SlutWalk

slutwalk by angela faz

The SlutWalk protest marches began in 2011, in Toronto, Canada, and became a movement of rallies across the world. Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance. The rallies began when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that to remain safe, ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts.’

The protest takes the form of a march, mainly by young women, where some dress in ordinary clothing and others dress provocatively, like ‘sluts.’ There are also speaker meetings and workshops. Some objectors have remarked that this approach is an example of women defining their sexuality in male terms.

Co-founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis decided to use the word slut in their response to Sanguinetti. They observe that historically, ‘slut’ has had negative connotations, and that their goal is to redeem the term. They write that women ‘are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result.’ They continue: ‘Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work.’ Sanguinetti later apologized for the remark.

The idea spread to include major cities around the globe. In India, where the slutwalk was denounced as irrelevant in the face of numerous other issues that women face, including female feticide, infanticide, dowry murders and honor killings, Rita Banerji, Indian feminist and author argues, ‘The issue at the crux of the SlutWalk is one and the same as for all the other above mentioned afflictions. It is about the recognition of women as individuals with certain fundamental rights, including that of safety and personal choices, which no one, not even the family, can violate.’

There have been a number of responses to the SlutWalk phenomenon, not all of them positive. For example, Australian commentator Andrew Bolt observed that guidance on how to dress in any given context is simply risk management, and such advice need not exclude opposition to victim-blaming. Rod Liddle agrees, saying ‘…I have a perfect right to leave my windows open when I nip to the shops for some fags, without being burgled. It doesn’t lessen the guilt of the burglar that I’ve left my window open, or even remotely suggest that I was deserving of being burgled. Just that it was more likely to happen’ But Jessica Valenti says: ‘The idea that women’s clothing has some bearing on whether they will be raped is a dangerous myth feminists have tried to debunk for decades.’

Feminists Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy have suggested that the word slut is inherently indivisible from the madonna/whore binary opposition and thus ‘beyond redemption.’ They say: ‘Women need to find ways to create their own authentic sexuality, outside of male-defined terms like slut.’ Some popular responses have also questioned the wisdom of using the word ‘slut,’ even suggesting that ‘far from empowering women, attempting to reclaim the word has the opposite effect, simply serving as evidence that women are accepting this label given to them by misogynistic men.’

Others have noted that the use of the word ‘slut’ raises the hackles of those anxious about the ‘pornification’ of everything and the pressure on young girls to look like Barbie dolls. Melinda Tankard Reist, notable for her stance against sexualization of children in modern pop culture, said: ‘I believe the name will marginalize women and girls who want to be active in violence prevention campaigns but who don’t feel comfortable with personally owning the word slut.’

Guy Randle has contrasted SlutWalk with Reclaim the Night protests, saying they ‘resisted the deep cultural pull to make women into objects rather than subjects, to be constituted by the male gaze… there was no way to watch Reclaim The Night and feel like, or be, a voyeur.’ At worst, it has been said that ‘SlutWalkers have internalized their abuse’ and SlutWalk is ‘the pornification of protest.’

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