Nikki Godden (blog editor)
No doubt many of you will have read in the news over the last few days about ‘SlutWalk’, a new string of anti-rape marches. The SlutWalk movement grew as a response to Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti’s comments to a group of students at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto:
‘You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here – I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.’
SlutWalk challenges this view that places responsibility on women to avoid being raped rather than getting the message to men to stop raping women, and the idea that women who dress, flirt and dance ‘provocatively’ are ‘asking for it’. This attitude is a prevalent part of our culture which fails to take complaints of rape seriously, blames victims and all too often does not hold rapists to account. The low conviction rate and high attrition rate figures for England and Wales almost go without saying.
In this respect, the SlutWalk events are an important means by which to raise awareness about sexual violence and convey the message that women are not responsible for rape. An admirable 3,000 people marched in the first SlutWalk in Toronto last month and 2,000 took part in the protest held in Boston at the beginning of this month. More are being planned around the world, including in the UK the London SlutWalk on Saturday 4 June.
However, I share Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy, and also Laura Woodhouse’s reservations. Indicative in the title, SlutWalk also aims to reclaim the word ‘slut’. The word slut has been and still is used as a derogatory term, and, significantly, one which is embroiled with ideas as to what is appropriate and inappropriate female sexual behaviour. While women should be free to wear the clothes they choose and express their sexuality in ways they wish – including ways that might typically be condemned as ‘sluttish’ – projecting this sentiment through the images and ideas of the word ‘slut’ is a risky strategy. Rather than troubling problematic gender conceptions and sexual norms embedded in the meanings of ‘slut’, it risks doing the opposite of what is intended: it may represent an ‘equation of empowerment and liberation with sexual objectification’ that Natasha Walters argues is the new guise of sexism (Living Dolls 2010).
So while I applaud those organising, participating in and supporting the marches, I do have my concerns.
Do you share these concerns, or do you think the word ‘slut’ can and should be reclaimed? Is it a worthwhile feminist effort?
[Please add your comments and thoughts below – but note that they will not be immediately submitted as comments are subject to the editors’ approval.]