SlutWalk – Not Radical, Not Helpful?

This ever-awkward event describes its motive as demonstrating ‘the radical notion that nobody deserves to be raped.’ To disagree with this sentiment would put you on the dark side of evil, but is SlutWalk actually challenging anything, or merely causing further divide and alienation from feminism?

Reading their  facebook  description is, to be honest, baffling. Whilst on the one side I militantly support the resisting of blame culture on women (labelling women the perpetrators and fuelling sympathy for rapists), I feel uncomfortable with the closing line in particular. ‘…come along feeling beautiful, ready to show the world that WE ARE PROUD!’ Pride? Is this encouraging us to feel ‘proud to be “sluts”’ and what does this actually mean? There is surely a distinction to be made between ‘reclaiming’ the word to be meaningless, and no longer venomously used; and celebrating it to be something we aspire to be. This is not to say we condemn promiscuity by rejecting language used to intimidate us; but slut and promiscuity are not synonymous. We should be taking to the streets celebrating our diversity and our beauty in all shapes and quirks.

SlutWalk Toronto posted; ‘use it to empower themselves and others might hate the word… all positions are just fine in the fight to support individual consensual choices of identity, appearance, sexuality and it[‘s] fight against victim-blaming and slut-shaming.’ It appears to me that SlutWalk is of the ‘choice feminist’ persuasion. We choose to be pole dancers earning coppers, while a gang of businessmen cop a feel. We are empowered by our sexual ferocity and lack of emotional attachment. Our liberation glistens in the expensive whips and dildos that lie in the hetero-normative Ann Summers. We reclaim ‘sluttery’ and reject those frigid old feminists that once were; and remain over sensitive.

Yet many of us want to demonstrate against blame culture without having ‘slut’ shouted in our face by friend and foe. As ‘delphyne’ states on the F-Word response ; ‘Calling yourself a slut doesn’t remove the stigma of the word though, it just gives haters permission to call women sluts and marginalises women who don’t want to be called sluts to an even greater degree…you left her out.’

The BCS alone reported in 2005 that 45% women in the UK had experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual violence or stalking. But will those affected join SlutWalk? Is there not some comic element for the middle classes to have an excuse to ‘dress up’ for the day? Some women on that march will no doubt be called ‘slut’ that very same evening by perhaps a passer-by, their partner, a trafficker, a punter, a bully – and now, apparently, their friends on the march. It is frankly indisputable that ‘slut’ has some of the most violent connotations possible – and for many women.

I feel SlutWalk seems to perpetuate the thinking that rape is an outlet to channel sexual frustration (by such actions as 2 protestors on the Toronto march shout ‘keep it in your pants, fool!’). Rape is a tool to bully, violate, oppress and inflict severe physical and mental agony on their victims. It is a deeply rooted hatred, and not merely a man who can’t help himself when he sees a short skirt. This common misconception is not only demeaning to those who are attacked, but it is also incredibly patronising to men depicting them as sex obsessed, mindless animals. I feel this is an imperative part of our fight to end violence against women. We should be continually speaking out about the real face of rape, and its haunting familiarity.

As ‘Bizzie Lizzie’ points out on the event wall; ’50 women an hour, raped in the Congo. Is there a slutty fashion going on there?’ I suspect BL is trying to show that SlutWalk ignores the real roots and causes of violence against women. As many have noted, SlutWalk seems quick to distance itself from the ever-stigmatising label of ‘feminist’. This leaves me with little confidence in the politics behind the march and further convinced of the depth of this as a shallow media stunt, and an opportunity to use taboo words.

Isn’t SlutWalk’s message somehow ‘yes I’m a sexual commodity but you can only look and not touch’? When researching imagery and looking into SlutWalk websites and pages, it seems they are naively promoting the sexualisation of women and girls. I must agree with Meghan Murphy’s article   “I’m afraid that I can’t see how the mudflaps girl presents a challenge to sexist imagery and discourse around women and female sexuality. Why, exactly, does feminism have to be ‘sexy’ in order for it to be supported? Well, the answer, of course, is so that it is palatable to men and to people who don’t much wish to challenge dominant ideology or to look at the roots of patriarchy. So that it doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable. And now a space has been created where it is not only acceptable, but progressive(!) for men to call women sluts.” One need only do a brief youtube search to see protestors in Toronto insisting they are “not angry”, and focussing on “sexual confidence”; even uploading videos entitled ‘we love our shameless sluts’. Well I say – if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.

