Wednesday, June 22, 2011

There's two sides to every SlutWalk

Once upon a time in Toronto, a cop said something like, "If women don't want to be victimized, they shouldn't dress like sluts."

"This is victim-blaming mentality," said the women of the city.  So, they dressed in their finest provocative clothing and took to the streets. And it became their mission was to send a message that a particular mode of dress is not justification for sexual assault or other abuse.  Soon, other women took up the cause around the world.

Slut Walk in Austin, Texas photo by Rhettwp All rights reserved
They've walked in Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and even India, and now they are coming to Detroit, "to bring awareness and to stop slut-shaming, no one deserves to be raped, assaulted, or harassed."

Organizers told MOTORCITYBLOG, "We want all Sluts AND Allies there-- dress as you please, whether it's a corset and fishnets or sweatpants and a t-shirt. Because victim-blaming affects people of all genders, and no matter what you're wearing, you don't deserve to be targeted for it."  

Originally scheduled for Saturday, June 25, the Detroit event has been postponed while organizers team up with "a major media outlet" to "gain more visibility in hopes of making SlutWalk Detroit as powerful as it can be."

Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., teaches women's studies at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.  She describes the SlutWalks as "an organic, grassroots movement -- highly contentious in the women's studies community." 

"They have sprung up nationally as well as globally in response to dress based victim blame for sexual assault," Martin said.

"I see the 'slut' in Slut Walk as being implicitly placed in quotation marks, as irony.  Women should not be blamed for sexual assault, this is what they are trying to illustrate -- putting the issue into the public's view -- imploring people to face it."

Yet some fear the irony of the movement might be lost on younger women, adding to their confusion surrounding society's sexual double standard.

In their article "Slut Walk is Not Sexual Liberation," Gail Dines and Wendy J. Murphy say:

"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 ... They have been told over and over that in order to be valued in such a culture, they must look and act like sluts, while not being labeled slut because the label has dire consequences including being blamed for rape, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-mutilation."

Yet, Lena Ellis, one of the organizers of Detroit SlutWalk says one of the SlutWalk's goals is to "reclaim the word slut."

She says, "I would love to see all hateful words gone from existence, but that’s not possible. The word slut has been used for years to scorn women and make them feel ashamed, but I feel by redefining it and reclaiming it we are giving power to the word in a positive sense."

But is it possible to assign any positive connotation to the word "slut?"  It's most basic meaning since the 15th century has been "a sexually immoral woman."

Also, "Slut" is a word that women use against other women to degrade, demean and devalue them.  Embracing the word does not take away its power in the "girl-on-girl crime arena," where it is incredibly powerful.  It's all about context.

Dines and Murphy say activists' time could be better spent, "exposing the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women – sexually active or "chaste" alike. These myths facilitate sexual violence by undermining women's credibility when they report sex crimes."

And further:

"Women need to take to the streets – but not for the right to be called "slut". Women should be fighting for liberation from culturally imposed myths about their sexuality that encourage gendered violence. Our daughters – and our sons – have the right to live in a world that celebrates equally women's sexual freedom and bodily integrity."

Here is one of the best SlutWalk discussions I've heard from NPR's "Tell Me More." Give it a listen:

1 comment:

  1. Some day I would like to see an International day of protest for all women. Like an one day strike to raise awareness. I wish I spoke more languages and could organize such a thing.