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The First Toronto Slut
Magdalena Ivasecko and Sierra Chevy Harris at the first Toronto SlutWalk, called after a police officer told a group of students that women should not dress like sluts if they want to avoid being sexually assaulted. Photograph: Richard Lautens/AP
When a police officer from Toronto went on a routine visit to Osgoode Hall Law School to advise the students on personal safety, little did he know that he would unwittingly inspire a movement that has caught fire across Canada and the US.
"You know, I think we're beating around the bush here," Michael Sanguinetti began, blandly enough, as he addressed the 10 students who turned up for the pep talk. Then he said: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."
Fast forward three months from Sanguinetti's unfortunate remarks, and a movement that was born in riposte to his loose talk has now gone international. "SlutWalking" is attracting thousands of people to take to the streets to put an end to what they believe is a culture in which it is considered acceptable to blame the victim.
Some 2,351 people have signed up via Facebook to attend a SlutWalk through Boston on Saturday, when they will chant "Yes means yes, no means no," and "Hey hey, ho ho, patriarchy has to go."
Further SlutWalks are planned in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
And that's before you get to Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK.
Had it been under any other circumstance, Sanguinetti might have been quite proud of his global impact. In the circumstances, facing internal discipline by the Toronto police, he has grovelled profusely.
"I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated," he said.
But there is no holding back the SlutWalkers now. Word spread like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter, and anger about the comments began to coalesce around the idea of taking to the streets in protest. The SlutWalk was born. The first march was held in Toronto itself last month. Organisers had expected about 100 people to turn out, and were astonished when almost 3,000 people did so.
The participants, both female and male, carried placards saying "Met a slut today? Don't assault her," "Sluts pay taxes" and "We're here, we're sluts, get used to it."
Another sign at the rally read: "It was Christmas Day. I was 14 and raped in a stairwell wearing snowshoes and layers. Did I deserve it too?"
Some women attended the protest wearing jeans and T-shirts, while others took the mission of reclaiming the word "slut" one of the stated objectives of the movement more literally and turned out in overtly provocative fishnets and stilettos. But they were all united by the same belief: that rape is about the rapist, not his victim.
"We live in a society where rape isn't taken as seriously as it should be," said Katt Schott-Mancini, one of the organisers of the Boston SlutWalk.
"There's victim blaming: the idea that the victim of rape did something wrong. What you are wearing doesn't cause rape the rapist causes it."
Schott-Mancini said she was herself a survivor of abuse by a former partner. "People belittled me, implying that it was my fault and that I shouldn't be an independent woman," she added.
The SlutWalks have particularly taken off among college students, given the location of the officer's remarks and the high prevalence of sexual violence on campus. The US government's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to one in four women in US universities report having experienced an attempted or completed rape while in college.
SlutWalk Toronto continues to be the organisational focal point. Its website www.slutwalktoronto.com motto: "being a slut and getting pissed off" proclaims that the word "slut" is being reappropriated.
"Whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don't have
to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve: we just ask
that you come. Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers,
children, friends. Come walk or roll or strut or holler or
stomp with us."
One Toronto policeman, Michael Sanguinetti, made the mistake of telling women on a college campus not to dress like sluts if they didnt want to get raped.
It was a stupid and wrong thing to say, obviously. But if it had really been one guys mistake, hundreds of women wouldn't be participating in Slutwalks that have spread across the continent, and now the globe, and are garnering quite a bit of attention from the media.
According to the Guardian, Slutwalks have already taken place in Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Argentina and Sweden and major events are planned in London, LA, and more this summer. Its a phenomenon that has gone viral, sporting creative homemade signs, costumes and chants that channel the clever and theatrical elements of feminist protest.
The point of these mass marches? Comments like that misguided police officer's are all too common, reflecting beliefs ingrained in nearly all of us as part of a culture that jumps to blaming the victim, blaming alcohol, blaming loose morals, blaming anyone and anything but the actual rapist. And such a culture isnt just demeaning, its dangerous, because it focuses on the outfits and behavior of victims rather than the criminal behavior of perpetrators.
The idea behind the Slutwalks is simple, yet so often fails to get through: rape is rape, no matter what the victim is wearing. The Slutwalks--after the original one in Toronto was successful and showed up on YouTube and on Internet pictures--have sprung up organically. They tend not to have a vastly unifying principle beyond this: if the law, and society, treat women who are raped as sluts who deserved it, than we are all sluts, because we can all be raped at any time, no matter what we are wearing.
To simplify it even further, a Boston marcher carried a sign reading, Sluts Dont Cause Rape. Rapists Do.