Despite my grievances with the march, it has become very well known and has sparked some interesting debate. It is also completely correct in stating that nobody deserves to be raped. I only hope the protestors look beyond ‘sluttery’ and join the feminist fight for the emancipation of women. I highly doubt that there would be so much hype around these demonstrations without ‘slut’, but unfortunately I still don’t believe it will birth new feminist activists, if anything it divides us in our support or opposition to ‘slut’. Annual demonstrations such as Reclaim the Night barely receive a fraction of such media attention.

Ultimately, it is good to facilitate discussion surrounding women’s rights. I do not think, however, that SlutWalk has been particularly successful at this; as we have spent more time on semantics than breaking patriarchy. The liberation of women will take more than the reclaiming of a vicious word and we must recognise that misogyny is deeper rooted in this society. To return to the initial ‘radical notion that nobody deserves to be raped’, we must remember also, ‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.’ Not sluts.


~ by Bobi Pasquale on May 12, 2011.

15 Responses to “SlutWalk – Not Radical, Not Helpful?”

  1. Cool article 🙂

    Personally I disagree with the comparison to ‘choice feminism’ though. To me the use of the word slut isn’t arbitrary “reclaiming” in this case but actually pertinent to rape culture. Sex is relevant to this particular debate because women’s sexuality (or otherwise) is a reason given by slut-shamers and victim-blamers to excuse rape. To me, “slut” is THEIR word and attitude. I interpret this to be a very positive message of solidarity to victims who are blamed, sort of saying if these undeserving women are “sluts” (which of course they aren’t) then we are ALL “sluts”.

    And by going further and being openly sexual, making the statement that to be sexual is still ok and does not excuse or invite rape. So actually ‘Bizzie Lizzie’ saying that “50 women an hour, raped in the Congo. Is there a slutty fashion going on there?” is making the same point that this march is, that it is NOT because of “sluttiness” that rape happens. Apologies if I’m stating the obvious here.

    Still, those are just my thoughts about the concept.

    Otherwise interesting points about the ways this is being implemented and ways some individuals within it take it. It’s definitely awful if this is encouraging some men to think it’s okay to call women sluts in the old fashioned way.

    • “Some men” will be excitable when the opportunity present itself to use something naughty or forbidden. Check out the idea “Why can’t I use the N-word” (White man) for precedent. Great to see the correction of the writer’s angle on the women of the Congo here, too. As for semantics (some antics?) The word “Slut” goes back to the 14th century and was originally applied to women who were slovenly or in some way lacking in domestic skills. Sometime in the 20th century it has been subverted and used as a term of abuse to denigrate women by shaming us (sexually in most cases). This was possibly a reaction to more women having sex on their own terms. Slut (and other demeaning epithets) are often used to discredit women in rape cases, along with the focus on the victim’s purported behaviour. The old Fear and Loathing generated by this word can be tackled in a number of ways. Expunge it entirely (I don’t believe this is likely) or render it as meaningless as possible by our attitude to it. If someone shouts “Slut” at me and I am left feeling insulted and demeaned rather than “and so what” then the power is no longer with them. Does that help?

  2. As one of the people who will be participating in SlutWalk on the 11th June, and someone who has been debating a lot with people on the event page, I hope you don’t mind if I make an attempt to clear up some things.

    I feel a lot of people aren’t “getting” the protests so to speak, which is why I feel the need to comment, and also that maybe that’s not an entirely bad thing perhaps? It’s obviously causing a lot of controversy and attention, and of course a lot of this can be attributed to the name. However, as many mixed messages appear to be happening, one thing that really is happening constantly, whether people disagree or agree with the name… is that it’s causing people to question.

