SlutWalk

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The first SlutWalk in Toronto, Ontario, April 3, 2011

SlutWalk is a transnational movement[1] of protest marches which began on April 3, 2011,[2] in Toronto, Ontario, with subsequent rallies occurring globally.[3] Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman's appearance,[4] and call for an end to rape culture.[5] The rallies began after Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that "women should avoid dressing like sluts"[6][7] as a precaution against unwanted sexual attention.

The protest takes the form of a march, mainly by young women, where some dress as "sluts" in revealing attire. In the various Slutwalks around the world, it is usual to find speaker meetings and workshops, live music, sign-making sessions, leafleting, open microphones, chanting, dances, martial arts, and receptions or after-parties with refreshments.[1][8] In many of the rallies and online, women speak publicly for the first time about their identity as rape survivors.[9][10] The movement's ideology has been questioned and its methodology criticized.[11][12]

Inception[edit]

Constable Michael Sanguinetti[edit]

On January 24, 2011, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti and another officer from 31 Division spoke on crime prevention, addressing the issue of campus rape at a York University safety forum at Osgoode Hall Law School.[13][14] During the talk, Sanguinetti interrupted the more senior officer and said: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."[14]

After an article that reported on the situation received international attention,[15] Sanguinetti apologized for the remark saying: "I made a comment which was poorly thought out and did not reflect the commitment of the Toronto Police Service to the victims of sexual assaults. Violent crimes such as sexual assaults can have a traumatizing effect on their victims... My comment was hurtful in this respect. I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated." The apology was attached to an email distributed to the Osgoode community by law school dean Lorne Sossin who said they've been told the officer "is being disciplined and will be provided with further professional training."[14] Co-founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis decided to redefine the word "slut" as someone who is in control of their own sexuality .[16] They observe that historically, "slut" has had negative connotations, and that their goal is to reclaim the term.[7] Their website states:

"We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault."[7]

Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, ON., where Michael Sanguinetti spoke the words which sparked Slutwalk

Barnett considered the apology was not enough, since the officer's stereotypical idea still exists in society. "The comment that was made by Officer Sanguinetti comes from a place where sexual profiling and victim blaming is inherent and a large trait and we’d like that changed," Barnett said,[16] "It isn’t about just one idea or one police officer who practices victim blaming, it’s about changing the system and doing something constructive with anger and frustration."[10]

Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said cautioning women on their state of dress is not part of any police training. "In fact, this is completely contradictory to what officers are taught," she said. "They are taught that nothing a woman does contributes to a sexual assault."[13] Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair also spoke on the matter: "If that type of, frankly, archaic thinking still exists among any of my officers, it highlights for me the need to continue to train my officers and sensitize them to the reality of victimization." Sanguinetti's statement, according to Blair, is meant to "place the blame upon victims, and that's not where the blame should ever be placed."[17]

Rosemary Gartner, a University of Toronto criminologist, said linking style of dress to sexual assault is "ridiculous." "If that were the case, there would be no rapes of women who wear veils and we know there are rapes in those countries," she said. Darshika Selvasivam, vice-president of the York Federation of Students, said she found the use of the word "extremely alarming." Linking provocative clothing to sexual assault "is a huge myth" and all it does is "blame the survivor of a sexual assault while taking the onus away from the perpetrator," she said. A university spokesperson also said the school was "surprised and shocked" by the comment, although it does have a good and collaborative relationship with police.[14]

To be sure, such a comment from law enforcement is highly offensive in suggesting that some victims of rape are responsible for the criminal acts of their attackers. Rather than admonishing women to dress a certain way, police should be warning potential offenders that they should 'avoid assaulting women in order not to go to prison' —Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy[18]

Justice Robert Dewar[edit]

Slutwalk organizer Sonya Barnett named the case of Justice Robert Dewar as one of the main reasons to create the movement,[19] and it became also the main cause of Slutwalk Winnipeg.[20]

On February 18, 2011[21] Justice Robert Dewar convicted Thompson resident Kenneth Rhodes, who worked for the city council, of sexual assault and sentenced him to two years house arrest. Dewar described Rhodes as a “clumsy Don Juan” who had the mistaken belief “sex was in the air” and a “heightened expectation” sex would occur. Dewar said the victim and a friend were dressed in tube tops and high heels when they met Rhodes and another man outside a bar “and made it publicly known that they wanted to party.” The court in Winnipeg, Manitoba, heard that the victim had willingly gone off with Rhodes and kissed him. But after she rebuffed his further advances three times he raped her by the side of the road once they were alone. Rhodes admitted telling the woman 'it would only hurt for a little while' during the assault.

