault in woman being proud of our femininity. Our curves are reflection of suppleness and beauty, which has been the subject of adoration since the olden days. We call for adoration in forms of respectful, not perverse, acts. Perverse acts such as raping should be condemned but some mindless people have made it such that the rape victims themselves have become part of the condemnation, giving rise to the unfortunate existence of slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

In order to move away from slut-shaming and victim blaming – and towards a more compassionate society – Slutwalk Singapore would invite various groups and organizations to present different perspectives on rape culture, victim blaming, slut-shaming, sexuality and consensus sex. From now till December, they would be organising interactive and lively discussions, workshops and presentations to raise awareness and understanding.

If you care, you could help to make slut-shaming and victim-blaming history.

Wing is the Co-Founder of Illuminating Dreams, an online platform that aims to empower people to chase their dreams and live their lives to the fullest.

Reflections on SlutWalk Singapore’s Consent Workshop

November 12, 2012

by Queer Cat

Originally posted at queer-cat.tumblr.com.

[TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, panic attacks, victim-blaming.]

My challenge to myself is to get more involved with feminist advocacy. This will be a gradual process, as I am not so certain that I have sufficient spoons, or a thick enough skin just yet.

In the past year, I had my first panic attack (couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, completely suffocating and extremely frightening) related to rape culture, triggered by a social comment on how martial arts prevents rape. Just some quick context on this incident, though I wish to discuss this further at some point: we were discussing martial arts. The person was trying to promote the type of martial arts zie is very into, resulting in a comment “but WHAT IF you get RAPED?” (that entire encounter will be the subject for another post)

So yes, self-care is a first priority, but I do want to get more involved, in one way or another, as this is an area that is of utmost importance to me.

As part of this challenge, I attended the Consent Workshop, one of the first events that SlutWalk Singapore organised for this year’s chapter. It was an interesting experience, though I must admit that the majority of the issues brought up were issues that I have already thought about or discussed with my partner in some detail before the workshop.

The main take-away was from the part of the discussion which veered into how to talk about this (this being consent) to friends. Being a feminist and steeped (by my own choosing) in the world of progressive blogs (Shakesville, The Hairpin etc, I’m looking at you), I was honestly quite shocked when some of the other participants shared that people that they have come into contact to have dismissed the idea that asking for consent is “unsexy” and “kills the mood”. It’s almost completely unfathomable to me. And extremely scary. That reality check was the most important take-away for me. I mean, of course you hear awful stuff online. But when you hear about it in person, it somehow assumes a different quality. It’s more real and it’s a heck of a lot more frightening. It reinforces the fact that there is still a heck of a lot more to work for.

I also liked the part where the discussion was about how the nature of the relationship could complicate consent. For example, a partner could feel obligated to have sex with zir partner, for the reason for avoiding hurting zhim. Another part of the same discussion touched on power structures within a relationship. Eh, of course I’ve thought about these things and discussed them with my partner (in one way or another), being kinky and all that. All the same, it helped to have these issues teased out and articulated out loud, as I do take these things for granted as they have largely been discussed and agreed upon in the context of my relationship. There is room for my partner and I to ponder more in these areas.

I am also extremely appreciative that Vanessa and hir team made the workshop a safe space to talk about one’s experiences. The ground rules that zie lay at the start of the workshop and reinforced after the break were extremely inclusive and set the tone for the entire session. Non-coercive and very understanding language was used throughout. I have not encountered another real life space that has offered the qualities of a safe space to this extent, and for this, I am extremely grateful.

The workshop was a positive experience. There was a downside, though it is not a downside in the context of the workshop, but rather in the general fight against sexism and rape culture. The participants at the workshop, and in future workshops, would be self-selected individuals who already have some understanding of consent, rape culture and sexism, and are open to learning and discussion. This is unavoidable. It is a good thing, as it allowed us to have a frank and open discussion that is not overly caught up in 101 stuff. It provides a platform through which we can learn more from each other, in a collaborative fashion and in a safe space.

However, the question of how to educate the masses is still left hanging. Such workshops, as educational and important as they are, will not contribute so much in that arena. Of course there is basic teaspooning and blogging etc, and of course movements such as SlutWalk which stimulate a good deal of discussion (and resultant education) on such topics. But the progress is slow, so very slow. It is disheartening. This does not mean that I think that all these efforts are of no use and we should give up, but it is extremely, extremely slow-going. There is such a mountain of rape culture and (internalised and overt) sexism, and all we can do is chip away at it, one atom at a time. It must be done, and we will do it, but it is hard and will take a long time. For something that is so basic and obvious (to myself and like-minded people), it is so,so frustrating. But we expect better, and we will work at it.

