SlutWalk: There’s nothing wrong or shameful in marching as a slut

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Republican Senators and George Galloway have recently found ground in retrograde comments contending the definition of rape as non-consensual sex, but women can be comforted by increasing challenges, in the form of information campaigns and a global protest movement, to the nauseating idea that dress mitigates the brutality and immorality of rape. After a Toronto Police Officer responded to a rape in 2011 by sneeringly advising other women to avoid wearing “revealing” outfits – so much for serve and protect – 3000 marched in unison on a ‘SlutWalk’, a protest march which involves women adopting the sartorial characteristics of “the slut” as uniform as a visible statement that they reject the pernicious idea rape victims are to blame; Rape is the symptom of a rapist’s criminality, not a symptom of women’s freedom to choose what she wears.

Feminist questions over the use of “slut” as a political statement are the only questions worth taking seriously; the rest rely on the assumption that the expression of female sexuality is bad or objectionable. So far, the protest has been condemned for: flippantly disregarding the role of “slut” in legitimizing and perpetuating violence against women past and present; for fitting women in to a narrow caricature of femininity; for disregarding the way “slut” relates to the experiences of black women; and for not being radical or subversive enough, but questions about semantics and feminism’s wider goals, however pertinent, still can’t argue against the necessity of SlutWalk as the clearest, most direct action against the lazy, insulting and false suggestion that rape can be ‘cured’ by women hiding their bodies.
“Slut” entered common usage as an insult for ‘untidy’ women, grew to envelop those daring to possess character and cunning, extended its scope as a criticism for their free sexual activity and remains the most frequently used pejorative description of females, reinforcing the idea that a woman’s sexual conduct decreases her value, in turn legitimizing the idea in some minds that women are deserving of poor, sometimes criminal, treatment. Consequently, the SlutWalk movement’s attempt to appropriate the term and turn it in to something more positive and empowering has been criticised for trivializing the experience of women who’ve tangibly suffered due to the connotations of “slut”. It’s possible to argue against the wisdom of feminists using a pejorative term, but arguing against the term in total can be too easily confused the idea that there’s something objectionable about being a slut, exactly the idea that women worldwide should be fighting. Is it possible to challenge the connotations and history of “slut” if we don’t first confront its existence?

Women’s liberation ultimately depends on women being critics and thinkers who argue and challenge, so arguments against SlutWalk and questions about whether it’s an unhelpful, unrepresentative march that fails to subvert the patriarchal structures which make “slut” a damaging reality for women, are ever welcome. But SlutWalk creates a space where these issues can be addressed, where women can meet and protest the way that rape has been used against them, as a gender, as part of their experience of racism, as individuals violated in the most heinous way. The idea that there’s something wrong or shameful about “sluts” is one that abusers would have us believe, so we have to accept that there’s nothing wrong with being one and nothing wrong with marching as one either.

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Discussion2 Comments

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    “… but questions about semantics and feminism’s wider goals, however pertinent, still can’t argue against the necessity of SlutWalk as the clearest, most direct action against the lazy, insulting and false suggestion that rape can be ‘cured’ by women hiding their bodies.”

    Absolutely spot on.

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