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‘SlutWalk’ – the right to walk the streets – comes to London


Harri Sutherland-Kay
WVoN co-editor

It wasn’t until last week that I started to really pay attention to Canada and Canadian politics.

This was due to the election of Stephen Harper (a Canadian version of George W Bush, minus the warmth and intellect) and the increasing global publicity of ‘Slutwalk’.

‘Slutwalk’ is a protest movement that began in Toronto following the comments made by a police officer, that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised” (see previous WVoN story).

This truly awful victim-blaming statement was made on 24th January and people marched against it on 3rd April.

The story has erupted and the idea has spread. London’s Slutwalk is to be held on 11th June, meeting at Trafalgar Square at 1pm.

The aim of these events is to bring attention to the inaccurate statement made by that one particular member of the Toronto police force.

Women have been raped whilst wearing jeans, t-shirts, baggy jumpers, burqas, tracksuits, in fancy dress, on a run, on their period, whether or not they shave or wear makeup, whether or not they are deemed conventionally attractive, whether or not they are deemed ‘slutish’.

Women and men both bodily and mentally abled and disabled have been raped by strangers, friends, family, partners; vaginally, anally, orally; with body parts, bottles, machine guns…the list is endless.

Placing the blame of violent, irrational crime on the victims of violent irrational crime does not achieve anything but a misplaced sense of guilt. Many women feel so ashamed of the sexual abuse they have been subjected to that they live in painful silence.

This is not good enough.

Neither is punishing women for how they dress.

Part of the original march was to reclaim the word ‘slut’, I’m not entirely sure this is useful or emancipatory. However, I also think this ‘reclamation’ is secondary to the main focus of these events.

As with Reclaim the Night marches, ‘slutwalks’ are about having the right to walk the streets without fear of sexual bullying and victimisation.

My hope is that these events will open a public dialogue with freedom of sexual expression at its heart. This could not only inform opinions, raise awareness about rape and its physical and psychological effects but, you never know, sex education could benefit as well.

If these events are successful, consent, choice, integrity and not abstinence could form the foundations of sex education. Sexual coercion and bullying could be better tackled by all age groups.

In my opinion, in order for this to truly happen the word ‘slut’, with all its connotations needs to be dropped.

However, the title ‘slutwalk’ is a direct reaction to the appalling statement made on 24th January, and this is only the first step of the movement.

Not going on the march will not change anything. Going on the march just might. See you there.

For more information on the march and to keep updated on the global movement, please see the Slutwalk facebook page.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    I think highlighting the word Slut as an almost universal way that men now refer to women in porn and men’s mags might be helpful in provoking debate amongst people as to how far men have fallen away from equality. Who knows? See you on the walk!

  2. Victoria says:

    I think reclaiming the word slut is very important. Because slut is a horrible tag, people addressed by it can more easily be victimised. If we are successful in attaching power to it the potential for victimisation should go down. The more visible, the harder to victimise in silence. However, there is that Gandhi saying of “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. We are being laughed at right now. The fighting phase is one of increased violence and I think we need to be aware of that. However, if we get past it, we win!

  3. If men can walk around unaccosted when topless, regardless of how big their breasts are, then why can’t they control themselves when they see a bit of female flesh…thigh, decolletage, wrist, ankle or whatever their personal caveman predilection. Do normal men not get seriously annoyed when they are grouped with the groin-focused idiots who regard their own gender as incapable of rational thought and deed when confronted with the possibiity of procreating like a highly sexed monkey!!!

    As regards the term slut, it is worrying that its provenance is so embedded in negative images of women, however reclaiming the term could defuse its impact.

  4. Epona says:

    So our younger sisters have found feminism have they. Great. Will it then occur to them that back at the workplace they are being significantly underpaid for same job as their ‘bright’ and clubbable male colleague? That the act of having a baby will disadvantage them for the rest of their careers (they have made a lifestyle choice, so they will be told indirectly) and that their career advancement is consistently overlooked in favour of ‘people like us’. Are they going to fight on that front too. I do hope so. We’ve been waiting for them to join us for years.

  5. Victoria says:

    Epona, your comment sounds very condescending. There are young feminist groups. I too wish there were more, but your comment actually made me feel less like joining one, not more.

