Marie Claire South Africa by Afika Jadezwani
Time’s up for misogyny, the patriarchy, respectability politics imposed on women, and all the violent derogatory labels that stem therefrom. Time has been up for all the misogynistic tomfoolery since this wave of feminism (womanism if you prefer) petered out into all conversations pertaining to social issues. So why then, in 2018 do individuals who identify as women or non-binary still have to defend their right to wear whatever they want, enjoy sex, or use profane language? A video from last year’s (Amber Rose) #SlutWalk resurfaced over the past week, where a participant who also happens to be an actress, model and activist, Samirah Raheem, had clearly had enough (like the rest of us) and decided to reclaim the sexist slur ‘slut’ in an exasperating interview with the conservative and controversial YouTuber Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson.
And ICYMI, watch it below before we break down why it was the ultimate deconstruction of archaic social constructs.
Bruh this shit got me in tears 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/5pbTq61bdk
— Sir Shaketh of Tables 🧔🏾 (@CrisLuvsErrBody) 12 July 2018
I’ve watched this video clip at least five times now, and there are three parts of this interview that had me exclaiming ‘preach!’ that I want to touch on:
1. Modesty empowers some. Nudity empowers others.
Jesse: ‘Are you dressed slutty today?’
Samirah: ‘No, I’m dressed like a woman.’
Celebrities such as Amber Rose, Cardi B, Blac Chyna, Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, and our very own Zodwa ‘Wabantu’ Libram have all been this decade’s media fodder for embracing nudity, owning their bodies and their sexuality. This violent experience is no different for ordinary women like them, who continue to be publicly shamed and have respectability politics imposed on them daily. I am by no means conservative and although, I do not overtly own my sexual prowess (or express it publicly), I am a strong advocate for women who choose to do so publicly. And I hate to quote myself, but when I wrote a column titled Can I just dress naked in peace, please? a couple of months ago, I was fuming at how women who have an exhibitionist approach to style are constantly shamed and jeered at as a result of misogyny and the internalisation thereof. In it, I said; ‘The policing of women who choose to show off their bodies is about ascribing value. Where it goes a little something like this: Naked = cheap and trashy, Modest = respectable.’
‘We have internalised misogyny to such an extent that women shame each other for wearing naked clothing, immediately equating modesty with being “respectable.” Dressing more naked (whether you’re skinny or curvy) shouldn’t ever be seen as an indicator of morality,’ I added, echoing the point Samirah was putting across to Jesse in the interview.
2. There’s no correlation between age and what we do with our bodies
Jesse: ‘How old are you?’
Body counts, fertility, abortion debates, and the overall policing of our bodies are all topics of discussion in which women often find themselves having to defend their right to do whatever we want with our bodies. The ‘body count’ chat is especially tiring considering the fact that the concept of a body count is a mere social construct; it’s a non-issue. It’s just a sexist concept created to shame women for enjoying sex, and it’s always attached to age to add more ‘weight’ to the perceived shame. Saying ‘she’s 24 and she’s slept with 12 men’ is an observation about as useful as ‘water is wet’.
So my interpretation of Miss Raheem’s response here is that society is under the absurd impression that our bodies do not belong to us but rather the paternalistic spaces (read: everywhere we go) we find ourselves in. Girls are body shamed as early as age 5, 13-year olds going through puberty are hypersexualised as their bodies undergo changes, women in their late 20s are told the clock is ticking, and women over 35 are rendered reproductively unviable. All this speaks to how no matter how old we are, the world feels entitled to the feminine physique, and clapping back with ‘I’m grown’ asserts that women do not need to answer to anyone with regards to what they do with their body parts.
‘I own my body. My body is not a political playground. It’s not a place for legislation, it’s mine and it’s my future.’
3. Sometimes sex positivity has nothing to do with sex
Jesse: ‘So you sleep around with a lot of men?’
Samirah: ‘No, actually I’m a virgin.’
Firstly, Peterson assumed Samirah is heterosexual, and while that may be true (we don’t know), it’s none of our business. Secondly, his question was intended to shame not just his interview subject, but all women who fully exercise their sexual autonomy. Of course, he did not achieve this because he incorrectly conflated sex positivity with promiscuity – another word which doesn’t actually mean anything. As Samirah so rightfully says, ‘it doesn’t matter what a woman’s sexual history is, a slut is just a word that you and your fellow penises made.’
In an interview with Dazed, she summed up her approach to Jesse’s questions; ‘I guess I want people to know that this irate response was to the irrational environment.’
Social media already reclaimed the words ‘hoe’ and ‘b*tch’, while ‘slut’ has been lesser embraced outside of the actual march. I think that’s changing pretty fast, as women are subverting sexist narratives on and offline.