Queer Cat is an anonymous contributor who is a supporter of, and is supported by, the SlutWalk Singapore community. For more Queer Cat, please follow her blog here.

Why “Yes” Is Sexy – Vanessa Tai

November 11, 2012

by Vanessa Tai

Originally posted at Cosmopolitan Singapore.

Picture this. You’re in bed with your man, and whatever he’s doing feels ahh-mazing … but wait. He’s changing course; he’s about to do something that you’re absolutely uncomfortable with. Thoughts flash through your head, “Should I stop him? Will he he get angry? Oh, he’s at it already … might as well let him go all the way. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

After you’ve finished and he’s fallen asleep, you lie there wondering if you should have stopped him. Could you?

Short answer: Of course!

Over the weekend, I attended a workshop on sexual consent organised by Slutwalk Singapore. I’ve always admired the gumption of the Slutwalk Singapore organisers, and have learnt a lot from past events. This workshop was no exception. Here are some noteworthy points I learnt that day, which hopefully you can use to take your sex life to sexy new heights.

First off, what is consent?
Whether you’ve been sleeping with the guy for a month or 10 years – or even if you’ve just met him that night – consent is only when both parties give a clear and unequivocal “Yes!” to sex. However, this “Yes” is not a blanket agreement; it’s always helpful to check back to see if whatever you’re doing is okay with the other party.

“But talking about consent is so awkward and unsexy …”
Off the cuff, having a face-to-face conversation about sexual boundaries may seem completely ridiculous. But I reckon that’s only because our minds have been so ingrained with the notion that sex is supposed to be carefree and spontaneous. Well, yes, it definitely is. But think about it: If you could have sex where you’re certain you won’t get caught with any nasty surprises, wouldn’t that be even better?

It doesn’t have to be a formal conversation.
You don’t exactly need to hire lawyers or draw up contracts, you know. It can be as simple as a few whispered words before you get hot and heavy, or even an intimate heart-to-heart post-coital conversation. Of course, it’s probably a better idea to have this conversation before the crazy hormones take control, because you may agree to something in the heat of the moment only to regret it later on.

And yes, consent is applicable to both women and men.
As a society, we’ve been conditioned to think that men are complete horndogs who are always raring to go, so we get thrown off balance when they say they’re tired or *gasp* “don’t feel like it.” If your man turns down your offer for nookie, it’s normal to feel rejected or hurt, but don’t stew over it. Stress or exhaustion can all play a part for him not being up to it (pun not intended). Don’t press the matter; find another day when he’s feeling better then talk it over.

As you know, the key to a healthy, fulfilling relationship is communication. Lots of it. The same goes for sex. Sex is the most enjoyable when you feel 100 percent safe and comfortable with your partner, and without any expectations (said or unsaid) hanging over your head.

Look out for more upcoming workshops by following Slutwalk Singapore’s Facebook page here!

Want more Vanessa Tai? You can check out the rest of her blog posts on cosmopolitan.sg!

SlutWalk Singapore 2012: 5 Ridiculous Myths Everyone Believes About Rape (That Are Total B.S.)

November 10, 2012

by Shimona Ng

[TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, victim blaming, slut shaming.]

#1. Myth: “Men can’t be raped by women”

Everyone knows men can’t be raped by women. Men are always up for sex. If they aren’t, there’s something wrong with them. After all, men only think about sex every seven seconds. Plus, it’s every boy’s dream to have sex with a sexy older woman. They weren’t raped, they were lucky.

So. Very. Lucky.

Just look at this case— this female teacher had “sex” with an underage boy.

We know that she was a sexy lady, thanks to the Straits Times graphics team.

Lovingly brought to you by ST graphics.

Yes, ‘Haha!’ Isn’t he “lucky”?

Why it’s bullshit:

No, NO, NO.

Sex with children is RAPE.

That is what a 15 year old is, a child. Children may think they want to have sex, may know everything there is to know about sex, but they are in no way mature enough to make that choice. An adult, any adult, is in a position of power over a child that can easily be abused.