  6. Jane Osmond says:

    It is frustrating that there appears to be a lack of acceptance by young women that the struggle for equality is still very much on the agenda. The problem is – as Epona points out – that until women who do not position themselves as feminists have children they are not subjected to the blatant discrimination and loss of power the new mothers face. And, once they are mothers, they probably don’t have the time to fight another battle – just staying on top of being a mother is enough.

    So we are left with the young women who, although they do have the time to join us, either choose not to because they haven’t yet come up against an equality issue that suddenly wakes them up, or young women who haven’t yet got the experience or the context to realise where the real battle is being fought. However, this is not to say that young women are not joining in – the internet is proving a wonderful arena for discussion, disagreements and collective action.

    Finally, I think the recession will help the cause because the inequalities will get more obvious and affect more and more women (sadly).

    All this is a long winded way of saying that young women will get there if they are not there already; and it is the job of us older women to be patient and help them when they reach out for confirmation of their perceptions, and also to learn from their lived experiences as younger feminists in a mediated age.

  7. Victoria says:

    Jane, I agree with you. I think all of us women who are conscious that the battle isn’t won have the responsibility to help bring other people to consciousness. I think a lot of people will realise on their own, but a little push can’t hurt!

    About motherhood, I’m reading “Shattered” at the moment. For me it’s quite amazing that anyone should actually think that motherhood would not affect them before they went through it. That and that we are equal, given the amount of sexual violence young women are subject to. I guess that is the issue – young women are acting against what they are experiencing right now and not necessarily moving forward.

    • vicki wharton says:

      I can see both sides of the viewpoint, both the disappointment of older feminists that so many young women openly decry feminism whilst enjoying its fruits, and the younger generation who may largely only be aware of feminism through lads mag and tabloid parodies and so may think that all the equal opps they enjoy are a gift to them from appreciable men who really do value them as people. It was a view I more or less shared until I learnt different through being raped and seeing how people who had liked me until then suddenly treated me as if I were a bad smell. That was at the age of 14 and the only people who were speaking and doing something about the issues I was affected by were feminists – everyone else wanted to leave the problem with me. And so I have found it over the past 30 years – that issues of gender violence are spoken of as women’s issues, as if there is no perpetrator accountability at all. Feminism is needed more than ever …

  8. Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti has been lambasted of late for his completely just comment “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.”. In my opinion, he is absolutely right. To organise a SLUT WALK to illustrate indignation against a reasonable and in my eyes justified observation by a member of the constabulary is pointless and futile. The views of women towards overt displays of sexuality must must change as the mental imbalance of sexual predators and criminals will not.

    Women have been using sexuality for aeon’s to gain what they desire from men in general. Dressing provocatively has become common place, yet women seem to forget that the word provocative comes from the word provoke. If one chooses to provoke a response, one had better be willing to accept the result of their provocation.

    I am a gay man who has been working in the fashion industry for 30 years. In my very knowledgeable experience, women dress inappropriately in a large range of circumstances. If a woman is going to attend a night club or a cocktail party, there may be a justification the wear an article of clothing that may assist in the procurement of a mate. But all women need to be fully aware that neither the police force nor the male population at large should be held responsible for the acts of an attacker. Some men have no control over their behaviour due to very severe flaws in their genetic make-up. This flaw has supplied them with a mental switch that just doesn’t work. It could be that the sight of a scantily clad woman in a certain circumstance provokes too much from a male with a psychological disorder and would cause them to attack the said victim. It could be the factor of pheromones or scent that wafts from the almost naked, would be victim. It could be a thousand different factors. It is therefore the woman’s responsibility to have the foresight to dress in a manner that will help to diminish the possibility of attack.

    I have been the victim of provocation from women myself. I remember a few years back (thank heavens I have a room full of witnesses to verify my claim) when at a an after hours chill-out I was attending with str8 friends, I was introduced to a woman I had never met before. I am a professional fashion designer, and I can tell you unreservedly that her dress was a bra with some chiffon attached to it to form a skirt that barely covered her knickers, which could clearly be seen through the translucent fabric anyway. Her breasts were enormous and I remarked “WOW!!! YOUR BREASTS ARE AMAZING!!!”. I was promptly slapped across the face and reprimanded for daring to look at her in that manner. Very fortunately, she was pounced upon by the party for daring to hit me as I was a gay man who was of no threat and certainly did not deserve to be assaulted in such a manner. She apologised to me profusely stating that she had no way of knowing my sexual orientation and was just defending herself. I pointed out to her that dressed in the way that she was, she should either be happy her ensemble provoked the exact response that she had wanted or she should be ashamed that she was dressed in a manner that would cause her to be spoken to in a manner that she felt was unacceptable. I explained that if the attention that she received was unwanted, then she should not be displaying herself in the manner that she was. We did become great friends (after she put a jumper on) and this experience still sticks with us today.

