Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Social Media Spread of the SlutWalk Movement: Community and Cultural Relevance?

Demonstrators march in Toronto on Sunday as part of Slutwalk, an effort to call attention to sexual assault. From the CNN article and backgrounder, Protesters march in Toronto 'Slutwalk' stressing the role of Facebook in the organization of the first SlutWalk held on April 4, 2011 in Toronto, Canada.

The inspiration for this post came from the final article below. However, it linked to a number of others, including the newspaper's editorial which takes an opposing view. All the ones below raise interesting perspectives and questions about the new SlutWalk phenomenon or movement, depending on your point of view.

Some of these touch on the issues of domestic violence more broadly, and their higher prevalence among more recently arrived immigrant groups in Canada, where a stronger code of silence also prevails. Others are more specific to university student life which is where the protest began--after a police officer advising York University (Toronto) students, made the comment that to diminish the likelihood of a sexual assault wome should "not dress like a slut". In addition to comments in the university newspaper, 2 students organized a "SlutWalk" which they linked to a Facebook site.

About 1,000 people participated in the Slut Walk on Sunday. (Ivy Cuervo/CBC News)

The idea was to have a protest march with women dressed like "sluts", and denigrating the idea the sluttiness or dress could be correlated with rape or "asking for it". In somewhat of a combination of "Take back the night" demonstrations for women's safety, and re-appropriation of negative labels like queer ("Queer Pride") and GLBTQ Pride parades (which also originated in Toronto), protesters want to "take back the slut" and demonstrate sluttiness with pride.Man are welcome as Slut Allies, and to give credence that men do not equate sluttiness with "wanting it", and that they "love sluts".

That last idea is part of the fine line that sluts and the  SlutWalk. In the last article below, Margaret Wente explores others of these fine lines, a major part of what inspired me to do this post. They include media exploitation of the SlutWalk, and the risk of a failed re-appropriation, leaving the movement with the same relevance to serious issues that any parade of "half dressed" female university students would have.

April 4, 2011: An unusually foggy and "warm" day for the Toronto SlutWalk. Max Temp: 14.6 °C; Min Temp: 3.2 °C (overnight); Mean Temp: 8.9 °C; Precipitation Accumulation: 8.8 mm. Photo and statistics from The Weather Network.

The initial SlutWalk on April 4, 2011 in Toronto received coverage in local, national, and interational news media. It also was a subject of blog posts and further social media organization of more SlutWalks across North America, and now spreading primarily to the UK and Australia/New Zealand, but also to the Central Asian country of Kyrygystan (75% Muslim, 20% Russian Orthodox, 5% Other). The exact date for the SlutWalk in the capital city Bishkek is TBA. International and upcoming SlutWalks.

I look forward to your comments on the ideas above, the articles and pictures in the post, the questions posed in the articles and below, and your own impressions. The articles, from the recent debate on the international spread of SlutWalks in  the Toronto-based national paper The Globe and Mail, are in chronological order and link to each other. The pictures punctuating the articles are from a link in the articles but are in fact of a SlutWalk in Boston.

Women march through downtown Boston during the "SlutWalk" in Boston on Saturday, May 7, 2011, which organizers described as a demonstration against those who blame the victims of sex crimes. The walk was held in response to a Toronto police officer who said women shouldn't dress like "sluts" if they wanted to avoid being raped. (JOSH REYNOLDS/AP)

SlutWalk sparks worldwide protest movement
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, May. 10, 2011 10:24PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, May. 12, 2011 3:16AM EDT

SlutWalk, the in-your-face response to violence against women that began with a march in Toronto, has gone viral, inspiring plans for similar protests in more than 60 cities around the world and setting off a debate among feminists about using loaded language even if it brings huge attention to their cause.

In the coming weeks, crowds are expected to take to the streets in Amsterdam, London and Sydney, Australia, in Santa Cruz, Cal., and Austin, Tex., all under the SlutWalk banner. The growing tide of protest is the latest example of how social media can be used to mobilize people. But the attention the walks are raising is fuelled in no small part by the provocative title, coined by a Toronto art director who makes no apologies for her controversial turn-of-phrase.