Critics of the marches have had a hard time getting past the word slut, as well as the dress-up element of some of the marches, which feature leather and fishnets and low-cut tops as well as jeans and T-shirts, hoodies and sweats. The word slut, so hurtful and shameful, can understandably be a hard one to get around. Both feminists and anti-feminists have expressed reservations about the words use, with the anti-feminist side veering into nasty victim-blaming and concern-trolling.
But theres also a positive, playful and powerful history of reclaiming the term slut as Kathleen Hanna once did, a move that has echoes in the joyful, defiant sexuality found at the Slutwalk marches. Ray Filar at the Guardian explains the historical and cultural connection between Slutwalking and the riot grrl movement:
This move to embrace the word as a term of positive sexuality may currently be travelling across the world to the tune of the marching band, but it harks back to the dawn of the 1990s when musician Kathleen Hanna, unwilling figurehead for the riot grrrl movement and lead singer for Bikini Kill, went on stage with the word "slut" scrawled across her body. In doing this, she made a visceral, powerful statement about her sexuality. Her message was not "yes, I am a slut." It was this: "by reclaiming the derogatory terms that you use to silence my sexual expression, I dilute your power."
As Lindsey Beyerstein notes at Big Think, the marches go a step beyond that riot grrl attitude. They dont just reclaim the word, they satirize the very concept. Where do we draw the sacred uncrossable line between lack of sluthood and sluthood? Can virgins be sluts if they dress wrong? To religious folks who demand modesty, jeans are slutty, after all:
In fact, Slutwalk is satirizing the whole slut construct. .. Organizers told people to wear whatever they wanted. The message was: Who's a slut? We all are. Or none of us are. And who cares? It's a stupid, meaningless concept anyway.
So the point of the marches isnt simply to turn around and make a loaded word like slut positive, or even merely to reclaim it and use its power as a weapon but rather to shed light on its rampant and ridiculous use as an excuse for rape, an easy out for those with a propensity for victim blaming. The idea is that the girls we call sluts, the girls we say were asking for it, are our sisters, are friends, our loved ones, ourselves.
The word slut, said Jaclyn Friedman during her speech at the Boston Slutwalk, which drew thousands to the Boston Common, is a weapon that can be used against women for any reason, a weapon that marks them as fair game, as less than human, as a target for violence.
And make no mistake about it: we can be called sluts for nearly any reason at all. If were dancing. If were drinking. If we have ever in our lives enjoyed sex. If our clothes arent made of burlap. If were women of color...If were fat or disabled or otherwise considered undesirable... If were queer boys or trans women, were called sluts in order to punish us...If were poor... And god forbid we accuse someone of raping us thats the fast track to sluthood for sure, because its much easier to tell us what we did wrong to make someone to commit a felony violent crime against us than it is to deal with the actual felon.
Slutwalks are a playful and powerful way of combating rape culture, and they dont preclude or negate more serious forms of anti-rape activism like the traditional Take Back the Night marches and speakouts or prevention work with men and via legislation. They complement these other forms of pushback and add a new dimension to the critique of the twisted way our cultural lens views sexual assault.
Watch Friedman's speech below and view a slideshow of Flickr photos tagged "slutwalk" below that.
Jaclyn Friedman speaks out on rape culture 11:35
Source: Sarah Seltzer, AlterNet, May 11,
On January 26, Loren Feldman wrote an open letter to media personality Julia Allisons father, alleging to her expertise at oral sex and her promiscuity. The post, which has since been removed, is a prime example of the ease with which the accusation of being a slut is still hurled at women as a way to shame and degrade them.
Allison has plenty of company. To name a few, sex bloggers Kendra Halliday, aka The Beautiful Kind, who lost her job when a technical glitch outed her real name, and Lena Chen, who found herself paired with the Gawker headline Worst Overshare Anywhere Ever after posting a photo of herself after her boyfriend had ejaculated on her face. The Today Shows Kathie Lee Gifford inspired a Change.org petition after she told Jersey Shore reality star Snooki that she should value herself more. Dont give yourself away to just any jerk, okay? Slut-shaming can happen to anyone?well, any woman. Maybe youve written about your sex life, or maybe youve just been bold enough to express the fact that you dont want to have kids. Maybe you wore a revealing outfit on a red carpet (see January Jones Golden Globes dress) or Tweeted a cleavage photo (Meghan McCain).
