Friday 20 January 2017

Why women the world over are taking part in Slut Walks

Chrissie Russell

Published 10/06/2011 | 05:00

Taking issue: Women take part in SlutWalks in Montreal
Taking issue: Women take part in SlutWalks in Montreal

Earlier this year a Canadian policeman made a stupid comment to a group of university students. "I'm not supposed to say this," said constable Michael Sanguinetti during a lecture on personal safety. "However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

  • Go To

He was right, he shouldn't have said it. His remark, and insinuation that a sex attack can be blamed on the victim's clothing, sparked a new phenomenon -- the SlutWalk, a protest march in defence of women's right to wear what they want without fear of attack.

From the first in Toronto when some 4,000 outraged men and women took to the streets, the SlutWalk has spread across America, Europe and Australia. Tomorrow some 4,000 people are expected to flock to SlutWalk London and this September it will come to Ireland.

Inspired by constable Sanguinetti, who was subsequently disciplined, many women on the marches scrawl 'slut' on their chests, wear bras, suspenders and other provocative clothes typically deemed 'slutty' while carrying or shouting slogans like "my little black dress does not mean yes" and "my ass is not an excuse for assault".

The marches' popularity, sadly, is proof that the culture of victim blaming is a problem that goes beyond one man in Canada.

"I'm asked all the time for a list of things women can do or not do to avoid being raped," says Cliona Saidlear from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland. "This attitude assigns responsibility to the victim when the reality is that it's the rapist who decides to rape. It has nothing to do with what a woman is wearing or her behaviour. The culture of victim blaming has been going on too long and it's time it was challenged."

For a prime example of victim blaming look at the case of CBS reporter Lara Logan who endured a terrifying sexual assault in Cairo, only to face a trial by media with many ready to accuse her of inviting the attack by being an attractive blonde in a Muslim country.

Last year a Wake Up To Rape survey in the UK revealed that half of women questioned believed rape victims are "sometimes asking for it".

Linda Kelly (25), who runs Cork Feminista, says this 'asking for it' attitude has made her keen to attend the Dublin SlutWalk in September, which is being organised via a Facebook page.

She says: "I was out recently and my friend was wearing a dress. A guy came up behind her and felt her bottom. When she asked him what he was doing he said 'if you're dressed like that you're expecting to get a few gropes'."

She explains: "The incident crystallised for me why I wanted to go on the SlutWalk and protest against the idea that wearing something makes it okay to behave a certain way towards women."

UCD student Amanda King (26) also plans to attend the march. She says: "I think it's important to protest against the idea that a woman's clothing says anything about her or the way people should behave towards her."

Amanda reckons the 'cool' factor has been important in getting people involved in SlutWalk.

"People tend to have a perception that feminists are uptight, but this movement has a sense of humour to it whilst still dealing with a very important issue."

She adds: "But I think it's important not to focus too closely on the clothing issue. I'll be wearing a short dress because that's what I'd normally wear, but it's not about getting dressed in fancy dress, because the fact is a woman can get raped wearing a short dress, pair of trousers or burka."

Sonya Barnett, co-founder of SlutWalk, felt strongly that one of the movement's mandates should be about taking back the word 'slut'. But the issue has left some women uncomfortable.

"Broadly we support SlutWalk," says Susan McKay from the National Women's Council of Ireland. "But whilst I understand the name comes from the original comment, I do find it hard to see a point of 'reclaiming' a word that's been used in such a negative way for so long.

"But the stand against victim blaming is what's important. How a woman dresses is never a justification for sexual violence."

Madeline Hawke, officer for young women in the Irish Feminist Movement agrees that the 'S' word has posed some problems. "There's a division between older and younger generations. Older ones are saying 'why are we fighting for an offensive word we don't want?' and younger people think it's about taking the stigma away from the word. But it's exactly the fact that the movement is edgy and controversial that has got so many young people involved."

The organisers of SlutWalk London have taken care to insist that no one has to reclaim the word slut if they don't want to.

"You can if you want!" it writes. "But this is about so much more than just that one word. If the officer had said women shouldn't dress like tarts, this would be TartWalk -- it's attitude that's the problem."

Another problem is that not everyone has grasped the empowering message of women marching in their skimpies.

A recent discussion thread on The People's Republic of Cork online forum thread entitled 'Fellas Planning Their Holidays To Coincide With SlutWalks' says it all.

"Sounds like a great idea whatever lad came up with them parades," writes one observing that the occasion should provide easy sex.

"I'd go if I was single," adds another. While one poster's explanation of the marches reads: "Birds dress up in skanky clothes and hold placards saying 'proud to be a slut'. What this is supposed to achieve is anyone's guess."

Proof, if it were needed, that a grossly flawed attitude to the objectification of women is by no means limited to one idiot cop in a classroom in Canada.

Irish Independent

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in this section