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Dec 03

The Modern Day Feminist: My Take on Slutwalks

It’s often said that all it takes is a few words to spark a movement. A word, a phrase – sometimes they’re all that are needed to unite people, force them to take a stand, and change the course of history. On January 24th, 2011, a Toronto police officer from York University did just that when he made the flippant comment that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. Cue the Slutwalk. 

Those were the words that sparked a movement – the Slutwalk movement, which has exploded in popularity in the last two years. Cities all across the United States, Canada, and abroad are grabbing hold of the idea, and starting Slutwalks of their own. Some have gone so far to call it the most successful feminist movement in the last 20 years.

Founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis organized the first Slutwalk in Toronto back in April 2011, shortly following the police officer’s comments earlier that year. In the words of co-founder, Heather Jarvis, “We had just had enough… it isn’t about just one idea or one police officer who practices victim blaming, it’s about changing the system and doing something constructive with anger and frustration.” Jarvis hoped that at least 100 people would show up at the first rally. She never expected a crowd of over 3,000.

I’m going to be honest – my first impressions of Slutwalks were not all that positive. Slutwalks? Really? How could such a condescending name be connected to such a good cause? How is it actually promoting feminist ideals?

In the words of the founders,

Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim. 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.  – Slutwalk Toronto

It’s about changing mainstream ideas regarding rape and rape culture. It’s about taking back the word. It’s about ending the “what was she wearing?” comments. That she was “she was asking for it”. It was about giving women a platform to fight back, and correct the historical misconceptions. It was about putting the blame back where it rightfully belongs – on the perpetrators themselves. To drive home the point, many Slutwalk participants come wearing only scantily-clad clothing, as a way of nonverbally stating that nothing – your clothing, makeup, or behavior – should be justification for sexual assault.

I’m not going to lie – the name still does leave me with an uneasy feeling. However, I’m starting to think that that’s the point. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable fit. It’s supposed to be something that you have to struggle to come to terms with – it’s all part of redefining the word. It’s the only way to change deeply ingrained cultural beliefs. It’s not supposed to be easy. It got me thinking of one of my favorite quotes, written by a woman named Rosie Hardy“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

I think that the same applies to our society – the mere idea of Slutwalks themselves are meant to propel us into discomfort. They’re meant to give us new perspectives, and force us to think about rape in a different light. That’s the point. Cultural misconceptions regarding rape and women’s clothing have prevailed for too long. It’s time to change the conversation.

One Slutwalk at a time.

2 comments

  1. Johnson Harris

    The entire concept of ” Slut Walk ” is not a good idea at all , and defys all logic .
    Freedom of expression is one thing , but common sense is completely another , MOST women well know how to present themselves in Public , however one only needs to Walk Down King Street ( Melbourne Australia ) at 1 am to see so many examples of attire not to wear in a Public place .

    The goal should never be to Walk the streets in Attire that will cause the Male to present with some form of Sexual Arousal . Now the argument that Rape is about power may well be true , but personal presentation is extremely important , and its just good common sense to use a little logic . Men and Women ..LIKE IT OR NOT , are very different , this is exactly why Big brothers look after Little sisters , as he knows Men will always be looking to have Sex with his sister , Its his duty to Protect .

    Use common sense , and think about your own Dignity when attending Clubs / Social events . The Likes of ” Slut Walk ” puts the womens movement back 50 years , and decreases Respect for Individuals . If you were an Overweight Lesbian , no one cares what you wear anyhow ..Others , use your better judgement .

    1. Kristen W

      The sad truth of the matter is that women aren’t just raped when they’re wearing short skirts and high heels, on their way out for a night on the town. It happens to women wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Sweatpants. In their own home, or while meeting a friend. In fact, according to a special report by the Bureau of Justice, the majority of sexual assaults involve someone that the victim knows. 68% of women considered their rapist to be a friend (http://www.cwlc.org/resources/rape-resource-page/misconceptions-about-rape). The majority of the time, it’s not some stranger in a dark alleyway, preying on promiscuously dressed women, who are “asking for it” due to their clothing choices. It’s about much more than that.

      The whole point of the Slutwalk is to state that a women’s clothing should never be part of the discussion. Women, like men, should be able to wear what they want out in public – without fear of repercussions.

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