After plans to assemble were temporarily cancelled due to a financial wrinkle, organizers were pleased that this year’s Slutwalk went off without a hitch. Participants gathered in the hesitant rays of the sun before the march to listen to speeches from various community activists.
Slutwalk was held on April 21st at Victoria Park in downtown London on one of the first nice days of the year – something that didn’t go unnoticed by participants. The organizers of Slutwalk say that a much-needed shift in perception was what they’re aiming for with the walk. The fact that rape is never the victim’s fault should be self-evident, but it isn’t always upheld in the court of public opinion.
Slutwalk isn’t merely about a female’s right to act ‘slutty’ – it has more to do with the notion that women’s choices in the ways that they present themselves to the world should not be held up as evidence for crimes inflicted upon them. Some participants chose to wear their favourite dresses, others wore bras and shorts. Scrawled slogans were a common body decoration. I had a heartbreaking conversation with a woman about the notion of bundling up and relative catcalls. Women are still harassed in the streets and this has little to do with the clothes they choose to wear and more with the power that the catcaller chooses to exercise. The sad truth is that females are objectified no matter how many layers they choose to don.
Hackles have been raised over feminists’ use of male-defined vocabulary to describe the movement. Some feel that it detracts from the intended goal of reappropriation by following the old Madonna/whore binary. The slut in Slutwalk is a provocative mantle, used to draw the attention of the press to feminist issues. The core message is: your body, your rules.
“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
This statement, spoken by Const. Michael Sanguinetti during an safety forum at Osgoode Hall Law School, set off a wave of responses. Feminists (male and female) were fed up with the onus placed upon the victim. Sanguinetti (who later apologized for his comments) placed the responsibility in the hands of scantily clad female victims, erasing all other victims of sexual violence with his ill-chosen words. The victim-blaming attitude trivializes the will and autonomy of the rapist. Soon, Slutwalks were popping up like franchises. The movement spans continents and languages, yet is fairly decentralized. There is no Slut HQ.
The organizers of the march focused on the intersectionality of the feminist community of London – a friendly reminder that not all feminists are of the same vein. Stephanie Kapusta, an activist with the Women’s Issues Network at UWO, spoke of prejudices that members of the trans community face on a daily basis. Kapusta offered a few reflections on language and the dominant discourses that emerge from them: “Trans women often face a similar issue to cis women who are raped,” Kapusta said, framing a link between the two communities. “Both victims are often called evil deceivers – trans individuals are accused of gender fraud and rape victims are often accused of wearing hems that are just a little too short.”
Detractors of the movement often focus on the provocative nature of the word itself. Slutwalk takes the intent behind Take Back the Night and shoves it into the daylight. A person’s clothing is not an invitation to rape them. The movement also focuses on victim blaming, a focus that became all too necessary in the wake of CNN’s Steubenville coverage.
The London chapter of Slutwalk was organized by Jess Kiley and Jessica Fay, with assistance from the Women’s Issues Network. Kiley addressed the crowd, starting off with some simple rules: “Obey traffic lights and make sure you stay on the sidewalk.” As for troublemaking, “We’ve never had an issue with that,” Jess added.
Louise Pitre, Executive Director of the London Sexual Assault Centre, spoke for her work: “If anyone would ever doubt that we need to reclaim the word slut, this is why. It is often worse to be raped than to be a rapist.” Pitre rattled off a list of the recent victims featured in the media: Amanda Todd, Jane Doe of Steubenville, Audrie Pott, and Rehtaeh Parsons. These women are lightening rods for media attention but they only represent a small sample of the victims of sexual violence.
I need Slutwalk because I’m more likely to shut a catcaller up by telling him that I have a boyfriend, rather than a curt no. I need Slutwalk because the threat of another male holds more authority than my own refusal. Slutwalk is a way to dismantle that way of thinking. The movement is not so much about getting rid of what we don’t want but being clear about what we do want. We need a new narrative — one that has a holistic view regarding female sexuality and the right to exercise it, as well as protections for victims of violence.
Kennedy Ryan just finished her second year of a plain old degree in MIT. She loves white button down shirts, cinnamon gum and Johnny Cash. She hates people who hum in public. Writing this in the third person was really awkward for her.