He was raped.

Men are raped by women, much more than you think.

Men are not up for sex all the time, anytime. In fact, men are almost just as likely to be coerced into sex as women. Often, men are silent victims of rape, because of the idea that only “weak” men get raped, or the myth that they must have wanted it.

It wasn’t “sex”, it was rape.

#2. Myth: “The terrifying dark-skinned rapist”

Everyone knows that rapes are committed by “the terrifying dark-skinned rapist”.

Black men are rapists, criminals, animals, and the second coming of the apocalypse.

If you want proof, just play Resident Evil 5.

Just take a look at this.

Nigerian” claims trial to raping underaged “Singaporean” girl.

The Straits Times added a totally not disturbing picture to be sensitive to their readers.

Zombie attack! Get me a shotgun and a frying pan.

Why did he do it? Because he’s black.

Why it’s bullshit:

Rapists aren’t scary black men.

Anyone can be a rapist.

Ted Bundy was a nice, white, friendly, charming killer and rapist. Grandfathers rape and take pornographic photos of their granddaughters. Mothers sexually abuse their daughters for years. Rapists don’t fit a type.

What happens when we are raped by someone who doesn’t fit?

People just can’t accept that.

They say he is a “dedicated tutor who had gone the extra mile for needy students“. They say he’s a “”wonderful man” and respected “father figure” to the young people he mentored.”  They say “there are hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who will say what a good [person (s)he] is”.

They say (s)he could never, ever do that. Even though they don’t know shit.

#3. Myth: “Family comes first”

In Singapore, family always comes first. Our teachers tell us to keep family secrets to ourselves as certain things are “family affairs”. We are taught to act in a way that maintains harmony in the family and protect the family name. It’s no shock that in a family-oriented culture like ours, all our large fortunes are managed by powerful families. Being pro-family makes us strong.

Don’t EVER take sides against the family.

Just look at this story — this dude filmed his own daughter in the shower.

Yeah, that’s right. Bitch should’ve just kept her mouth shut.

Why it’s bullshit:

Family is important. But when someone is violated by someone in their family, the best thing we can do is to support their decision to get outside help from people with the right training and experience.

Most families DON’T KNOW how to deal with abuse.

Often, the other parent gets angry at the child, not the abuser. Or, the parent denies everything and pretends nothing ever happened. Many times, the parent fails to protect the child even when they encounter clues that require them to seek intervention.

In cases of abuse, we always put the children first.

#4. Myth: “You have to be slutty or stupid to get raped”

Everyone knows you have to be “slutty or stupid” to get raped. You asked for it because you wore make up. You provoked them when you went out in a miniskirt. You were dumb enough to think you could sit in a bar at night.

See, Homer is such a slut.

Just look at this.

A woman went out on a date, and this man drugged her drink and raped her while she was passed out.

She woke up and couldn’t remember anything because she was drugged.

Oh yeah, absolutely. What a dumb slut.

Why it’s bullshit:

It’s human nature to tell yourself that rape could never happen to you. It’s easier to go on if you think that you have the power to stop rape. After all, only people who break the rules get raped— bad things only happen to “bad girls”. As long as you aren’t a “dumb slut”, you will never be hurt by rape.

Except that’s not how it works.

ANYONE can be hurt by rape.

Usually, the perpetrator is usually a known and trusted caregiver. Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. The majority of sexual assaults happen in the victim’s home, or in the home of someone they trust. There’s nothing you can do to prevent rape, except maybe not being born.

#5. Myth: “You can’t be bullied into having sex you don’t want”

Everyone knows you can’t be bullied into having sex you don’t want. You just have to kick your rapist in the balls. Or, you can stab your rapist to death with a fruit knife. Or you can shoot him, decapitate him, and place his severed head in the main village square. Rape averted!

Mmm, that severed head sure looks delicious.

Take a good look at Cecilia Sue’s case.

Clearly, she wanted it. Why didn’t she bite off his dick?

Why it’s bullshit:

When you make comments like these, you are hurting the people around you.

If your loved ones are ever raped, they will be too scared to tell if they didn’t fight back. If your friends are ever abused, none of them will come to you for help. If your partner is a survivor, you’ve just killed that part of them that hoped you might understand.

Not fighting back is not “yes”.