Lilit Macus, editor of Crushable.com, wrote an essay for the New York Post about why she didnt want to have children and was told, basically, that shes a big ol' slut too. In the past, most of the comments directed at me had been about selfishness or not doing my duty as a woman by having kids, and I think this is because I grew up in a conservative part of the country where most of my peers married and had kids young, says Marcus. But the responses to the Post article claimed I was a loose woman or that my desire not to have kids meant that I was sleeping around. The assumption that women owe our bodies for procreation and that if we use them for pleasure instead (or in addition), we are somehow going against nature is part of the backdrop that encourages this type of thinking.
Author Kerry Cohen is an example of a woman whos explicitly embraced her sexuality in her memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, only to be told that she wasnt slutty enough to truly call herself a slut, proudly or otherwise. After Marie Claire ran a piece on her calling her a sex addict (a term she didnt use to describe herself), Jezebel asked, Is Sex Addict Memoirist Kerry Cohen Even Actually a Slut? The lesson Cohen took away is that there are nuances to whos allowed to use the term. It's interesting because slut-shaming has morphed lately and now you can either get shamed for being a slut, or you can get shamed for not being the right kind of slut (meaning, you aren't proud enough of your slutdom).
Yet there are those who make the case for slut-shaming, explicitly even. Blogger Susan Walsh is one of them. At hookingupsmart.com, she repeatedly encourages readers to call out sluts, for their own good. She writes approvingly of the much-discussed recent book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, and concludes, Women are better off when the number of promiscuous women is low. If you are not promiscuous, it is very much in your best interest for your female peers to reject random hookups as well. We may not want to pillory sluts, but societies have always had social contracts to benefit the whole group. There is strength in numbers.
This issue is tied to our deepest notions about what it means to be a woman, and whether our sexual choices are ours to make freely or not. The through line from Feldman to Walsh is that women who are sexual, or are perceived to be sexual, are somehow going against whats right or natural. Its also clearly not just men who are doing the shaming. As Andrea Grimes confesses in I Was a Pro-Life Republican Until I Fell in Love, her public bashing of other women wasnt really about abortion, but lording her virginity over her peers. She writes, I absolutely loved slut-shaming. Because I was saving myself for marriagewell, oral sex doesnt really count anyway, does it?-I knew that I would always be right and virtuous and I would never be a murderer like those sluts. The issue couldnt possibly be up for real debate, to my mind: either you were a baby-killer slut, or you behaved like a proper Christian woman and only let him get to third base. Clearly, who is a slut is in the mind of the beholder (see Emily Whites excellent Fast Girls for exploration of high school slut-shaming in action) and, more importantly, their decision to use the word is almost always in a way aimed to be insulting, demeaning and denigrating to the womans personhood. Slut is meant as a way to put women back in their place (with legs firmly closed), and make them ashamed of their perceived promiscuity, as well as make others join in on this shaming.
However the women slut is being hurled at feel about it, the fact that it is still, in 2011, the go-to insult for women, is problematic. We need to work to neutralize the term so that it doesnt wield the impact that it once did. Writers have been reclaiming the word, from the classic polyamory primer The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, to groupie memoirist Roxana Shirazi, author of 2010s The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage. Yet those who continue to use the word mean it as anything but a proud proclamation.
Some activists fighting back against one of the most insidious forms of institutional slut-shaming are the organizers ofSlutWalk Toronto, to be held April 3. The event was organized after a representative of the Toronto police department stated that women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized. This equation of perceived slutdom with an incitement to violence, the ultimate she was asking for it argument, is the logical end point for those who think womens bodies are under some sort of communal control. Their walk also includes a poster campaign, one of which tells us to Reclaim the Word Slut and at the top says something I think speaks to the issue more succinctly than anything else: Slut isnt a look. Its an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, its never an invitation to violence.
Editor's note:This post has been altered since publication to protect the privacy of a previously mentioned individual.
Source: Rachel Kramer Bussel, AlterNet, April 1, 2011, www.alternet.org/story/150473/slut_shame%3A_attacking_women_for_their_sex_lives
Rachel Kramer Bussel (www.rachelkramerbussel.com
is a New York-based author, editor, blogger and reading
series host. She has edited over 38 anthologies, including
Gotta Have It, Best Bondage Erotica 2011, Fast Girls and
Orgasmic, is senior editor at Penthouse Variations and a
columnist for SexIs Magazine, and offers up daily food porn
at Cupcakes Take the Cake (cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com
Surely nothing I've done as a mother to date has mortified my 14- and 12-year-old daughters more than my enthusiasm for dressing like a flamboyant hooker and joining a SlutWalk.
SlutWalks, as you may have heard, protest the idea that how a woman dresses or looks can be used as an excuse for rape. A small march in Toronto has turned into an international movement involving tens of thousands of women and men in Canada, the United States, England, India, Australia, and Brazil.
