Slutwalk 2011: If she’s a slut, I’m one too

http://instagr.am/p/Czg2Q/
SlutWalk Toronto protest sign via @calamityjennnnn

Slutwalk Toronto, a march down the streets of Toronto to protest the shaming women based on their appearance and their choices, and blaming women for sexual assaults (check out the list of other cities participating), happened today.

Let me start by saying that I am not an authority on this event, and probably not even the best person to be explaining it. But since it came up at a dinner that included strangers last night, and I feel like I did a poor job of explaining it (I write instead of talk for a reason), I’m going to give it another shot here. You can visit the official site here, follow the twitter feed here, or follow the conversation on Twitter here.

There were some ignorant questions asked at this dinner. Mainly “Does everyone dress like sluts?” Ignorant, of course, because that suggests that a) being a slut is a real thing and not an unfairly applied term used in an effort to shame women,  and  b) links appearance to promiscuity (and with that the understanding of what “promiscuity” is), and promiscuity to deservedness (of assault or disrespect).

http://twitter.com/#!/SlutWalkTO/status/54530848074121216

But the more important question, asked this time from a woman, was “Why not call it a ‘Women’s Empowerment Walk’ instead of ‘Slutwalk’?”  I think she was coming from a good place.  Why would you want to label yourself with a word that is so offensive?  Why would you protest using a word that continues to be used to discredit women?
I tried to respond, but I didn’t have a very good answer. I guess because I hadn’t thought it through very well.  I think I’ve figured it out now.

http://twitter.com/#!/CalamityJennnnn/status/54621605124509696

Calling it “Slut” walk is not, as far as I can tell, a re-appropriation of the word “slut,” as much as it is a denouncement of those who use the word to define women – any women.

http://twitter.com/#!/SlutWalkTO/status/54615983985410048

Slut is a name unfairly given to women based on what one person, or a society as a whole, perceives them to be.  The label comes with a basket of assumptions about actions and choices, and is deliberately used to shame (even by those who attempt to re-appropriate it – see: my friends circa 2002).  It’s used to other these women, to separate them from the good and deserving women of society.  It implies that these women are less worthy of respect and protection.   It’s an excuse for hurting them and for defending the men who do the hurting.

By separating the “us” from “the sluts” we create a false sense of security.  Even though we’re collectively outraged by a judge and a police officer who come right out and victim blame/slut shame, there are many among us who harbour the same biases against women.  So by calling it Slutwalk, and participating in Slutwalk*, it effectively sends a message that “if she’s a slut, so am I.”  Because “sluts” aren’t real.

http://twitter.com/#!/balkissoon/status/54604839505756160

So why does it matter if women are called sluts?

I guess it’s a bit like why rape jokes aren’t funny.  Because even if you’re a totally nice guy who wouldn’t actually ever rape someone, there’s a good chance that someone around you thinks you’re serious and that you actually do think rape is okay. (this is a paraphrased idea from Kate Harding and others, but I couldn’t find the right link).  Making rape jokes and using derogatory language like “slut” contributes to our rape culture, and whether you mean to or not, you’re holding up a social norm that says that rape is ok as long as it only happens to bad women.

Slutwalk Toronto Protest sign via @CalamityJennnnn

Until we can get to a point where we don’t think only some women deserve a life free from violence, until we stop thinking that anyone is EVER asking to be hurt, and until we stop defending men who hurt women (whether it is because we like those men/their work, or because we don’t like the women) then we will not stop sexual assault from happening.

Until we stop dividing women into groups, and valuing them based on their perceived purity, actions or sexuality, we will not stop rape from happening.

Until we stop othering women who do not fit into a socially constructed idea of proper (usually white), pure, womanhood  (e.g. “sluts,” sex workers, women of colour, women in developing nations, women who wear short skirts or who go to parties, women who drink, women who use drugs, women who accept rides with strangers or those who accept rides with friends, women who go home with someone at a bar, women who don’t protect themselves from rape in a way that we think they should, etc. etc etc), rape will continue to happen.

So here’s to those women who were brave enough to stand up and say “We aren’t ever asking for it!” and to all the women who continue to fight for a world free of violence.

http://twitter.com/#!/JacqValencia/status/54648632200282112

*I wasn’t part of the march.  I’m not a girl who likes crowds

Update: You should also read this fabulous post on Feministing. “What might appear slutty to one person might appear totally unremarkable to another. In other words, Fagan doesn’t get to define “slutty.” No one gets to define “slutty,” because “slutty” is entirely relative. Which is especially handy for people who want to blame a woman for her own rape, since the “slut” label can be slapped on pretty much any woman, anywhere, at any time!”

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3 thoughts on “Slutwalk 2011: If she’s a slut, I’m one too

  1. An interesting and provoking post. I’m absorbing it but don’t really know what to think. Slut is a word that could be applied equally to men and women (but isn’t). It’s a dirty word, to be sure.
    I enjoy the idea of “slutwalk” but agree that having the word at the forefront of the movement may make it a tough sell for those on the outside of the movement. I’m not advocating changing the name, either, as there are obvious reasons for both sides.

    Either way, I’m enjoying reading the piece and seeing opinions on both sides.

    1. Thanks, Kev.

      Initially, I was apprehensive about the title too. I was wary because I thought that it was more about attention than activism. But once someone else started questioning in, I had to question why I felt that way. Was I wary because I didn’t want to associate myself with the word? If true, that would mean I was buying into the good girls and bad girls classification. But I think mostly I have become vested in the walk because of the negative things I’ve heard from people, commenters, and twitterers. The sheer number of people who truly believe that the way a woman dresses is at least partly to blame for an attack astounds me. I wonder how we got to this place and how we get free of it?

      What’s more, when I think of the word slut, I realize that it truly has no meaning. There are not a set list of criteria that one must meet to be labelled “slut,” but rather it is a moving target that is used to put a woman in her place. Let’s be realistic here – when “slut” is used to define a man, it is in a good natured, often congratulatory way. Even if someone is turned off by the player behaviour of a “manslut” (and notice that when it is used for a man, the word has to be altered since it is an inherently “feminine” word), there is still an undertone of admiration. This is not the case with women. And even if we were to re-appropriate the word, as some women have chosen to do, it will still be a word that describes female sexual behaviour – even if you approve of that behaviour – as something outside of normal.

  2. I like the idea of these events. I also think it is time to take the word “slut” and claim it as our own. I am a proud slut. In my early 20’s I was embarrassed of myself and did feel shame at what was then mistakes. Society labeled me. I am now strong and do as I like. I ENJOY sex. I label myself with pride.

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