Children can’t fight back because their abusers have all the power. Rapists can use threats and psychological pressure to force people to have sex they don’t want. Rapists can use alcohol and drugs to take away your ability to fight back.

We can’t say it wasn’t rape just because they didn’t fight back.

We can stop rape.

These myths, these fantasies about rape that you see in the media, are designed to make rape fit for mass consumption.

Don’t let it stand in the way between you and the truth.

Understand rape culture. Then use your energy, ideas, and passion to abolish the whole system. Reject the mental traps of the mass media by rejecting conventional ideas about rape.

Raise your voice to subvert rape apologism, to create waves of rebellion, to undermine victim blaming logic. Use your social media presence to create and share content that challenges the myths around rape.

Start revolutionary conversations with your peers, talk to them, engage them, and become active in your community. The moment you start speaking out against sexual violence with your friends, you become the revolution.

If we pour ourselves into fighting for freedom, for justice, for change, we can change the world and stop sexual violence.

The myth-busting doesn’t end here.

Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Email us now at slutwalksg@gmail.com.

For more articles about SlutWalk Singapore, check out our blog.

Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to get updates sent straight to your news feed.

Shimona is part of the team behind SlutWalk Singapore. You can be part of SlutWalk Singapore too— join the team, support our events, or make a donation, and come together for the public gathering at Hong Lim Park on the 15th of December to help break the silence around sexual assault.

Thoughts on SlutWalk Singapore 2011

December 29, 2011

by Crystal Nanavati

Rounding out our very busy weekend after Toys for Tots and the Flyer, was SlutWalk Singapore.

SlutWalk began early in the year when a police offer in Toronto essentially told college students the way not to get raped was to not dress provocatively.  Slutwalk began as a response to that – that there is something wrong with a culture that teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape”… where the blame and the responsibility are put on the victim, rather than the perpetrator.  But it has grown into a larger movement, where we also talk about slut-shaming (girls who like sex get what’s coming to them) and the way that women (particularly girls) use “slut/slutty” to demean each other whether they have had sex or not.  It is frustrating to live in a time of so much advancement and change and to know that there is still a dominant cultural narrative that says a man’s libido is such a dangerous thing that it can be triggered by my clothes, the way I move my body, or my very existence as a woman such that he can not/should not be held responsible for any of his action… that if I get raped,  touched innapropriately, groped, shamed, taunted, or otherwise attacked that it is MY fault.

art by Eric Reynolds

I have been objectified, slut-shamed, and made to feel bad about myself sexually speaking (and sadly these are just 5 examples, I could keep going for hours)…

  • - When I was 10/11, my baby sitter’s husband touched me inappropriately.  There was an investigation (complete with the “show me on the doll”) and my babysitter lost her license.  Her husband was not fined, arrested, or punished in any way.  I questioned for years if I had done something to make him think I’d ‘wanted’ it or did something deserve it.  To this day, I can not watch the movie that was on the TV when it happened.
  • - In high school, during my freshman year (I was 14 years old), I had my first kiss.  He and I made the mistake of telling someone who then told enough people that gossip began.  The story changed from C and X kissed to C and X had sex.  I was so embarrassed and shamed that I avoided that friend (who until then had been my closest friend) for the better part of a year.  I feel very lucky that we’ve rebuilt our friendship, but we were never again as close as we were before that kiss.
  • - In college I would occasionally go out to dance clubs.  Initially I just went to the dance clubs up the street from my university.  However, no matter what I wore – jeans, short skirts, you name it, the night always involved at least several instances of men touching me in a way that was not okay (groping my breasts, and in one lovely instance, trying to put his hand up my skirt multiple times after I had told him no and moved to a different part of the club, among others).  In large part, this was why I started going to gay clubs.  Any time I went to a straight club, I accepted that I was ‘inviting’ a specific type of attention.
  • - I lost my virginity at 18.  From then until now I’ve had a number of sexual partners.  But until my husband, I often felt like I should reduce my ‘number’ in order to not seem like a slut.  Because a slut was the kind of girl you had sex with, not the girl you considered having a serious relationship with.  In my early 20s, I would ask the guy his number first and then adjust mine accordingly.
  • - Let’s face it, although I write erotica, I don’t do it under my actual name.  I care significantly less than I used to when I was a teacher and it carried the very real possible consequence of my losing my job, but I still choose to write under a pen name for my own comfort.