Responses to the marches range from outrage to glee. For some, just the use of the word "slut" is horrifying -- connoting loose women flaunting their disregard for moral values. For others, any use of the word should be rejected, not appropriated, for being male defined and not reflective of women's empowerment.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of response, two things are clear to me. One, SlutWalks, make people talk about sexism and two, unless forced by a provocative catalyst we generally don't talk about gender bias to our children.
SlutWalks are an opportunity to talk to teenage girls (and boys) about the treacherous and unfair line they're pressured to walk between being socially mandated sexy good girls and "promiscuous" teen harlots, subject to social opprobrium.
As a mother and feminist, I appreciate the irony of embracing the word slut to protest a symptom of systematized misogyny. However, we can ill afford to reject and criticize a grass-roots movement embraced by people all over the world to draw attention to inequality and violence against women.
This is not about teaching people about the insidious damage that pervasive gender bias, often internalized, causes every day. It isn't about the right to wear revealing clothes or have frequent orgiastic sex. SlutWalkers march for safe and equal access to the public sphere even if, god forbid, you're born with a vagina.
It is surprising and disappointing that we still need events like SlutWalks to address what are fairly basic civil rights that men take for granted. But, maybe my surprise is naïve given the long tail of a conservative movement described by Susan Faludi twenty years ago.
In her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Backlash, Faludi described the conservative response of a society reeling from changes brought on by feminism. A response that created the hyper-gendered reality of four billion dollar a year Disney princesses and their muscular Hollywood super heroes counterparts. A response that shaped a generation whose idea of women's liberation, inaccurately conflated with sexual liberation, is "girls gone wild." A generation, woefully uneducated, that's doesn't give feminism an overt second thought.
Any serious review of facts, however, shows that despite some gains, the work of feminism is still vital. Female pay equity at 78 cents to the male dollar and the percentage of women in Congress has dropped from a one time high of 21 percent to today's 17 percent. Women's representation in senior, management positions in every sector of our economy stagnates in the 7-16 percent range.
We rate 9th in the world for number of rapes per capita, and that with an antiquated definition of "forcible" assault. According to the 2010 World Economic Forum's Gender Index Report, which demonstrates the strong correlation between the status of women and a country's prosperity and competitiveness, the U.S. ranks 19th for overall equity, 40th for political empowerment.
Yet, our kids are essentially taught that women here have nothing to complain about. With the exception of the condescending lessons of "Women's History Month" that focuses on how women were "given the vote," they learn virtually nothing about women's substantive contributions to our culture.
Our historical heroes, public statuary, currency, visible power brokers and sports arenas are dominated by men. Despite the Women's World Cup (which we watch in reruns), the only industries where women are prominent are those requiring them to be beautiful, thin and frequently half-naked. The only sectors where they dominate in the workforce, the lowest paid. We do little as a society to educate our children in a way that offsets a culture in which women are allowed to be visible and powerful only when they are commoditized.
Imagine a world where children had no idea who Martin Luther King or Thomas Jefferson are. That's what's happened to the women who've fought for women's rights. Children learn about John Adams, but not about Abigail Adams' entreaties that he "remember the ladies" when considering voting rights.
They read a Letter from Birmingham Jail, but not Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women, challenging Rousseau's ideas of female inferiority. They know what Malcolm X looks like, but wouldn't recognize Betty Friedan if she fell on them. Some kids might know who Shirley Chisolm was. God forbid Gloria Steinham or bell hooks come up in a class -- they have the audacity to still be alive.
As I approach 50, it occurred to me that 25 years is the average period constituting a generation. So, my lifespan roughly covers the two generations since birth control was approved by the FDA (1960), The Feminine Mystique (1963) was published and the Equal Pay Act (1963) was passed.
Yet, at the rate we're going it will be more than 100 years before pay equity is accomplished, we still cling to the myth that educated women "opt-out" of working by choice and reproductive rights continue to be under assault. SlutWalks are simply the most glaring and attention-grabbing symptom of the underlying causes of these inequities -- inequities that affect women of all colors, socio-economic classes and education levels. Talking about it to kids openly however is just so... unbecoming.
So, my conclusion is simple: if this is what it takes to
expose my children to women and men who are thinking about
double standards and marching for equality, then I'll go on
a SlutWalk in six-inch heels.
Perhaps rape itself is a gesture, a violent repudiation of the female, in the assertion of maleness that would seem to require nothing beyond physical gratification of the crudest kind. The supreme macho gesture - like knocking out an opponent and standing over his fallen body, gloves raised in triumph. - Joyce Carol Oates
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