I have been torn on the idea of writing a post on the SlutWalk movement for months, but decided that since the movement is coming to the Lansing area (tomorrow, in fact!) I would share some information on it. The idea behind the SlutWalk is one that I whole heartedly support, to end victim-blaming in instances of sexual assault. However, there are definitely elements within this movement that leave me questioning the inclusiveness, which I plan to explore, but first want to give some background on the movement itself.
The SlutWalk movement was born this past Spring in Toronto, Canada after a police officer told a group of college women that if they hoped to escape sexual assault, they should avoid dressing like “sluts.” An angry group of young men and women took to the streets to rally around an end to victim-blaming, many dressed in bras, corsettes and other attire that our culture perceives to be “slutty” or “suggestive”. (To be fair, there are also many protestors who take to the streets in jeans and hoodies.) While these invidividuals march, they demand an end to blaming the victim for their assault, while hoping to strip the world “slut” of its misogynist sting and reclaim female sexual power. This grassroots movement has spread from Toronto to over 70 cities worldwide, with activisits turning to social media to organize.
To start, I think it is great to see so many young activists rallying around such an important cause. We live in a world where women are blamed for their own assault. (I am using gendered language here, because in most instances, victims of sexual assault are female and perpetrators are male. I recognize that this is not always the case, yet, for the sake of writing, I plan to use these pronouns.) We are taught that conforming to a standard of beauty that is unattainable for most is advantageous, yet when one looks or acts sexy, they are “asking for it.” In our world, “no means no and yes means yes”, unless the woman is “playing hard to get.” Or really wants it and just doesn’t know it yet. Or has had an alcoholic beverage…or two…or three. Or is wearing a revealing outfit. Or let her partner get to first base…or second… or third.
Okay, you get the point.
There always seems to be a “gray area” when discussing a sexual assault, when in reality the question asked should be did the victim consent? No? Then it is sexual assault. Regardless of anything else. End of story.
This group of feminists is angry. And they damn well should be.
While taking to the streets may not be creating policy change, it is most definitely creating social change in my opinion. According to Samhita Mukhopadyay, Executive Editor of Feministing, an onling feminist blog,
“Sometimes the purpose of activism is in the theatre, in the noise and in the exaggeration….Women marching around in “slutty” outfits (when they do, I have heard they don’t completely and the point is really about wearing what you want) yelling about injustice is in a way a type of mockery of conventional ideas about sexuality that is wholly refreshing. For many a young woman, a Slutwalk could be the gateway drug to other feminist thought and activism and we can’t deny the power and importance of this.” (quote taken from this article)
SlutWalks are shedding light on an important issue and getting conversation started. Many young men and women are plugging themselves into the movement to end sexual assault and stop victim blaming and could very well become more invested in the movement after participating in a SlutWalk. Grassroots organizing is taking place on a whole new level, incorporating virtual organizing as well as taking to the streets to reclaim sexual power. While it is true that we most definitely need more mainstream approaches to end violence against women, I think Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback, an organization dedicated to ending street harrassment, highlights the significance of grassroots movements like SlutWalk when she says,
“Nonprofit mainstays like conferences, funding and strategic planning are essential to maintaining change — but they don’t ignite change,” she says. “It’s easy to forget that change starts with anger, and that history has always been made by badasses.” (quote taken from this article)
So yes, the SlutWalk movement is filled with angry badasses, but I am not naiive enough to say that this is an all encompassing, feminist movement.
For many, the word “slut” is something that does not ressonate with them. Slut is a word that is associated with white women, and women of color are often more affected by other misogynistic terms, like “hoe.” Not to mention, for some the importance of dignity in public is unquestionable, and associating with a movement that encourages one to protest in scantily clad attire if they so choose, is just not a movement some women can take part in. I think this piece from the Huffington Post, which is an open letter from black women to SlutWalk organizers, puts it best when it declares,
“We know the SlutWalk is a call to action and we have heard you. Yet we struggle with the decision to answer this call by joining with or supporting something that even in name exemplifies the ways in which mainstream women’s movements have repeatedly excluded Black women even in spaces where our participation is most critical.” (quote taken from this article)
If so, the march will get started at The Rock, located on Farm Lane on the campus of Michigan State University from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. The march will continue on the the MSU Union.
Whether you agree with the movement or not, I think the idea behind SlutWalks is one to get on board with and am proud to see so many young feminists rallying around such an important message.