I am the mother of two daughters.  I want them to grow up with a healthy relationship with their bodies and their sexuality.  But we live in a world where at some point I will need to have a discussion with them about how the image they project with their clothes and their actions will affect how people perceive their character.  How sexuality can bring you power, but will be the first tool used in your downfall (let’s talk about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky – he’ll always be the former president and she’ll always be the slut who gave him a blow job).  That using sex is like playing on a knife’s edge.

With all of this in mind, the moment I heard about the SlutWalk movement, I was interested.  However, I was never home when I could have attended one near home.  I was frustrated because I was certain that Singapore’s repressive sexual culture would never allow for a SlutWalk here.

I was happy to be wrong.

One of the musical acts (Seyra). Beautiful voice.

Sunday was, again, a rainy drizzly day.  Ravi (my husband) was ill, so if I wanted to go to SlutWalk with the girls (and bringing the girls was non-negotiable in my eyes), then I was going to do it on my own.  So I packed up the girls, and we headed out to Hong Lim Park.

SlutWalk Singapore was in many ways an experience that brought back a lot of nostalgia for me.  When I was in college I was far more idealistic than I am now.  I was more likely to go march in a rally or passionately argue for hours.  To focus on very large goals like “let’s change the rape culture.”

These days I’m a more cynical woman.  I have limited time and funds, and I tend to focus on things like harassing my elected officials for smaller, more measurable goals (publicly breastfeeding without harassment, for example. In Massachussetts you could in theory ask me to leave, but you’ll be hit with a 500 dollar fine for doing so).  I tend to believe in things like going after Sarah Palin and her state congress for charging rape victims for the rape kits used at the hospital to prove if they were raped or not, and criticizing Apple’s Siri program for it’s incredibly anti-female bias when it comes to abortion and rape.

But attending an event like this, one where the organizers had hoped for a 300 person turnout and got a 600+ person turnout reminds me of the girl I was and how good it can feel to join together and fight for a cause, no matter how large and improbable it might be in the short run.

Ellie, my daughter, at SlutWalk (Photo by Emilie Oehlers)

That SlutWalk got 600+ attendees in the rain in Singapore is an achievement worth applauding  (Hong Lim Park turned to a muddy morass – Ellie wore her wellies, but my flip-flops and feet were covered in mud.  I was lucky that Ms Demeanour let me park my stroller under the tent she was manning to keep it dry.  Thanks to Martha for introducing us.  Rhi ended up in the sling.)

I also applaud the organizers for persevering in the face of truly disgusting public reaction (read the comments on any article about SlutWalk in Singapore) and having the courage to create one here.  To keep perspective, while Singapore Slutwalk happened, the organizers of SlutWalk Bangalore were arrested when trying to tell potential attendees that the event had been cancelled (due to pressure from right-wing groups).

I’m not informed enough about Singaporean politics to understand how one advocates for change.  As this Wall Street Journal piece notes:

Much of Singapore’s society remains male-dominated, with few women holding top business and government roles, and some laws biased against female sexual-assault victims, activists say. Marital rape isn’t illegal here, while legislation currently allows sexual-assault victims to be discredited as witnesses if shown to have a “generally immoral character.”

Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done here to advocate for women’s rights.

As a foreigner, how much I can speak out about politics is strictly limited by the government.  How much I should is a much murkier question, as I strongly oppose forcing my cultural values on women who may not want them (example: the whole forcing Muslim girls to abandon the hijab in France thing – good intentions, horrible idea in forcing Western feminism on other women without trying to understand that feminism looks different in every culture).  Let’s not for an instant forget my own culture isn’t exactly a shining example to the world in how to fix all of the issues swirling around female sexuality and the rape culture.  This Pennyslvania Liquor Control Commission Ad wants me to know that if I drink too much, it’s my fault that my friend is getting raped in the bathroom – I don’t even begin to know how to address all of the WRONG in that ad or which officials to complain to.

I’ve read some of the coverage on SlutWalk Singapore and am a bit frustrated that the articles tended to focus on the whole “hey, there’s a rare protest in Singapore” rather than the content of the protest.  But that there was attention paid at all is a good thing.  Maybe next year we can focus on why we were protesting, not that we were protesting in the first place.