“If you are going to be heard, you have to rise above the noise,” explained Sonya Barnett, who co-founded the protest movement earlier this year. She’s skeptical that a protest by any other name would be making headlines in the British press and on Fox News or eliciting messages from would-be march organizers halfway around the world. “Without such an audacious attitude, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Ms. Barnett came up with the name for last month’s Toronto march after talking with friend and University of Guelph student Heather Jarvis. Both were outraged by a report in a campus paper that a police officer advised York University law students to “not dress like a slut” to reduce the chances of assault.

“He used the word ‘slut’ in his way. We wanted to take the word and sling it right back in our way,” said the 38-year-old mother, who until this spring had never marched in a protest. Besides grabbing attention, the title also is designed to teach people about the harmful use of language, she said.

The Toronto group has faced criticism – most notably in the opinion pages of the British newspaper The Guardian – for using a misogynist putdown that some argue feminists can never reclaim. In a piece published earlier this week, two academics based in the United States wrote that the SlutWalk organizers’ efforts to change the meaning of the word were “a waste of precious feminist resources.”

Others who support the group’s bravado say any movement that challenges widespread attitudes that blame women for sexual attacks should be applauded.

Kathryn McPherson, a professor who specializes in women’s history at Toronto’s York University, said the debate among feminists is not new. “The question of where sexuality fits in is an intense one,” she said. Such a charged word should not be taken lightly, but in some ways, using it has allowed organizers to put the issue of women’s sexuality on the table and then focus on a more pressing topic – why society has failed to address sexual violence, she added.

As a strategy, it is clearly working, she said. “It’s clever. It’s effective. It has people’s attention.”

Ronda Bessner, an assistant dean at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, who organized the January meeting at which the Toronto officer made his remarks, declined to weigh in on marchers’ choice of words. Her main concern, she said, is that students feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault and that police have the proper training. The officer’s remarks, to a small group of students and staff that included Ms. Bessner, upset several in the room who were there to discuss safety, she said. Responding to calls and letters from Ms. Bessner, the officer has since sent a written apology.

“I was shocked. I did not think that in 2011 police officers would be saying things like this,” she recalled.

A frustration with similar attitudes – and the boldness of the Toronto group’s tactics – is what attracted Karen Pickering, one of the organizers of a SlutWalk planned for later this month in Melbourne, Australia.

A long-time organizer of women’s events that failed to get media attention, Ms. Pickering said the march has already been covered by both the city’s major dailies two days after details were released.

“We have eight radio interviews for this week,” she said. “I’m kind of like, bring it on. Clearly there are people who are fed up with playing nice and engaging people in subtle debate.”


Women march past the Statehouse during the SlutWalk in Boston, Saturday, May 7, 2011. (JOSH REYNOLDS/AP)

Earlier discussion
'SlutWalk': Is the loaded protest title effective or offensive?
Globe and Mail Update
Published Wednesday, May. 11, 2011 2:12AM EDT
Last updated Thursday, May. 12, 2011 3:15AM EDT

SlutWalk, the in-your-face response to violence against women that began with a march in Toronto, has gone viral, inspiring plans for similar protests in more than 60 cities around the world, Elizabeth Church writes in Wednesday's Globe and Mail.

But it is also setting off a debate among feminists about using loaded language even if it brings huge attention to their cause.

Sonya Barnett co-founded the movement earlier this year with friend Heather Jarvis. They were both outraged by a report in a campus paper that a police officer advised York University law students to "not dress like a slut" to reduce chances of assault.

Ms. Barnett defends the effectiveness of 'SlutWalk', saying, “Without such an audacious attitude, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

The Toronto group has faced criticism – most notably in the opinion pages of the British newspaper The Guardian – for using a misogynist putdown that some argue feminists can never reclaim. Others who support the group’s bravado say any movement that challenges widespread attitudes that blame women for sexual attacks should be applauded.

