Over the last month or so, I’ve been following the development of a series of protests that is taking place throughout the U.S. known as SlutWalks, that began after a Toronto police officer made a comment how women could prevent being sexually assaulted if they, “Avoid dressing like sluts.”
Since the movement’s inception, the SlutWalk campaign has gone viral. Facebook groups have emerged to promote SlutWalks in Europe, Asia, Australia and most major US cities. In Texas, the first of several was held in Dallas in April, future SlutWalks are planned for in Austin and Houston.
Comments like those made by the misguided police officer are all too common. They tend to reflect the beliefs that have been ingrained in nearly all of us as part of a culture that jumps to blame the victim, to blaming anyone and anything but the actual rapist. And such a culture is not just demeaning; it’s dangerous, because it focuses on the outfits and behavior of victims rather than the criminal behavior of perpetrators.
Latinas in particular have always been on the underside of both victim blaming and hypersexualization. Adding to the mix, a crime as horrific as gang rape is rarely seen by individuals, through the lens of culture, race, and class, this suddenly morphs into an indictment against all Latinos.
The idea behind the Slutwalks is simple: rape is rape, no matter what the victim wears, says or does.
Yet, some lose sight of the intent of the marches and feel the marches “celebrate” promiscuity and other forms of sexual expression. Critics of the marches are troubled over the use of the word “slut,” as well as how some participants dress in the marches–some wear leather, fishnets and low-cut tops, where some people prefer marching in jeans and T-shirts. Both feminists and anti-feminists have expressed reservations about the words’ use. The only difference, anti-feminists would often show their true colors with nasty victim-blaming remarks.
Interestingly, blogger Aura Blogando takes it a step further and claims that the demonstrations are organized by white women who are “utilizing universalist language” to “[ratify] existing power structures,” therefore undermining the concerns of “women of color.” She advises her readers not to participate because to do so is nothing more than “tokenization.”
At times like these it is important to point out destructive behavior within our own community than simply to ignore it. Honest criticism has nothing to do with gender privileges afforded to me; but to take advantage of a teachable moment. Blogando’s accusations are not only overgeneralized, but do more harm than good..
To quote Fredrick Douglas: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” To ask the Latina/o community not to get involved is dangerous and a clear demonstration of the exact measure of injustice some are willing to tolerate.
Though abuse exists in all kinds of families, for Hispanic Texans, it has become an epidemic. According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, 77% of all Hispanic Texans indicate that either themselves, a family member and/or a friend have experienced some form of domestic violence. Indicating that approximately; 5.2 million Hispanic Texans are personally affected by domestic violence. Two out of every 5 Hispanic Texan females (39%) experience severe abuse and 1 out of every 5 Hispanic Texas females (18%) report being forced to have sex against their will. This is just the tip of iceberg of an issue that is too complex to be addressed in just one blog post. Yet, the common factor that transcends socioeconomical lines, Hispanic Texans, like the general population, have both a limited definition of domestic violence and have a willingness to blame victims for the abuse they suffer.
As a pro-feminist Latino, I am proud to stand in solidarity with the overarching intentions of many of those who have organized varying SlutWalks. This is why Somos Tejanos is proud to support and participate in SlutWalk Austin on June 11.
While it is true some Latino communities have a strong distrust of law enforcement, we must keep in mind that this is just a segment of the larger Latino/a community. Her critique is unfair and unrealistic, and places the burden on the organizers to have a full understanding of every issue affecting every community when it comes to sexual assault.
Violence prevention requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes, such as, poverty, lack of parental supervision, eroding public education systems, and community disintegration. In order for this shift to occur, a multi-racial and multi-issue coalition must emerge.
Debates must always be forced back to the issues. We must all engage in a political education and realize that using our individual and collective voice is critical to the democratic process. If we remain silent, then the people for whom we claim to advocate will continue to suffer. This is something that I personally cannot accept.
I applaud SlutWalk Houston for including a male in the organizing process. Often missing from these discussions are the male voices to speak out against violence. Especially missing are Latinos and the need to call for re-defining the cultural term machismo. It is a gap in the discourse that needs to be filled; otherwise, it only diverts attention to women’s behavior rather than men’s responses to it. As a Latino, I am disgusted with the misogynistic ideas that are embedded in our culture, which must immediately stop.
Social learning theory states that social behavior is learned by observing other people’s actions and the consequences of those actions. Youth are likely to model the behavior that receives the outcomes they desire. Attitudes, behavior, and environment can impact and be impacted by each other. Moreover, attribution theory suggests that individuals try to understand what happens to them and others by identifying or assigning causes to events. It emphasizes coaching and reinforcing pro-social behaviors.
The incident in Cleveland, Texas is a perfect example how racial and cultural stereotypes are reinforced. The victim is Latina, and all the arrested males are African American. As news about the gang rape emerged, battle lines formed. Quanell X and the New Black Panther Party on one side and Mujeres Unidas on the other. Criticizing the media’s role, Michelle GarciÂa profoundly put it:
On the eve of a Houston activist’s town hall meeting in Cleveland, a Houston Chronicle columnist noted: “In a place like Cleveland, where the black side of town is still known as the Quarters, it’s not beyond reason to question whether race is playing a role.”
But the “role” is not defined. Was it a factor in the crime, the arrests or the quality of justice that will follow? Once again, lines are drawn and choices made. An 11-year-old girl or the town? Race or gender? Missing from coverage of this story is the realization that the nature of the media reaction forces people to take sides. We outsiders and journalists are not mere observers but participants.
More profoundly were her personal insights:
I realized years later that, after the Gaitan case, my relationships with men became tinged with aggression and wariness. It was the confused reaction of an angry girl who had learned unspoken rules about sexuality and blame. I watched a woman be sacrificed by my community, and I felt betrayed. As Cleveland draws its lines around race, power and reputation, I wonder if girls there–white, black, Latina and Asian–feel like I once did, scrutinized by outsiders looking in, but abandoned at home.
I know there will be some who may question the place popular culture has in this dialogue. However, popular culture does have an impact on our perceptions. One has to wonder how much seeps into the social spheres of different communities. Take for example the pejorative terms used when a Latino/a does not engage in behaviors perceived to be characteristic of Latinos — “acting white” or “different from them.”
We can no longer sit on the sidelines on the topic of domestic violence. Action speaks louder than words; to do nothing tangible than make these statements a reality, is nothing more than a farce. More importantly, as Tejanos, how can we advocate for equality if we turn a blind eye to the oppression occurring within our own community? If we don’t change our own consciousness, we cannot change our own actions or demand change from others. We should feel ashamed when we see fathers, brothers and uncles treat women with contempt, and when it comes to rape, it only lessens us as men.
The time is now to say BASTA!
(This article first appeared on Somos Tejanos)