Yes, that’s me (and Rhi, my other daughter, in the sling) in the AP picture.  Photo credit: Bryan van der Beek

The first step in getting something changed is to get people to talk about it and to acknowledge that there is an issue.  Then you can begin to change it.  So any time there is a chance for me to speak out and say that rape culture and slut-shaming are wrong, I will be there.  My daughters deserve to grow up in a culture that teaches “don’t rape” instead of “don’t get raped.”  My daughters deserve to grow up in a world where their sexuality is seen as a good thing, not a destructive thing.  I want to know that I wasn’t quiet; that I spoke out, showed up, educated, and harassed my elected officials into trying to change something that was wrong.

We didn’t stay as long as I would have wanted, had the weather been more cooperative, but we showed up.

We’ll see you at SlutWalk 2012.

Crystal Nanavati moved to Singapore from the US in early 2010.  She writes the blog Expat Bostonians about her experiences in Singapore, as well as fiction. When not writing training as a sex coach specializing in pregnancy and post-partum sexuality, and is raising two very young feminists; Elanor (age 3) and Rhiannon (born October 2011). She is passionate about reproductive freedom.

Police The Criminal, Do Not Blame The Victim

December 27, 2011

by Tania De Rozario

I have been thinking about SlutWalk. A lot. I have been thinking about SlutWalk, about the word slut, about a culture of victim-blaming, about the notion of slut-shaming, about the power of language to oppress, and of course, about rape.

Watching a group of Singaporeans come together to organise a local installment of SlutWalk has made me proud to be Singaporean. Watching the kind of bullshit they have taken has been infuriating, heartening and inspiring. Infuriating because many of the unthinking, unfeeling, sometimes violent responses they have received, remind me of how apathetic and uncritical people can be. Heartening because this is the sort of conflict that usually arises with a press for social change. Inspiring because watching the organisers deflect stupidity with such grace has set a good example for someone like me who loses both patience and hair reading some of the comments threads I masochistically put myself through.

For me, it was not the physical gathering nor the 600 people who showed up at Hong Lim Park that rendered Singapore’s inaugural SlutWalk a success; it was the conversation and introspection that have come out of it. Much of the controversy that has come out of the event has revolved around the use of the word slut: Does it serve an actual purpose? Do we really need to use it? Is using it counter-productive in a conservative Asian country such as ours? Should we be trying to reclaim it?

At the SlutWalk Post-Event Retrospective, a man who seemed well-intentioned enough at first, said that he believed SlutWalk was not palatable to the masses. He positioned himself as a privileged, heterosexual, Chinese male who was finding it hard to believe that victim-blaming actually exists. I think everyone, including myself, was pretty open-minded to his responses until he suggested that what was needed to get the masses (and him)  onboard, was to get rape survivors (rape victims, as he preferred) to tell their stories online, as evidence that they exist. For some reason, to him, the onus of getting society to understand a culture of rape and victim-blaming is on the individuals who have been raped.

Does anyone else find this problematic?

I have never been raped.  But I personally know five women who have. And among my friends, I am hard-pressed to identify any woman who has not been sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime. Growing up, I had friends who were molested by tuition teachers, groped on trains, flashed at in the stairwells of their own HDB flats. As a young woman, I had friends who were sexually harassed by bosses, who were expected to sleep their way to success, who were taken advantage of in clubs where normally unacceptable behaviour on the parts of assholes looking to cop a feel, were diluted with apologies of supposed intoxication. And in the more recent years of adulthood, all I have learned is that this behaviour does not stop. You do not need to look very far to be aware of the fact that rape and sexual assault exist. In my opinion, you have to be not wanting to see it, in order to be unaware of it.

I myself have been molested a number of times over the course of my lifetime. As a child, when I my mother left me alone on a tour bus to accompany the other tourists on a souvenir-buying spree, the tour guide got back on the bus and decided that sitting me on his lap and rubbing me against his genitals was a good idea. As a teenager, I had my arse groped in a club. As an adult, a motorcyclist passed me as I was walking along the street with my partner, slowed down, grabbed one of my breasts, hard, and sped off. None of these incidences ever got reported. Either I was too young to fully understand what was going on, or was in too much shock to identify an individual or license plate within a crucial five-second gap.