What do you think? Is using the word “slut” the right way to draw attention to the cause? Do you think it’s effective? Do you think the police officer's comments reflect a broader attitude within society?


From left: Isa Stearns of Somerville, Mass., Nadia Friedler of Cambridge, Mass., Louisa Carpenter-Winch, of Cambridge, Mass., and Emma Munson-Blatt, of Cambridge, Mass, march in the "SlutWalk" in Boston on Saturday, May 7, 2011. (JOSH REYNOLDS/AP)

Globe Editorial
Slutwalk sweeps North America
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, May. 11, 2011 5:34PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, May. 11, 2011 6:00PM EDT

The “SlutWalk” phenomenon that is sweeping North America and Europe, and taking root as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, is part of a broader, and healthy phenomenon, of ending the silence, stigma and shame around the crime of rape.

This refusal to accept silence and its inevitable partner, shame, has been seen of late in the interviews given by Melissa Fung, a CBC reporter held captive in Afghanistan in 2008 for 28 days and by CBS’s chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, who was lucky to survive a mob assault in Egypt in February. Jeannie and Anne Marie Hilton of Quebec, victims of incest by their father, the former boxing champion Dave Hilton Jr., wrote a book in 2004 to fight back against the shame they felt that silence imposes on sex-assault and incest victims.

The SlutWalks started in Toronto when a police officer told York University law students that they would be safer if they didn’t dress like “a slut.” This police officer should not be seen as representative – he had been warned against making such comments, and he has been disciplined for doing so. But neither can it be said he is alone. A segment of society (well beyond the police) still holds to this view.

And if dressing like a “slut” invites sexual assault, why is it that, in Britain, a serial rapist is targeting elderly women? Why, in parts of the world, are babies raped? Why have so many boys been sexually assaulted in institutional care, or men in jails? The implication of the “slut” comment is not only that the victim is at least partly responsible, but also that the victimizer is not fully responsible for his crime. At best, it serves as an excuse; at worst, as a licence for rape with impunity.

Some feminists have scorned the protesters for trying to take the sting out of “slut.” “You are accepting a label that is intrinsically misogynistic, one that defines women by their sexual relationships and stilettos,” one British critic wrote. But these criticisms seem beside the point. The protesters’ humour and insistence on expressing themselves in words and clothing, on their own terms, may do more to explode the shame that still persists around rape than 1,000 feminist dossiers could do.


Bridget Matros of Boston waits while Mara Brod, writes a slogan on her chest before the two participated in the "SlutWalk" in Boston Saturday, May 7, 2011, which organizers described as a demonstration against those who blame the victims of sex crimes. The walk was held in response to a Toronto police officer who said women shouldn't dress like "sluts" if they wanted to avoid being raped. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Embrace your inner slut? Um, maybe not
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, May. 12, 2011 2:00AM EDT

I almost feel sorry for that Toronto cop who ventured on to the campus of York University to impart a few tips on personal safety. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this,” he told a handful of students last January. “However, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

You can imagine the outcry that ensued. Before you could blurt out the words “fishnets and bustiers,” an empowering new movement called SlutWalk had been born. Thousands of women marched through the streets of downtown Toronto to protest a blame-the-victim attitude that trivializes rape. “This thinking is unfortunately everywhere,” complained Heather Jarvis, a co-founder of SlutWalk.” We wanted to take back the word and sling it right back,” said co-founder Sonya Barnett.

Thanks to social media, SlutWalks are spreading far and wide. One was held in Boston on the weekend, and more are coming in England and Australia. “We live in a society where rape isn’t taken as seriously as it should be,” said Katt Schott-Mancini, an organizer of the Boston SlutWalk. The walks are drawing major media coverage, because news directors think their audiences will be stirred by images of valiant feminists reclaiming their power and their agency. Either that, or by images of nubile young women in thigh-high cutoffs and tube tops. You really have to wonder who’s using whom.

