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.
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.
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.”
'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?
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.
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?
The G-20 Meet the GLBTQ
From the Dallas SlutWalk. A "Slut Ally".