Good afternoon everyone.
First and foremost, I would like to thank this year’s organisers for giving me the opportunity to speak today, it is an absolute honour to be apart of such an important global movement. I also want to thank each and everyone of you for being here to advocate for the rights of women to have ownership over their bodies and sexuality.
In speaking here today my aim is to start catalyst for change by highlighting the attitudes that a vast majority of society holds towards women and sexual violence. I hope through sharing some of my personal experiences and insights that I am able to cause a shift in those attitudes.
I grew up in a very religious and traditional household. At the age of 18 I was sneaking out of my house to go out because my parents didn’t think it was safe for girls to go out after 10 pm, nor did they think any respectable woman should. They’ve just recently installed cameras outside my house, so looks like I won’t be doing that anymore. At 20 I learnt the art of changing in the back of my car because I was never allowed to leave the house in anything provocative or revealing, which to my parents is anything that showed my figure or my legs. At 24 I was called each and every derogatory term used to describe women because I refused have an arranged marriage. And now at the ripe age of 26 I find myself having to constantly looking over my shoulders as I walk to my car late at night from the gym or work because as a woman I don’t feel safe.
While it may not seem like it on the surface, each of these incidents, or for a better word micro-aggressions and to some degree overt precision attacks, contribute to the endemic of rape culture. It also sadly highlights the fact that as a society we have a long away to go in shifting the attitudes and beliefs we hold towards sexual violence against women.
Long before I knew I was a feminist I was catching up with a high school friend and she was telling me that she no longer drinks. Curiously, I asked her why. She proceeded to tell me that on a night out she got quite drunk, ended up at a friend’s apartment, found the guy she was crushing on at the time forcing himself on her and being horrified to stand up for herself. She told her ‘friends’, they judged her. I firmly believe it’s because of those reactions she received she told me “I was drunk and I put myself in that situation, it is my fault”. Even more recently an associate of mine disclosed to me she was almost raped. On a date where things were getting hot and heavy physically, she asked her date to stop and pull the breaks. However, he kept going. After repeating “stop” several times and having him dismiss her request, she managed to push him off her. Distraught and upset, she confronted him about his actions, only to have him laugh the entire thing off. As she told me this story I began to cry. I was devastated by the thought of not only another woman, but someone close to me, being violated in such a way. However, she was quite surprised by my reaction. She told me that other people she had mentioned this incident to had made comments like “What did you expect getting yourself in that situation?” and “It’s like taking a horse to a lake to drink water, but then not letting it”.
These responses to her experience are a part of the everyday cultural practices that excuse and tolerate sexual violence. By calling a woman a “slut” or saying that “girls allow themselves to be raped”, society not only further victimises women and their experience with rape and sexual assault, it also legitimises the entitlement and ownership men have to women and their bodies. Additionally, these myths about sexual violence being provoked by women permeate strongly within our society, operating to police female sexuality and creating barriers to women seeking reproductive healthcare. It shames. It silences. It attacks women. Such misogynistic attitudes, beliefs and language are used to socially control women. Even worse, they encourage the public to focus on the actions of women, while ignoring the roles of men and cultural ideology. This detracts from effectively preventing male violence and sexual assault.
In order to put an end to slut-shaming we require some big changes in culture and the value of women in society. It’ll be overwhelming and it exhausting, because it’s not our place to educate everyone about their sexist way’s right? But as feminists and women’s activists we need to challenge society’s ways of thinking, to promote attitudes which encourage better treatment of women, to identify situations of slut-shaming and to be aware of ourselves, the ideas we have and the language we use.
We have a long way to go but this is where it starts.
Start a conversation.
Create a movement.
Lead the change.