SlutWalk: reactions, responses and comments

I have yet to go through and read most of these but, for your information, here is a list of several reactions to and comments upon the recent “SlutWalks”, which have taken place in various locations (originally in Toronto). For those of you who don’t know, SlutWalk came about as a response to a police officer in Toronto saying that women who don’t want to be raped should not dress like “sluts”. I know! One wonders how anything is ever going to change in the face of such victim-blaming.

Anyway, here is a list of pieces (some for, some against) about SlutWalk, diligently compiled by feministfrequency (thank you!).

If you’ve been following the feminist blog-o-sphere there has been a lot of talk about “SlutWalk”. SlutWalk has become a mini-movement that was originally conceived in Toronto in response to a police officer who claimed that women should stop dressing like “sluts” to avoid assault. The folks in Toronto were rightfully upset, as the police officer’s comment is an unfortunate example of the victim blaming that assault survivors are subjected to on a regular basis. Out of the controversy, Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett co-founded SlutWalk, a Toronto based march to end “slut-shaming” and victim blaming. This has spawned numerous follow-up marches that are happening globally in cities such as Vancouver, Boston, London, San Francisco, Melbourne and Los Angeles etc.

Because of the controversial nature of the name, SlutWalk has gotten quite a lot of press, there have been many debates, interviews, articles etc.  While the conversations have ranged from useful dialogue to outright horrible much of the framing of the conversation has been shaped by the supporters of SlutWalk (such asHeather Jarvis and Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape). It seems that Gail Dines (author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality) has been one of the only feminists repeatedly invited on TV and radio shows to serve as the counterpoint.

I have been quite vocal in my little internet space about my strong dislike for SlutWalk, for the name and for the unstrategic organizing which sadly, seems to ignores the systemic and institutional issues of rape culture, victim blaming and well, radical feminism.  It is easy to be swept up in the excitement and momentum of SlutWalk and not take a critical look at what the message really is that’s coming out of these marches.  After listening to a series of interviews and reading a handful of articles, I began feeling alienated within feminism because as Meghan Murphy points out, “… embracing the word slut sounds, to me, a lot like we’ve all drank the systematic kool-aid.”  Luckily, through Facebook and Twitter I found several feminists and allies who do not support SlutWalk for a variety of reasons.  I want to highlight some of the counterpoints and some of the voices that are not being amplified.

More, after the jump.

Articles & Blog Posts

We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with Slutwalk gets rocky by Meghan Murphy at The F Word: Feminist Media Collective

I couldn’t help but cringe, once again, when Jarvis brought up the ‘personal empowerment’ argument as defense of the use and attempted reclaimation of the word, ‘slut’, saying that: “For me to call myself whatever language I want, if I find it empowering, for somebody else to say that that’s not a right choice, when this is my choice. I find that problematic.” I believe that, in this short quip, Jarvis sums up much of that what has made me uncomfortable with Slutwalk from the get-go. ‘If I feel personally empowered by my personal choice, then no one else should have anything to say on the matter. It affects only me,’ is not a strong argument for feminism.

SlutWalk is not sexual liberation by Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy at guardian.co.uk

While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.

In Defense of Prudes by Tracy Clark-Flory at salon.com

But I also have zero interest in participating. I’m tired of the polarizing rhetoric: Are you a prude or a slut? You know what, I’m neither. I understand the concept of re-appropriating slurs, and that many people find it freeing and empowering. Also, political discourse doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuance and subtlety, so shocking slogans can be tremendously effective. On a personal level, though, this kind of reactive language can feel awfully limiting. I’m not a political caricature, and neither is my sexuality.

SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy by Aura Blogando at To the Curb

If SlutWalk truly wanted to bring attention to the systematic ways in which women are harmed by regressive and misogynistic thinking, they could have done the heavy lifting of reaching out and supporting black, poor and transgender women in New Orleans, for whom the word “slut” carries a criminal sex offender record. Instead, they force us to keep bearing the multiple burdens that come with not only being a woman, but also being a working class woman of color.

