There is something about a large group of women marching down a busy, public street in the light of day that forces us to confront false ideas about sexual assault. All the better if a lot of the women are half-naked. There are no hoards of men chasing after them due to their lack of clothing. There is nothing scary, dangerous, or even inherently sexy about the women’s bodies as they walk past the neighborhood café and drugstore. Rape and sexual mayhem is not compulsively breaking out in their wake, as the women chant “Yes mean yes, and no means no” holding signs that say “Slut” and “You have no right to touch me.”
Is this the new symbol of feminism?
Origins of Sluts Walking
SlutWalk is a grassroots movement that protests the belief that any aspect of a woman’s appearance might explain or excuse rape. The first SlutWalk was organized in Toronto, Canada on April 3rd as a response to a Toronto police officer’s remark that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” as a rape prevention measure. Since then, SlutWalk protest marches have spread like wildfire, surfacing across the U.S. and internationally as well, most recently in Australia and India.
The use of the word “slut” has sparked a debate about whether SlutWalk’s title is a positive or negative for the feminist movement. I must admit, when I first read Jessica Valenti’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post, the use of the word “slut” made me cringe. Criticism of SlutWalk’s messaging has come from several parties, including within the feminist community like Feminist Frequency. Others believe the usage of the word “slut” combats the misogynistic and dangerous way society uses women’s sexuality to discredit them, whether the context is sexual or not. Now, Fem2pt0 has been invited to cosponsor SlutWalkDC this August, and it’s time we looked at the pros and cons.
Pros of SlutWalk
Young women have been inspired to organize themselves against sexual assault
The protests have injected some fresh energy into the feminist movement
The protests consistently attract media coverage as they occur in different cities
The messaging is attacking the victim-blaming attitude and rape myths prevalent in our culture
By re-claiming the word “slut”, we can stop it from being a justification for sexual assault
Cons of SlutWalk
The word “slut” has been used to shame, disrespect, dismiss, and silence women
The use of the word “slut” plays into virgin/whore dichotomy
The scantily clad protestors are personifying the hypersexualized exploitation of women
The word “slut” is detracting attention away from the actual issue of stopping sexual violence
I think SlutWalk has potential to be a positive trend that attracts younger women who don’t currently identify with feminism or are advocates for women’s issues. The simplicity of SlutWalk’s point – no matter what I wear or how I appear, you have not right to harass, touch or assault me – is easy to support and hard to argue against. I understand how this approach is not going to seem right for everyone, but I think its potential to raise consciousness in the mainstream is something to consider.
Society uses the word “slut” to separate women “who are asking for it” from other women who deserve to be protected and respected. This separation is dangerous and illogical because women from all walks of life can and have experienced sexual assault. We need to take away the language society uses to make that separation and stop women’s expression of sexuality as being seen as a negative. Is SlutWalk an opportunity to do this?
Readers: What do YOU think?
Fem2pt0 has been asked to be a cosponsor of SlutWalk DC, scheduled for August 13th. Leave us a comment and let us know: should the Fem2pto community be a cosponsor of SlutWalk?
Photo Credits: Barbara Cook, The Guardian