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Slut Walk

August 15, 2011

In January of this year, a member of Toronto’s police force made a comment blaming women who dress like “sluts” for putting themselves at risk of rape. This is an old sentiment, and a damaging one. It places the blame for the crime on the victim instead of the criminal, it turns women’s clothing choice into a public safety concern, and it isn’t even vaguely based in the truth. We should all know this by now but I’ll trot it out again – most rapes are not of the “stranger danger” type –  they are committed by people the victims know, usually in an environment where the victim feels safe. And you know what? Most of that is irrelevant anyway. Even if dressing promiscuously was HIGHLY correlated with being the victim of a rape, the blame is still on the rapist! Women of colour are far more likely to be victims of rape than non-minority women – is it right to blame them for being Black or Aboriginal? Of course not. (I am not analogizing that ethnicity and choice of style are equivalent, I am illustrating that the blame for the crime must fall on the person who commits it).

That’s your feminism 101 primer for today, folks. Now let’s talk about the Slut Walk.

In response to the thoughtless comment by the Toronto police officer, women have come together all over North America to stage SlutWalks. They dress in their sluttiest gear, or in the clothes they were wearing when they were raped (often pyjamas) or just in whatever they want to wear, and they march through town together. I’ll let the Toronto organizers speak for themselves:

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. 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. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.

It’s a worthwhile cause, and an action that clearly resonates with many people. It is not without controversy, however. Feminist Frequency’s great round-up of critiques is a fantastic place to start. Peopleofcolourorganize! has an excellent post on the privilege and whiteness of Slutwalk.

For my own comment, I am going to crosspost something I said in the online community Metafilter (relevant thread) as I said it more succinctly there than I ever would here:

I’m on the board of directors of a local politically-active, lefty, feminist women’s organization and my group (at the urging of myself and a couple other members) has decided that we will not hold a slut walk. I admire the intent of Slut Walk and I think that it is engendering some really great discussion, but I’m not of the camp that finds it useful to reclaim the word slut. As a lesbian, too much of my identity has been forced to be about my sexuality, I don’t want to be reduced even further. I don’t find that reclaiming words in general is very useful, and I have problems with feminism/women’s issues only getting attention when it can be illustrated with female nudity. Also, I’m fat. Women’s events that involve showing off how hot and sexy and in control of our own sexuality we all are leaves me feeling excluded.

That said, the great thing about everyone having different experiences and perspectives is that it leads us to focus our efforts on different facets of the problem. We can’t (nor should we) all be focusing on the same thing in the same way – diversity is strength after all. If another group wanted to hold a Slut Walk, I would respect and celebrate their right to do it, even as I would not participate myself. Meanwhile, I’ll be fundraising to send our group’s rep to Ottawa to speak to Parliament. We all do what we can.

One more thing I’d like to add is that if you take the SlutWalk, remove the “slut” part of it, what you have left is Take Back the Night – an established action declaring that women should have the right to be safe from violence, that we should be able to walk sans escort without being at risk, that our relationships should be violence free, and that we can stand up for ourselves and demand our rights. This is a movement with a history, that does not exclude women from marginalized communities. Sure, it does not directly target the Toronto Police, but really, that shitty comment was one sign of a larger social illness. Focusing on the word slut too much distracts from the bigger purpose. Take Back the Night is all about the bigger purpose. It might be happening in your town in September!

So, I’m not a defender of the SlutWalk, but like a good advocate of freedom of speech I support the right of those for whom it does resonate to organize and participate as they will. I kind of hope this movement burns bright and fast and is over soon though, so that one which does not reinforce the focus on women’s sexuality, their slim white bodies, and reclaiming words that should really just be trashed, can take it’s place.

Back to that Metafilter thread I mentioned: a subsequent commenter mentioned that the word we should reclaim is “Feminist.” Now THAT, I’m on board with.

One Comment leave one →
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