SlutWalks are what you get when graduate students in feminist studies run out of things to do. In fact, they’re flogging a dead mare. The attitude that rape victims bring it on themselves has largely (though not entirely) disappeared from mainstream society. When a Manitoba judge recently blamed the victim in a rape case for leading her attacker on, he was universally ridiculed. Everybody was amazed that any judge today would be so ignorant. It’s the same with the police. They’re not perfect, but they take sexual assaults far more seriously than they did in 1972. As for cases of domestic violence, laying charges is no longer optional. It’s mandatory.

The highly educated young women who join SlutWalks are among the safest and most secure in the world. But you’d never know it from the fevered rhetoric. According to one widely cited scare statistic cooked up by the American Association of University Women, no fewer than 62 per cent of female students say they’ve been sexually harassed at university – a figure that is credible only if you include every incident of being groped by some 20-year-old drunk. The student activists at York continuously insist that their own campus is a hotbed of violence and sexual assault, for which the university administration is to blame. The only remedy is mandatory anti-oppression training for all. (In fact, Toronto’s crime rate, and also York’s, is among the lowest in the country.)

So, is violence against women a non-problem? Absolutely not. It is a very large problem in a number of Canada’s South Asian communities, including some not far from York University. Some of York’s first-generation immigrant students are no doubt safer on campus than they are in their own homes. And the pervasiveness of violence against women across the North, and in certain aboriginal communities, shocks the conscience.

These women will not be helped by slogans and SlutWalks. What they really need is the dedicated efforts of people like Jenniferjit Sidhu, a young Toronto police officer who goes on domestic violence calls in South Asian neighbourhoods. “I’m a Sikh Punjabi female, so they may be able to relate to me a little bit better,” she says.

There’s no shortage of other causes for feminists to take up. There’s the juggernaut of ultra-hard-core online porn, which has coarsened the attitudes of millions of young men and made relations between the sexes far more problematic for many young women. Or how about the sickening slut-ification of preadolescent girls? Maybe we should get more outraged about that. Anything would be a big improvement over the narcissistic self-indulgence of the SlutWalkers. I guess they mean well. But really, they’re so … privileged.


Is the name SlutWalk appropriate or offensive in your opinion?
Do you think such an event would be possible/ effective in your community/ culture?
What do you think of the potential for SlutWalks to affect real change in domestic violence, and sexual assault of women by men--or the prosecution of offenders--in your community/ culture?
Is the ability of social media to rapidly spread such a movement across countries and cultures, a plus, a minus, or a mixed blessing/ double-edged sword?
Would you (man or woman) participate in a SlutWalk?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Post:
The G-20 Meet the GLBTQ

From the Dallas SlutWalk. A "Slut Ally".


Wendy said...

If I were young and had a 'hot bod' I just might participate! In truth I might march with my fully clothed older bod because the matter of how a woman is dressed should be absolutely irrelevant when it comes to rape. Men are not animals and should never behave that way ... and most do not.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

It is telling that no where in the pictures you have posted is there a visible minority woman. The issue of all women, however they are dressed, not being responsible for any abuse heaped on them is a noble one. The demonstations could be a little self indulgent for the safest of women: white urban educated women. In Canada, there are lots of minority women who are treated badly within their families and cultural communities, out of sight.
Some, like First Nation women are particularly badly treated. One only has to read of the incidents of native women being abused and murdered by men and the indifference of the authorities to the reality of their lives and deaths. They do not even have to be dressed provocatively.

Susanne said...

Yeah, (just read Philip's comment) I hear some of the worst harassment is in the Middle East particularly Cairo even among fully-veiled women. Men just need to learn to keep their grubby hands to themselves. If they can't control themselves, stay chained up inside somewhere. Don't make the women pay for your criminal behavior.

(As Wendy said,most guys are not this way.I'm referring to the ones who sexually harass women. Seems many are concentrated in Egypt.)

Chiara said...

Ah, the sluts are back! :D
--after a Blogger dysfunction involving Blogger removing and then restoring posts.