    It is absolutely ridiculous the way women dress these days. I can fully understand and even to a point appreciate the ingenious ways that women will use a handkerchief to make a complete outfit that they are actually able to store in a cigarette pack along with lippy, ciggies, lighter and money. But, for the sake of our lord, if it’s 4 degrees Celsius in February, wear a bloody coat!!! Instead of putting on more layers to keep warm, they seem to put on more weight!!! No wonder the national average for dress size is 16!!! Strappy high heeled shoes that leave the calves flexed into a sexually suggestive stance, acres of flesh… and the latest trend for skimpy tight cut-off denims with the waistband removed and zipper left undone to show off the lacy underwear beneath… what?!? Isn’t the G-string thing above the trousers cutting into the muffin-top extreme enough any more!!!! Is it really necessary to have your nether regions on display in such a fashion. It’s no wonder that Vajazzeling has become the latest mainstream rage!!!

    If a man is seen in a Speedo swimsuit with the slightest but of excess, the female tabloid jumps on the issue as if the poor gentleman has personally affronted the entire female gender. Yet we are constantly shown a barrage of out of shape women wearing bikini sets that are truly obscene with the cellulite/orange peeling proudly on display. An S&M enthusiast couldn’t even make a blindfold and gag out of what most women consider to be an entire outfit!!!

    I feel it is time that women accept responsibility for the images they present to men. Wearing artfully applied make-up that make them appear to be bloodied and bruised, clothes that are full of holes and shreds that make them appear to be attack victims. These are all tricks and illusions that make women appear to be weak and vulnerable to males that they want to attract.

    Like all sexual signals, there are times when these signals are taken the wrong way. I will never condone a sexual attack on a woman for it is deplorable in its violence and ferocity. But it is time that women take responsibility for these acts and to prepare and protect themselves from such incidents. Its not enough to carry a mace spray and a rape whistle for a woman to protect herself. Females need to cover up for their own safety.

    I think that women should take a strong lesson from The Gays. If a gay man is wearing a cut off vest with pink hot pants alone in a strange neighbourhood and gets attacked, why was he putting himself in that situation in the first place. That is why most gay men who go out to extreme venues will now naturally take a spare set of civilian clothing to change into. If women would have the same foresight, I could only imagine that errant sex attacks would diminish in number. Call me old fashioned, but if you don’t desire the unwanted attention, then cover up and you wont get it!!

    • Matarij says:

      This is a joke post right?

    • vicki wharton says:

      Speaking as a rape victim at the age of 14 and then 15 – at no point was my clothing anything to do with the guys decision to attack me. Most rapes (97%) are conducted by men that know the person they are attacking and I think chauvisism and/or gender hatred has far more to do with their behaviour. The four boys and one man that attacked me were all known to me and all openly contemptuous/dismissive of women’s opinions and wishes – so why should they take any more notice of a woman saying no to sex than no to anything else? This also ties in to objectification too – no one asks what a chair thinks of being sat on – so why ask a women if she wants sex, just take it. She’ll come round to the idea – and if she doesn’t, well no harm done. Policemen and other upholders of the law will mostly join up to dismiss, minimise or downright deny that there was any intent to rape – and so there are unlikely to be any consequences of raping a girl. Interestingly, this is not the case with male rape, where the conviction rate is much higher, most people do not blame the victim and perpetrators are mostly straight men humiliating and punishing another man. Or are you trying to argue that the man was wearing a mini skirt at the time and a pair of your St Walkers …?

  9. Paul, I don’t have time to do a full response to you right now. It will come, but in the mean time if you could do me a favour and look at this report here:

    And then tell me how your wonderful strategy would have protected these women from being raped I’d very much appreciate it.

