Toronto police constable, Michael Sanguinity, provoked international protest with his remark that women could avoid rape, if they stopped dressing like “sluts”. Students are now planning a so-called SlutWalk protest for St. Lawrence.
The idea to have a SlutWalk on campus came from a discussion during AWARE taining for the sexual violence hotline. The Dub Club and The Advocates Program have both shown interest in bringing the movement to campus to bring awareness to victim-blaming and harmful language.
“I think it is great because it grabs people’s attention to start a dialogue, which is progress to stopping sexual assault all together,” Merika Wilson ’12 said. “It teaches society not to rape instead of not to be raped, which is an important issue.”
Heather Jarvis, founder of the first SlutWalk, said, “Victims of sexual assault are judged because of what they dress like, the number of sexual partners they have had and because they did not try harder to prevent the attack. Why are we shaming the victims when we should be supporting them?”
Women and men of all ages, races and sexual orientations came to the first SlutWalk in Toronto. Some dressed in jeans and t-shirts while others came dressed in very little and revealing clothing prepared to prove that the way a woman dresses does not mean she is asking to be raped.
“When we did the SlutWalk in Toronto I was heartbroken to see and hear from women that had been called a slut or whore for being sexually assaulted. At the same time, I was proud to see so many people take a stand,” said Jarvis.
Jarvis expected a few hundred to show up and march but on April 3, 2011, she was surprised to find approximately 4,000 participants gathered on the streets to show their support. Cities such as Boston, Dallas and London soon followed foot and organized their own SlutWalks.
“Every SlutWalk is independently organized,” said Jarvis. “It started as an expression of opinion with a specific message, but each city has turned it into their own SlutWalk demonstration.”
Though many across the world have participated, some are concerned that others do not understand the message behind SlutWalks. SlutWalks have been controversial since they were first organized. Many political, religious and feminist groups have taken offense, believing it does not help women rights, but degrades them.
“I think in order to have a successful SlutWalk people need to be informed and understand the message,” said Kate Powers ’14. “Otherwise having a SlutWalk will be pointless.”
Even on the Mac software Pages, the word slut is underlined and suggested that the word is pejorative and can only be applied to woman. Why does Pages note this, but society ignores it?
“The purpose of a SlutWalk is to stand up for women’s rights, to dress and act how we want and not be demeaned for it, especially when such behavior is acceptable for men,” said Maggie O’Connell ’12. She said she believes the language we use is detrimental in our society and allows for this double standard.
“That is who we are. We tackle language. We are meant to be controversial,” said Jarvis. “We chose the name because it derives from the police officer’s use of the language and it just shows that these ideas are still deeply rooted in the justice system and society.”
Some feminists believe that trying to break the definition of words such as slut is unrealistic. In an article published by The Guardian, feminist activists Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy state that “reclaiming” the word does not address the real issue. Because the word is deeply rooted in a patriarchal view of women, they said, it is beyond redemption. Dines and Murphy believe the real issue lies in blaming the victim.
“I think that if SlutWalks are used as an educational tool it can be beneficial, but if someone is not informed on the issues it won’t have an effect,” said Powers ’14. “I think it is all about using it in the right way.”
Dine and Murphy disagree, stating in their article that by calling themselves sluts they are making life harder for girls trying to navigate through the tricky terrain of adolescence.
Jarvis does agree that victim blaming needs to stop, but believes that the definitions for some words need to change. She notes that there has been a lot of criticism, but it is important to use that to work on their message. Every political activism group should have both sides to identify the difference. Feminists don’t have to agree on everything, there are some feminists that are pro-life and others that are pro-choice.
Across the world protestors are lining the streets and chanting “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no.” Despite the conflicting opinions, there is a consensus that victim blaming, slut-shaming, misogynist and oppressive ideas need to be challenged because they affect everyone.
Discussions to organize a SlutWalk at St. Lawrence are still in the preliminary stages and it will take the support of the whole campus.