If the comments don't return shortly, I will upload them and the ones also missing from other posts, based on the Google Reader copies.

In the meantime comment away!

Qusay said...

This kinda reminds me of the time women (well, a few of them anyway) protested in Arizona so they can walk around shirtless and braless because it was hot... so what they did was put tape on their nipples (because the law only forbade nipples showing) and walked around campus.

I am with the don't judge by the clothes thing... but then again, we are all human, and we are all programmed in a way to view people and judge them on what they are wearing.

Susanne said...

I'm more fine with you judging me by my clothing than by someone raping me because of them.

You can think things...just don't act on 'em! :)

Chiara, glad to see the sluts when I come to your page now. Earlier it was OBL watching himself on TV that greeted me. What do you think about porn being found at his house? Kind of funny that this slut post is back, eh? It was probably planted by the God-fearing man looks at naked women unless they are married to them. :)

♥♥♥ said...


hv anyone seen Seinfelds' "too much" episode. where he's seen too much skin it gets boring. frankly, it's like eating pizza everyday & everyday & eventually bleeeerghhh

a covered woman, when she accidentally shows her ankle its gonna be precious. why would a lady not want her body to be precious & exclusive - is beyond me. (^-^)v

pls don't make the woman's body so blah. i wanna be beautiful. honestly.

PS: Oh plus i've read guys actually tell a grandma to cover up her breasts coz it's not really a sight to be seen. sorry.

Majed said...

I have been told and knew by experience, that, sex is not essential or vital for individual 's survival no matter how strong one 's sexual drive is, he can suppress it,though at times one will feel he will go mad if can't have it,as I only knew of a couple of cases when men had really gone mad for not having it, and they did not recover.
But for sure it is not as severe a drive as the drive to eat and drink.
On the other hand as all the Darwinist say we are actually animals I think best way to prevent rape is to hang mating preventers(a thick fabric curtain hung to the waste of bucks and bulls) to all men on their wastes, because we don't know who might rape and because it is the male who take the initiative in all species the female only attracts him and drive him mad with their sex pheromones and gestures, just like the forbidden fruit so tempting but it is meant as try and test to check poor men 's endurance I guess rapist and harraser are those who failed in that test, so why to raise hell about it.
I don't know how many men miss their bus stops because very hot sluts happened to sit beside them, and they were so embarrassed and had to sit put and they cool down , most women think men are just like them need a lot of warming,but most men don't, men don't get pregnant I think that is why they their drive is less controllable than women's.

Chiara said...

World Naked Gardening Day!

First, thank you all for the further comments. I will be back with the original ones and my replies on "sluts", but first I felt compelled to share that May 14 is World Naked Gardening Day! Yes gardening as nature intended, and for everyone around the world.

Gardeners with enquiring minds, or just enquiring minds can read more here:

No need to roll up the sleeves

Of course, this being Canada, eh, there is the obligatory complaint about temperatures this time of year, but the whole article is interesting (and has a lovely lady wearing a strategically placed fern--no slut she!)


Anonymous said...

Of course, this being Canada, eh,

بإعتقادي نقد المجتمعات الغربية فيما يفعلون ونسيان اشياء كثيرة قدمتها الحضارة الغربية شيء لا يستحق الكلام فيه.

اذا انت وكل العرب المهاجرين الى الدول الغربية يمتعضون من هذه الافعال فلا ننسى انهم ايضا يمتعضون من اشياء كثيرة وكريهة كثيرة نحن نمارسها في مجتمعاتنا العربية /الاسلامية.
خلاصة الكلام اذا واحد مايعجبة الغرب لماذا باقي عندهم الافضل الرجوع الى البلد الذي اتيت منه.

Wendy said...

Here is a google translation from Anonymous' post. Not the best translation and of course one word it absolutely couldn't get.

I think criticism of Western societies as they are doing and forget the many things provided by the Western civilization is not something worth talking about him.