One of the most vivid incidents for me occurred when I was twelve. I was on the bus home from school and a man, dressed in a suit, a briefcase on his lap, sat down next to me. Over the course of the journey, I felt him moving his arm slowly, almost imperceptibly, up and down against the side of my chest. I continued to feel it even when the bus paused at stops, and my gut told me that I was being molested. But at twelve, I did not have the emotional vocabulary nor personal agency to challenge him on it, or even to stand up and leave. However, at twelve, these are the concerns I did already have: What if I am imagining this? What if people stare? Why would he even choose me? If I tell someone, will they believe me?

It sounds vulgar, boiling my body down to bits – where I have been touched, in what manner, for how long. But guess what: violating someone’s body is a vulgar act. I isolate my body parts like pieces of meat at a slaughterhouse when narrating the abovementioned incidents because that is what those incidents did to me.

We live in a society where sexual violation occurs on many levels but yet, talking about it makes us uncomfortable. For the most part, I consider myself a fairly intelligent and confident person. I am self-aware enough to list the bullshit that I will not take and compassionate enough to forgive myself for taking the bullshit that I sometimes, on a bad day, do. And yet, it is still hard talking about this stuff. And if someone like me finds it uncomfortable relating experiences of one-off molests, how hard must it be for a survivor of rape to talk about what has happened to them?

One of the questions that was raised at SlutWalk Retrospective was the validity, both cultural and contextual, of retaining the word slut for the SlutWalk cause. My gut reaction:

How can we not?

Rape and sexual assault happen everywhere, including in our homes, many times perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. Besides being inexcusable acts of violence and entitlement, rape and sexual assault are also often a means of policing women’s sexualities and bodies.  So is the word slut, for which there is no male equivalent.

The word slut is a punishment for women who are sexually autonomous. But because there is no solid definition about what level or range of sexual autonomy is acceptable at any given time, it can be used to define anything from a woman/girl who has slept with one too many people for someone else’s comfort, to a woman/girl who shows more skin than is acceptable to any random individual. The moral elasticity of the term also aids in creating excuses for people who rape, to justify their behaviour.

Like most problematic labels, the word slut is symptomatic of existing cultural norms. Like most problematic labels, when used, it moves from being symptomatic to causal. Language reflects societal norms but it also reinforces them. That being said, how can we not use the term slut in relation to a movement like SlutWalk? What other word in our vocabulary sums up so much of what is wrong with the way in which our culture views and polices women?

With all this in mind, you can understand why someone getting on a microphone and suggesting that a good way of justifying an event like SlutWalk is getting survivors to re-live their trauma to satisfy his need for ’evidence’ – assuming flippantly that a survivor of rape would or should come forward to contribute to a spectacle he feels entitled to witness, putting the onus on the victim of the crime, the survivor of violence, to tell their story in order to help change a society which has accommodated the crime to begin with – made me feel vaguely homicidal.

Here are some of the questions I would like to have responded with, had I not been so intent on sitting on my own hands, muzzling my inner hydra, and being appalled at how someone who claimed to be so intellectually aware of his own privilege, was clearly so emotionally and experientially not:

Why is it that we instinctively look for rape survivors to tell their stories in order to believe the statistics? Why do we not make it mandatory for convicted rapists to confess their crimes publicly instead? Why do we place the onus of social transformation on the survivor of the crime and not the criminal? Why do we place the onus of social transformation on the survivor of the crime and not on the society that has somehow turned rape into a part-and-parcel of the everyday? Can society only be moved to action by a collective pity for rape survivors, and not by a collective hatred for the act of rape?

We oppress and police women through the violence of rape and sexual assault, through the powers of language and law, through horrendous rape-report procedures, through the normalising of misogynistic cultures, procedures and ethics. And then, when a survivor of rape and/or sexual assault who manages to brave all they have been through to actually file a report and/or come to terms with what has happened, we want them to testify in cyberspace as well…because for some reason, we need a talking head to justify an event that takes a stand against victim-blaming and against rape.

Shouldn’t we, as a society, be putting a little less emphasis on turning survivors into spectacles and a little more emphasis on policing criminals?

As a twelve-year-old who was not empowered enough to say or do anything about what was happening to me, I am happy to say that the man who was rubbing up against me on the bus finally stopped when an adult, with a look of rage on her face, walked up to our seat, ignored the man, and addressed me:

“Is he making you uncomfortable?” she asked, looking at him, and then me. “If he is making you uncomfortable, you can move, you know? Just move.”