    Controversy isn’t necessarily always the smartest way to go about causing debate, however, it does work… and it seems a lot of people that haven’t spent a lot of time questioning the word slut, what it means, and why such a demoralising, dehumanizing word is attributed to sexually promiscuous women is seen as normal are now doing so. What has also been made clear by the debates that it’s caused is that a lot of people still do victim blame sadly… and I feel attacking words like slut head on are a way of breaking them apart from the inside and therefore rendering them meaningless and attacking the underlying causes of victim blaming.
    There are so many debates about whether re-claiming a word is possible or not, I’m not certain myself. What I do believe, along with many of the people attending SlutWalk is ignoring a words existence because it’s a part of misogynistic language is not going to work… just because people ignore a word, doesn’t make it stop existing. If this were the case sexism and racism would no longer exist. I, and a lot of the people who support this cause, believe you can attack a word and render it meaningless. It’s just like standing up to a bully, you metaphorically attack it head on, rather than side stepping the issue. Words like slut won’t go away if you ignore them… but you can render them meaningless and powerless. It’s like playing the system from the inside. You have to get inside, use the term itself, break it apart, take away its power over people… and maybe that’s when we can start to create a language that doesn’t use such terms at all. I feel ignoring the language used won’t help and hasn’t yet done so.

    The point of the march is that a “slut” doesn’t really exist – it’s a term of abuse catapulted at women for so many different reasons, with so many different definitions… therefore by coming together and putting us all under a SlutWalk label so to speak, celebrating sexual diversity and choice, we’re highlighting that not only can women be called a slut for any number of reasons, whether it’s for their perceived sexuality or not… but that by using words like slut, society is ignoring the real causes of rape. As you say, rape is not about sexuality! It’s violent, hateful… all about power and control over someone else, someone’s anatomy is just the “vehicle” used to express that hate. The trouble is the misconception that rape is about sex, sexuality or attractiveness is very alive and well, and it needs to be stamped out.

    We’re not saying “hurrah for sluts” we’re saying “hurrah for women who choose their sexual choices, whether that means sleeping with 1 person or 100”

    I completely agree with your last line…

    “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.’ Not sluts.”

    Indeed, and I think this is the bigger picture. I think social change has to be a bigger picture attitude. Obviously ignoring these words hasn’t taken away their power over us yet, so why not try something new? Use their language, and as I said, break it apart, render it meaningless, and build up from there. Maybe we have to de-construct it and take away its power by using it before we get onto the next stage, so to speak? I don’t believe this has to divide feminist groups in the way I have seen it been doing. Language is such a powerful tool, rather than let a word and the tactics of one movement of protests divide us, why don’t we all come together and realise we’re fighting the same fight? People will disagree on tactics, that’s a part of life, but does that mean it should be separating us? The fight for equality has never and is never going to be easy… disagreeing over the smaller things when we’re all fighting for the same cause won’t further anyone, and indeed, only goes to show what a negative effect the word Slut still holds over so many.

  3. This is an excellent response and addition to the conversation, Bobi! The conversation, indeed, has become very focused on semantics rather than the very important (and instigative) issues of rape and victim blaming. Unfortunately, though many argue that the word ‘slut’ is not the point, it has become the point because of, well, the use of the word slut, as well as the statements around reclaimation of the word. Getting attention is a great way to get attention, but not always the best way to affect change, particularly when the ‘change’ seems to be so focused on both a misogynist word and on feminism /female empowerment as equal to compulsory sexuality.

  4. Thanks for the mention, and the article.

    I must, however, point out that you have misunderstood my words.
    My point, and the whole point of the Slutwalk movement, in my opinion, is a direct response to the Toronto officer’s original comment. The idea that how we dress has an effect on how we are treated by men and could be a cause of, or an excuse for, a sexual assault, is to completely misunderstand the motivation for such assaults.

    Women, from the 50 a day in the Congo, to those forced to wear Burkhas, those who live in African, or Amazonian tribes who go topless, or those wearing low-cut tops and short skirts for a night out in Southend, are not to blame for assaults. Concentrating on their ‘look’ is wrong-headed and should always be challenged.
    That is what I believe the Slutwalks are doing.

    I will be attending, with my thirteen year old daughter, and I will be wearing my usual jeans and t-shirt. My daughter will be wearing what she wants, after chucking half her wardrobe on her bedroom floor, I expect!

  5. The photograph of the male with the painted torso really illustrates my worst fears regarding this march. So many people, mostly dudes, see this as a joke, or as an opportunity to objectify and normalize the further objectification and dehumanization of females. Why must we resist male supremacy and oppression by sexing up and appropriating feminism?

  6. Hi Bobi,

    I enjoyed reading your critique on slutwalk, however I disagree on many points. Just before I take the plunge into my story, I must make it evident that I am participating in the slutwalk movement and for me it couldn’t have been sooner.

