Children at Slutwalk?

June 25, 2011

I went to Slutwalk Wellington today. Loads of others will now doubt be blogging about the event, it’s message, how it went and what it set out to achieve. I wanted to talk about my experience today and specifically, the fact that I brought my almost-five-year old to the protest.

I thought about it long and hard and discussed it with my partner and we made the decision jointly. I asked myself why I wanted to bring her. What was my honest motivation? On one had I wanted to help expand the message of Slutwalk to include the obvious but not overtly obvious point that Rape affects children. It affects them when they are survivors and it affects them when their family members, friends and neighbours are survivors. That made me wonder if perhaps I was using Anabelle to send a message, and considering she couldn’t really give her informed consent to this I questioned myself if this was the best motive.

I tried to identify the potential questions she would ask me. Perhaps I was shattering her innocence by instigating these conversations with her at this age. But for many girls and boys this innocence is a luxury and I would rather that she was exposed to these ideas through me in an environment of strength and protest than as a victim.

I worried that she might get scared, but thankfully, in New Zealand violence at protests is relatively uncommon. I don’t think I saw any obvious law-enforcement there today. I knew this would be a low-probability risk.

In the end I knew I wanted to bring her because we have a right to have families represented at protests. I wanted her to learn that sometimes we have to make a loud noise for what we believe in with groups of others. That marching with others who believe the same thing you do is a powerful and empowering experience.

So I let her decide. I explained that I was going to the protest because it doesn’t matter what we wear, no-one is allowed to hurt us. She got it. ‘We’re not allowed to hurt people’ she said, confirming her comprehension. So I asked her, what would you say if someone said, ‘don’t wear short skirts because it might make someone hurt you’. I would say ‘no’ she said with a tone of c’mon-surely-everyone-knows-that’s-ridiculous-like-duh voice.

So we went.

She was great. I made sure we went to the toilets first, I had plenty of snacks and checked in with her before, during and after the march. She walked when I asked her to and despite occasionally complaining it was too loud and being a bit bored during the speeches she was fabulous.

My favourite moment was when following shouts of ‘2 – 4 – 6 – 8, there is no excuse for rape’ and ‘what do we want? No rape! When do we want it? Now!’ She turned to me and said; ‘Mum, who’s Ray?’

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privilege.
a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons

and it’s dawning on me that I have this. It’s a funny thing, when as a woman, as a feminist, I’ve spent so much of my energy fighting for what I deserve (y’know, equal rights, etc.) and it’s taken me this long to really really understand everything I have. Privilege.  White privilege. Middle-class privilege. Education privilege. Cisgendered (look that one up here) privilege. Able-bodied privilege…. These are a few of the things that automatically make my life a bit easier than a woman of colour, a woman with disabilities, a woman in poverty, heck most women out there.

At first I felt a bit ashamed. I have high standards for myself and I thought I was more aware than all that. But then I remembered I wrote an article for Muse Feminist Magazine about how one of our contemporary challenges is to help fight to extend all rights for all women in all places… and a small wave of relief washed over me. Maybe I’m not starting from square one. But I still have a lot to learn.

Minimal awareness, where I am now, is just the first step. This needs to deepen and grow to inform my actions and words. Check in with me later to see how that’s working out for me.

In the meantime, here is the backstory. I twigged to the topic of privilege by reading criticism of the new ‘SlutWalk’ movement. On one side it’s a great thing, challenging rape culture, especially as perpetrated by police and dumb and misogynist police speaking in public, on the other hand, it’s being accused of making some groups invisible by ignoring their existing negative experiences of the police and related systems.

In other words, if you have the time and feel safe enough to protest the police on a ‘slut walk’ then you’ve got smaller problems than many other women out there. Follow the link and read the blog. It’s interesting and illuminating. I don’t agree with everything it says but that’s the beauty of opinion. I don’t learn anything from people who’s opinions echo mine.

It made me think. I hope others will too. Visiting the SlutWalk Toronto site I can see that they are listening, learning and engaging in conversations about privilege. I applaud them for their courage to have organised the walk and to engage respectfully in discussion. Not all do so.

I’ll still aim to go to SlutWalkAotearoa: Wellington because I believe that I should use my privilege to make a noise where and when I can. But I will also work to increase my awareness of my own blindspots and assumptions.

Here is another good link which explains privilege.