She had said it loudly, with great concern, so that everyone could hear it. She had addressed me, and not him, probably because she wondered whether she was imagining what she was seeing… just like I had wondered whether I was imagining what I was feeling. I looked up at her, we made eye contact, and the man, pressing the stop bell in a hurry, got up in a fluster and alighted the bus.

The fact that someone had seen and acknowledged what was going on concretized the fact that what had been happening was not in my head. Until today, I remember being overwhelmed by both gratitude towards a concerned stranger as well as shame at my own inability to act. The former remains. The latter has dissipated. And till today, I wonder how I would have eventually processed that incident in my child-mind, had she not intervened.

If we could nurture a culture that polices sex crime with the same vigour that it now polices gender and sexuality – culturally, legally and linguistically – I believe that incidences of rape and sexual assault will grow infinitely more rare. Over the course of all the SlutWalk debate, I have thought of this woman on the bus often and wondered why things are not as clear as they could and should be:

A crime has been committed. Speak up about it. Ignore the cultural hogwash. Police the criminal. Do not blame the victim.

I do not understand why people don’t get it. It really is that simple. And the onus is not on survivors of rape to get this message out. The onus is on everyone.

Tania De Rozario is an artist and writer. She has showcased her work in Singapore and abroad and is co-founder/curator of Etiquette, Singapore’s first annual arts event focused on feminist issues.

A Hedgebrook alumna and 2011 winner of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award for English poetry, her work has been published in various journals. She also freelances as an art writer, conducts drawing workshops at the Substation and tutors in Contemporary Contextual Studies at LASALLE College of the Arts thrice a week.

SlutWalk Is Not About Sluts

December 27, 2011

by Dr. Martha Lee

As a sexologist in Singapore, I am interested in all news related to sex and sexuality; I’m also subscribed to the news feeds of fellow sexuality educators around the world.

When I first read about the outrage of Canadian activists following the suggestion of Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to remain safe, I wondered “What are they going to do about it? What can they – or anyone – do?”

When the SlutWalk movement started, all I thought was “Good on them.” The campaign started growing. On 23 April, I shared on my Facebook page that SlutWalks had gone viral.

Even then, I did not pay much notice to it until it reached India. If they could plan a SlutWalk in New Delhi, why can’t we in Singapore? Could I make it happen? How could I? I also knew the laws in Singapore preventing any kind of public protests other than in Hong Lim Park. So what would be the point?

And besides, I rationalised, I run a one-person practice and definitely do not have the time or resources to organise a public event of any major scale. What I did instead was share the link for SlutWalk on my Facebook page. Within seconds, my Singaporean friends were in turn re-sharing the article.

On 19 June, I learned that a group of people were indeed planning a SlutWalk. I immediately shared the news on Facebook: “SlutWalk in Singapore? It blows my mind!” I also reported this on Good Vibrations Magazine which I contribute to.

On 9 July, I met Vanessa Ho, for the first time. She was facilitating a panel discussion on sex which I was part of at Post Museum. She was also one of organisers of SlutWalk Singapore. I expressed my interest to support the event, and subsequently donated towards it, even in a small way.

On 4th of Dec, I was there at SlutWalk Singapore, and it was heart-warming to witness the solidarity and out-flowing of love everywhere, in spite of the rain. 674 people showed up.

This is a movement that speaks to me because:

  • - SlutWalk shouts the message of: Don’t rape! Instead of Don’t get raped! 
  • - SlutWalk reminds us that no one deserves to live in fear of being sexually assaulted.
  • - SlutWalk speaks of sexual violence as being not about how one is dressed, but power and dominance over another.
  • - SlutWalk highlights that there should never be any excuses for victim blaming.
  • - SlutWalk is about breaking the cycle of violence and hatred that pervades the fabric of our society.

When I was pursuing my doctorate at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, the question of what a ‘slut’ actually is came up. My professor, Dr Thomas Gertz, said, “A slut is someone who has more sex than you.” Later he added, “I don’t ever want to hear any of you calling anybody a slut.” To do so is passing judgment about how one ought to lead their life and how their sexuality is to be expressed.

SlutWalk is not about sluts.

It is about the people not being afraid of being who they actually are.

It is also about a small group of individuals who are making a difference – who dare because they care.

I am looking forward to the next SlutWalk Singapore. Are you?

Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching in Singapore. She is a certified sexologist with American College of Sexologists with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality from Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She is available to provide sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conduct sexual education workshops and speak at public events in Asia. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com.