    I am a 30 year old Indian woman, I have been sexually abused by various men and women in my family and extended family as a child, one of them also gave me an STD, with which I have been living since the age of 8. I was a rambunctious individual according to my family’s cultural norms. I was called a slut first by my mother, she was shamed by my relatives for my indiscretions, my abuse as a child and, she chose to pass it on to me. Many men and women, friends and foes, relatives and strangers have called me a ‘slut’ to my face and behind my back.

    In my 5 year stay in the UK, I have seen that my slutiness is/was vastly different from how it is here. What I am trying to say is, a woman can be in a bikini or in a burkha, she still gets called a slut. She can have one partner or many, she still gets blamed for exercising her sexual choices. Now that I am 30, I have decided that my life cannot be dictated by a few morons who called/call/will call me a slut, and I’m walking with these women to see for myself that there are many beautiful, powerful and goddamn sexy women out there who feel the same way as I do.AND YES I’M RECLAIMING THE WORD SLUT!

    However thanks Bobi for writing it. I feel much lighter having written this…now I need to sob into my pillow, and eat some cake 🙂

  7. I have been going ’round in circles trying to figure out my position on ‘Slutwalk’ and the internal debate can be encapsulated in a simple question, “Accepting that I have a right not to be raped and accepting that I have a right to wear whatever I choose and that this makes/should make not the slightest difference to my chances of being raped, would I go outside wearing a t-shirt that has the word ‘slut’ emblazoned on it? Or for that matter; ‘whore’, ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘frigid’, ‘ho’.
    Still don’t know….

  8. […] reading Meghan Murphy’s post and several others I agreed with in response to the contentions surrounding SlutWalk—and namely the use and […]

  9. Aimee, those of us who are opposing the idea of ‘reclaiming’ the word ‘slut’ aren’t ignoring it. We’re criticising it. The point being that there’s no use for such a term in a world where women are regarded as human beings, regardless of their sexuality or lack thereof.

    The ‘Slutwalk’ has a very important point to make about sexual violence and victim-blaming. Sadly, it’s becoming very confused by the insistence on focussing on the ‘reclamation’ of a term that should be considered redundant if we truly value women’s autonomy and freedom. It’s also alienating a lot of women who see it this way and who’ve been harmed by this word and the violence that it causes.

    “‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.’ Not sluts”.

    You can’t get more simple and direct than that. There would be no confusion or controversy if we simply acknowledged this fact and focussed on the actual point, ie. victim-blaming and male violence against women.

  10. Thank you for writing this.

    That photo with the shirtless doodoohead is seriously disturbing. But it encapsulates perfectly what is wrong with this walk.

  11. […] SlutWalk – Not Radical, Not Helpful? by Bobi Pasquale at […]

  12. Ange, sorry for such a late reply, I hadn’t come back to this article in a while.

    I see what you’re saying that you’re not ignoring it (my original point is that society is in general), you’re critisizing it… but so is SlutWalk! It’s saying hey, guess what, if everyone here under this SlutWalk label is a ‘slut’ (because the word is slung at people for a million reasons, with a million definitions) then if we can ALL be called sluts, then NO ONE is a slut! It’s breaking it apart by showing that the word is irrelevent and meaningless.

    The trouble is we have to confront it… by critisizing it, by attacking it, by confronting it, by proving it’s a myth. The word is in reactionary because the officer used it. 🙂

  13. I understand that not all Slutwalk marches are the same and some even have not been inclusive of womyn of color and different sizes. However, this is not always the case. For Riverside Slutwalk we were inclusive of womyn of color, womyn of all sizes, men who are victims of rape, lgtbq individuals victims of rape and all people of the community. Not all of the collective would agree and taking back the word “slut”, however the concept of the march itself and what it had to say about victim blaming is what we all came to agree on and what fueled our fire.

  14. […] Shulte goes on to criticize Gail Dines perspective on Slutwalk simply because on her website (way to stretch your research wings there) “Dines situates herself in the tradition of theorists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who argue in favor of censoring pornography and every man’s culpability in violence against women.” So the marginalization of any criticisms at all are generously extended to anyone who dares to align themselves with radical feminist arguments. Which is, of course, what many of the criticisms are about. […]

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