Had SlutWalk organizers considered New Orleans – or perhaps any city in the Northern Hemisphere where undocumented women possess a very real fear that a call to the police for any reason will result in her own deportation – they might have thought twice about sinking so much time and energy into their event. They might have had to listen to women of color, and actually involve them in visioning for what an equitable future would look like. Instead, they decided to celebrate a term not everyone is comfortable even saying. While I will not pretend to speak for women targeted in New Orleans, I doubt that the mere idea of naming themselves “sluts” would be welcomed. SlutWalk has proven itself to be a maddening distraction from the systematic and interpersonal violence that women of color face daily.

What Offends me about SlutWalk and More Thoughts on SlutWalk by Ada Farrugia Conroy at flash heart for the broken arted

slutwalk is a post feminist event. it is an event that assumes there is no patriarchal context that slutwalk exists within. the word ‘slut’ is hateful and violent and has never belonged to us. ‘slut’ belongs to rapists and misogynists and pornographers. there is no subversion in this. this action is not a threat.

SlutWalk – Not Radical, Not Helpful? by Bobi Pasquale at bobipasquale.wordpress.com

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.

The Ultimate Slut by rmott62 at rmott62.wordpress.com

If you want to know what it to be a Slut, a Slut without freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of safety – then place yourself inside the skin of the Ultimate Slut. Women and girls inside most aspects of the sex trade are raped, battered and murdered whatever they wear, whatever environment they are placed in. What does any Slutwalk do that makes any practical difference to that?

SlutWalk London by Laura Woodhouse at The F Word Blog

However, unless I was in Toronto where the march was a direct response to a comment about “sluts”, I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable walking under the label. I have no interest whatsoever in reclaiming or reinventing a word that is used to attack and label women, let alone use it in reference to myself.

Four Brief Critiques of SlutWalk’s Whiteness, Privilege and Unexamined Power Dynamics by Ernesto Aguilar at People of Color Organize

Lastly, I have found some of the SlutWalk approach most problematic related to an ahistorical understanding of women’s organizing. Ironically, or maybe not so much, SlutWalk advocacy has come at the expense of the feminist movement, demonizing a struggle that has many hard-won victories to its credit.

Toronto activists take back the slut by Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy

It turns out that ’slut’ isn’t just an adjective. It’s a character. A fictional character, beloved of patriarchal culture, who encrapulates eons of virgin/whore-fueled misogyny, and was invented to absolve violent dudes of rape behavior. Sluts are women deemed by the angry dude-mob to have so ineptly handled the duties of femininity that they must be shamed, mocked, and of course, fucked in perpetuity.

Thoughts on race, class and Toronto’s Slutwalk by selftravels2010

When I arrived on the lawn of Queen’s Park for the march, it took about 20 seconds for a sense of discomfort to set in. I looked around and felt profoundly out of place because I saw so few people of colour. To be clear, I attend rallies, protests, marches, lectures, and conferences all the time in Toronto and I can’t think of ever having had this feeling before.

Slut walk: Off my chest by Anonymous at Musings and Moans

I am so tired of how little consideration is given to which peoples and which bodies are able to be publicly visible during protests and which are not. There was no talk about how our bodies as women of colour are hyper-sexualized and how that links to gendered, racialized sexual violence! There was no talk about why men of colour (who let’s be honest are over represented in mainstream media as perpetrators of violence) would not show up to a march of this sort, even if their politics were deeply rooted in ending violence against women!

NEW Slutwalk: To march or not to march by Harsha Walia at Rabble.ca

In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist façade of choice by creating an entire industry that commodifies women’s sexuality and links a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth to fashion and beauty. Slutwalk itself consistently refuses any connection to feminism and fixates solely around liberal questions of individual choice — the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics.

Debates

This is by no means a complete list but just a few selections that I’ve found.  If you know of other articles that would be appropriate in this link round up please leave them in the comments.

2 responses to “SlutWalk: reactions, responses and comments

  1. There is certainly a lot to look into here, tender. As you know we menz can only have one thinky thought in our heads at a time and my thought is that the event (events?) serve their purpose well. Their purpose being to raise awareness of ingrained attitudes to women held by both men and women. Whether it will reclaim the word “slut” or not isn’t really important because it pushes the word out and gives it a new meaning. That meaning is that women aren’t going to meekly take being told how to dress and how to act.

    That is a good thing.

    • That’s largely my take in it too – it’s less about reclaiming the word “slut” for me and about, as you said, sending a very important message about attitudes to women and rape.

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