If you are all Arab immigrants to Western countries resent these actions do not forget they also resent many things and many bad we practice it in our Arab / Islamic.
Bottom line, if one Mayajbp what the rest of the West to have the best return to the country you came from.'

Wendy said...

I posted before the blog went haywire and what it said basically is that I would march fully clothed because women should never become victims because of how they dress. End of story.

Chiara said...

Wendy--thanks X2

I have all the pre-haywire Blogger comments saved and will post them all. Sorry I have been delayed. Student...end of year...English makes Google English look good...(not an Arabophone) :D

Anonymous said...

Wendy said...

It was on prepose I put my coment in Arabic for the blogger owner as she native arabian.

However first every one talking about rights & in wrongs in other socities should be looks to his owen one and then talking about others.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الآية السابعة قوله تعالى : { يأيها الناس إنا خلقناكم من ذكر وأنثى وجعلناكم شعوبا وقبائل لتعارفوا إن أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم إن الله عليم خبير } .
صدق الله العظيم
و رحم الله امرئ عرف قدر نفسه

Majed said...

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
عزيزي، اولا صاحبة المدونة لم يبدر منها ما يسيئ الى اي كان ، وهي امرأة رزينة،حكيمة،وذات ثقافة عالية،تطرح مواضيع مهمة للنقاش وتتناولها بكل موضوعية وحيادية ولكن بانصاف،وعليه فلابد انه وقع سوء فهم من جانبك لبعض ما قرأته والذي قد يزول بإعادة القراءة،ولست ادري كيف حكمت عليها بانها عربية،فهي وان كانت تعنى بالشؤون والقضايا العربية وتظهر اوجه التشابه والتباين بين الثقافات فذلك لان التثاقف هو الهدف من مدونتها .وهي اصلا كندية ذات جذور ايطالية وليست عربية والنعم فيهم كله،ويمكن معرفة ذلك من تعرفيهاعن نفسها في اعلا يمين الصفحةفي وجل من لا يخطأ.About me في قسم . حبيت اوضح واسألك السموحة.

Anonymous said...

we are different?

Wendy said...

As Majed said, Chiara is an Italian Canadian gal!

Majed said...

To prove my point that girls are a test for men and that rapist and harassers are men who failed this test, I bring to your attention the case study Mr.Dominique Strauss which is an ongoing case, and also an older case that is of Mr Bill Clinton both men of caliber and both found it hard not to trace or climb the contours of some amazing female structure, I guess they might have also had well calculated the consequent enormous prices , but deemed the adventure worth paying for. (all this assuming that both men were not framed and were not subjects of conspiracies which will be long debated).
I will not say all girls, but I can say many girls are OK with harassment at offices or other places for considerations, I remember when I have first been to South Yemen it was a hard core communist Arab country, I have seen how girls were exploited there in the name liberty and socialism,most managers, and high ranking comrades, those days preferred to have their secretaries offices within their offices, as those poor talk-big bankrupt communists could not afford intercoms, managers rooms in turn was literally furnished with beds or at least sofas that served as beds Ummmm Haaan and those days secretaries were like petit wives of high rankers and were very important figures,debauchery,Irreligiousness was the trend then, and it was convenient to swim with it morality,conservatism and piety was considered backwardness , few years later the country was reunited regime was changed from communist to semi Islamic, those same people who muddled in the filths of communism and socialism started fervently preaching morality and piety, and girls some of them I knew very well covered their heads and pretended to be the made of honor of Holy Mary,same thing happened in Islamic republic of Iran from super mini skirts to full covering chadors within overnight very silly when i think about it.

This when I started discrediting human being 's individuality and independent thinking, I instead, believed that it is all about trendism and utilitarianism, I think all those who made history are the onces who had swum against the against the current.

Wendy said...

Some women use their bodies and sex to get what they want and if you ask me this is very, very prevalent in countries like KSA where men control the purse strings. It is just done in a different fashion and with their husband. It still should be the woman's perogative to dress as she likes without fear of attack and even a prostitute has the right to say NO! and mean it. It is men who need to control their behaviour without exception!!!


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