Feminist Direct Action

Last week, SlutWalk took place all over Brazil. According to the São Paulo organizers, the event, occurring simultaneously in several cities in the country, aims to raise awareness about the fact that “women are not responsible for the violence they suffer; the survivor is never to blame — the aggressor is.”

We should remember that at the very core of the SlutWalk is the struggle against slutshaming, the practice of control of behavior based on systematic humiliation and intimidation of women that deviate from some standards of proper sexual conduct. The effect of that is a regulation of female sexuality even more rigorous than the male conduct, which normalizes gender inequality.

Coupled with that, there’s “rape culture:” cultural elements that, even from the point of view of “respectable” (non-criminal) society, normalize or relativize certain forms of rape and abuse of the (generally female) body. The result is that rape and abuse (physical and emotional) become tools of intimidation, punishment and, ultimately, correction of the female sexuality.

When we look at the whole picture, we can see the link between phenomena: slutshaming can and does serve as a springboard to the justification of abuse and rape. An example would be the labeling of certain women as “sluts” to then excuse or play down the violation of their intimacy and sexual dignity. After all, they had it coming because they were “asking for it,” and thus they are to blame. (See also this article, in which I criticize the conflation of statistical probability with female moralizing.)

The profoundly anti-libertarian character of that practice is obvious: it’s an attack against the sexual freedom and consenting arrangements between independent adults. Ultimately, it can end up denying women their right to consent to male advances if they in any way deviate from certain rules of behavior.

Brazilian culture has historically been marked by sexism. In 1927, individualist anarchist amd labor organizer Maria Lacerda de Moura, one of the feminist pioneers in Brazil, wrote the article “Seduzidas e desonradas” (“Seduced and Dishonored”) for O Combate newspaper, where she denounced the double standard for morality and slutshaming. She focused on the value attributed to virginity and marriage, and the harsh penalties incurred by the deviants:

“And poor that woman who forgets protocol.”

“If now she is not lapidated, if now she is not buried alive like vestals, if now she is not stoned to death, if now she is not subjected to the tortures of the fanatic mobs of yesteryear, she is now treated to suicide: she is compelled to abandon independent life, because literature, press, and everyone else point their fingers to her, calling her ‘bastard,’ ‘shameful,’ ‘dishonored,’ ‘dishonest,’ opening up to her the doors of cheap prostitution in the streets. The victim is surrounded by the trail of misery, syphilis, brothels, humiliations, hospitals, and the common gutter.”

“Wretched moral of colonels,* cowards, and cretins.”

In Maria Lacerda de Moura’s Brazil, pre-marriage virginity taboos still catalyzed sexist attitudes. In SlutWalk 2014’s Brazil, we have the spread of private pictures and videos, naked or having sex, via WhatsApp, quickly viralized and publicly exposed. It’s revenge porn, the “vengeance” of a former sex partner, that leaks private pictures and videos as if they were porn, often with explicit purpose of shaming the victim.

As in Maria Lacerda de Moura’s days, girls who were victim of this immoral and criminal dissemination are humilliated, intimidated, persecuted, and abused, unfolding a cycle of slutshaming. They are victims, but they are blamed and abuse is excused in their real life relationships or on the internet, something that can lead and has led to suicide. Times have changed, but that “wretched moral of colonels, cowards, and cretins” persists.

How can we change it? In the feminist tradition, direct action is extremely important in promoting bottom up social change, without resorting to the coercive state. Charles Johnson refers to solidarity and resistance forms employed by feminists historically to change social attitudes and promote help for women in need, such as “groups, speak-outs, culture-jamming, building grassroots networks of battered women’s shelters, rape crisis centers, and other feminist spaces” that originally had no connection to the government.

In this proud tradition of feminist direct action, updated to fight against the 21st century forms of slutshaming, we have six feminist 16-year old girls who created a prototype of application for smartphones named For You.

The idea is to support teenage girls who have had their pictures leaked on the internet. The app creates a safe haven where they can meet other victims and debate themes related to revenge porn (complete with educational tabs on legislation, manifestos on how it isn’t their fault, victims’ testimonies, etc.), and have ambassadors set up local support groups that fight the intimidation the victims might suffer. In a video, they explain how they want to use technology to raise awareness about online abuse and empower women.

“If they use apps to humilliate us, we fight back using apps to empower and organize ourselves,” says the motto of the group formed by Camila Ziron, Estela Machado, Hadassa Mussi, Larissa Rodrigues, and Letícia Santos. They are taking part in Technovation Challenge, a competition in which the winner group will take home $10,000 in financing and support for development.

Female liberation is being and will be achieved through education and the broadening of social cooperation networks. This brings us to a view of social feminist change focused on sociology, evolution, and micro-actions. That is also how freedom from the state will be reached. Is that a coincidence? Not at all, for female emancipation is but a part of the progress toward a free society.

* “Colonels” are typical figures of local power in Brazil, the title having little to do with the military rank of the same name. Their system of rule has been called “colonelism” (“coronelismo”).

Translated from Portuguese into English by Erick Vasconcelos.

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