  10. Hi Paul

    You subscribe to the view that women are in some way to blame for being raped if they go out wearing revealing clothes and have too much to drink. There is certainly a tendency in society to lecture women on what they should and should not do rather than making it clear to men that sex without consent is rape.

    The law says that one person having sex with another when that person has not agreed to it is

    Relatively recent changes to the law have been to move from the underlying presumption that victims were likely to be lying or were somehow negligent in letting the rape happen towards a standpoint
    that sex without consent is rape and all other factors about a person making a complaint of rape are irrelevant to that central fact.

    Hopefully this might be food for thought.

  11. Paul, you are surprisingly articulate for someone who has just written at length about how they don’t understand irony. I’m not a fan of some of the ideas involved in Slutwalk, but I can very much get behind the idea of deconstructing a word that has a lot of oppressive symbolic power. I have better things to do with my evening than write a point-by-point rebuttal of your post, especially since I know arguing on the internet doesn’t tend to change people’s minds, but as a taster:

    “Women have been using sexuality for aeon’s [sic] to gain what they desire from men in general. Dressing provocatively has become common place, yet women seem to forget that the word provocative comes from the word provoke. If one chooses to provoke a response, one had better be willing to accept the result of their provocation.”

    I’m not denying that women have used sexuality to gain what they desire, but much, much more often, women’s sexuality has been controlled by political, economic and scientific systems and used to deprive them of sexual and personal autonomy. Women have more often than not been disadvantaged by the use of their sexuality against them, and there is no more contemporary example of this than the word ‘slut’. Calling a woman a ‘slut’ appropriates her right to enjoy sex and turns it back on her as an insult; it is also used as a way to blame women for male sexual aggression against them, removing a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body.

    You say that women have forgotten the etymology of ‘provoke’, but I think you make the same mistake you condemn in others, because you fail to understand that ‘provocative’ can be in both the eyes of the provoker and the provoked. I might wear a dress that I don’t consider provocative, but which you do, for instance. The role of ‘provoker’ is not often chosen, and certainly no-one would rationally ‘choose’ to be the victim of a violent sexual assault. An attacker’s subjective feeling of ‘provocation’ in no way justifies their actions.

    This argument is essentially beside the point, because few rapes take place when a woman is wearing what you would call ‘provocative’ clothing. In short, your whole post is based on a false premise. As many slutwalkers have pointed out, a rape victim is more likely to be wearing jeans when she is attacked. This is why the ‘slut’ accusation is so incredibly stupid.

  12. Karen Whiteley says:

    I wish I could remember where I read about it, but there was a large study done of convicted rapists, virtually all of whom said that the clothing of their victim was completely irrelevant to their decision to rape them. Many said they had no recollection whatsoever what their victims had been wearing at the time of the attack.

    And yet, and yet…rape victims are still routinely judged – and questioned by police and in court – about what they were wearing when they were raped.

  13. Karen Whiteley says:

    Let’s also not forget that ‘professional fashion designers’ also play their part in pushing women to dress in an ‘absolutely ridiculous’ fashion.
    Maybe Paul only designs nice, warm sweaters with long sleeves, high necks and attached chastity belts?

  14. Simon King says:

    Karen, I’ve been unable to find the source document for that study but there is a nice summary of it here:

    I believe that one of Paul’s big contributions to the world of fashion is the “St-Walker”. Obviously, when he gave it that title he assumed that the name would only be understood as pertaining to a device that assists a woman in walking along the street.

    Cashing in on the recent airbrushed view of prostitution that books such as Belle de Jour have given us is no doubt beneath him.

    No part of the content on the following websites is encouraging women to see themselves as a willing receptacle for a penis.

  15. Whilst I wholeheartedly disagree with most of what Paul said, I do think it is important for women to take a certain amount of responsibility for their own personal safety. The majority of men should be capable of restraining their baser urges, of course, bur as Paul pointed out there are sexual predators out there who seemingly are not. Therefore it is important for us to be aware of our surroundings and potential risk-factors and do our best to avoid making ourselves vulnerable, especially regarding alcohol consumption and making sure we have a safe way to get home. We obviously can’t completely control our environment and total safety whilst still having a fun and interesting life is impossible, but we can do our best to minimise risk.

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