Saturday, December 3, 2011

SlutWalk Singapore: More Talk, Less Shame

A while ago, I was involved in a photoshoot for SlutWalk SG. It was for an art exhibition, so I agreed without hesitation. In the context of art, it was safe; it was acceptable to sit by the river in the middle of the day, legs open, cleavage showing, the word SLUT between my thighs. To make a point and in the name of art, sure I'd do it.

Yesterday I asked for the photo, planning to use it as a profile picture this SlutWalk weekend. But I couldn't. A picture of myself in a provocative position taken in an artistic context, now removed from the safety of a gallery and entering the mainstream. I wasn't a subject anymore, I was just me.

This is where the beauty of SlutWalk comes in. The reason why it's so powerful. The reason why we need it.

I felt ashamed, and it was a familiar feeling. This is what slut-shaming is about.

When I was 16, I was told by someone I was involved with who was literally twice my age that no one would love me for anything because I was more trouble than I was worth, that this was as good as it would get for me. This went on for a long time. At 16, I believed it, and continued to believe it for a long time after, and I was ashamed that I amounted to so little.

When I was 18, I was working at a bar and one day at a staff party, my manager, who was standing behind me, lets his hand wander down my top. I left. I cried. I told. He eventually denies it and says, "She must've been drunk, why would I want to touch her?" and he gets away with it. And I was ashamed that I let him get away with it. He was supposed to be looking out for me.

When I was 19, I was at a New Years Eve party at a relative's house, and a family friend who was a few years older than me also let his hand sneak into my sexy new top that I didn't think much about wearing because, hey, it's just going to be family, right? It happened right there in the middle of all the festivities while taking a group photo. I felt like an interesting ornament on a table you play with when you're bored. I was ashamed and felt like I was naked in the middle of a crowded room. I thought that if this could happen to me in front of my whole family and go unnoticed, I must hardly be a challenge; I must hardly be worth the chase. And till today I am ashamed that I manage to pretend like I don't remember on the rare occasion that I see him.

This feeling of shame began when I was 16 and it has gone on for 8 years, with all these and countless other experiences, most less traumatic, some a lot more. And I think it's time to stop the shame. For me, and for every girl who has ever felt anything like this.

I wish I'd believed at 16 that I was so much better than that. I wish I believed at 18 that it wasn't my fault because I'd had too much to drink, or that at 19, it wasn't my fault because I was wearing a sexy top.

I believe it now, and here's where the shame stops. With SlutWalk in mind, I'm going to stop being ashamed a little more every day. And if that means speaking up about issues I've never told anyone, then let's do it. Because if I believed when I was 16 what I believe now, I would have spent a lot less time out of the past 8 years being ashamed, and a lot more time being outraged and working towards a solution.

We have a right to be angry. And we have a right to be outraged. But there's no reason why we should be ashamed; we shouldn't be and we mustn't be.

It's hard to talk about this because we've been told not to talk about it. Go with the flow, keep the peace, don't rock the boat. But we should talk about it, because every time we talk about something that's hard to talk about, it gets a tiny bit easier.

For me, for us, for every girl who has had it far worse and lives with painful secrets, this is the plan and it begins with SlutWalk Singapore: More Talk, Less Shame.

Find out more about SlutWalk Singapore.