He pleaded not guilty at his trial saying he thought the woman had consented to sex. Dewar rejected his defence but said aspects of it could be considered in sentencing. Prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence, but Dewar gave Rhodes a conditional or suspended sentence, and ordered him to write a letter of apology to his victim. Politicians of all stripes joined student and feminist groups and those who work with sexual assault victims in decrying the comments.

University of Winnipeg politics professor Shannon Sampert said this is the collateral damage that occurs when you have poorly trained judges in the system. “The victim in this case gets to relive her experiences once again in a new trial, hoping that this judge won’t require gender sensitivity training,” said Sampert. She said surveys repeatedly show one of the primary reasons women don’t report being raped is because of a fear of being victimized again by the justice system.

On February 25, nearly 100 people gathered to call for Justice Robert Dewar’s resignation. "These statements by Dewar are reinforcing the myth of implied consent and the myth that a victim of sexual assault is ultimately responsible for their own victimisation," said Alanna Makinson of the Canadian Federation of Students, during the protest. Although this was not a part of Slutwalk, the launch of Slutwalk Toronto on April 3 gave the case national diffusion within Canada.[4][22][23] On October 16, Slutwalk Winnipeg took place to reiterate the protest against the judge.[24]

On November 9, Justice Dewar formally apologized. According to the judicial council, Dewar said he wished to “express my unequivocal apology to the (victim) for the hurt she must have experienced from my comments. Some of the letters of complaint, from persons who have worked directly with past victims, have pointed out that some of my comments were also traumatic for them. I very much regret that as well.” Alberta Chief Justice Neil Wittmann, who reviewed the complaints against Dewar, said Dewar’s comments “showed a clear lack of sensitivity towards victims of sexual assault” but do not merit his removal from the bench. According to the judicial council, Dewar has met with a “gender equality” expert and is “pursuing further professional development in this area as part of his commitment to become a better judge.” [21]

The Manitoba Court of Appeal later overturned Rhodes’ conviction and ordered a new trial be set. The appeal court ruled Dewar did not properly assess the credibility of the accused and the alleged victim in reaching his verdict. Rhodes was sentenced to three years in prison in 2013.[23][25]

First march and consequent growth[edit]

The first Slutwalk was organized in Toronto, Ontario, on April 3, 2011. Although the organizers expected around 200 people to show up, over 3,000 gathered at Queen's Park. “We want Police Services to truly get behind the idea that victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and sexual profiling are never acceptable.[...] The idea that a slut is a lesser person and deserving of sexual assault isn’t exclusive to the police. Media also has to get behind this idea.” Sonya Barnett explained.[19][26]

The day began with speeches before moving to the Toronto Police Headquarters. The invitation in Slutwalk Toronto website also warned: “Whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don't have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve: we just ask that you come. Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends. “ Some women attended the protest wearing jeans and T-shirts, while others turned out in fishnets and stilettos.[27]

New York City SlutWalkers dressed like sluts. Union Square, October 2011

On May 25, 2012, a new Slutwalk was organized in Toronto. There were fewer participants than the previous occurrence, although the presence of men was more noticeable. Outfits ranged from sneakers and tank tops to bikinis to costumes. Some attendees went topless. A delegation from the Abbey of the Divine Wood - a Toronto mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence manifested in their nuns habits and carried signs including one which read: “Sisters Are Sluts 2”.

At Queen’s Park, several speakers took the stage—a multi purpose truck—and delivered speeches, some of them spontaneous testimonies. A few paid tribute to the memory of Toronto sex workers’ rights activist Wendy Babcock, who took part in the first Slutwalk and passed away on August 9, 2011, at the age of 32. There were also multiple shows of support for Cece McDonald, a Minneapolis transgender woman facing a 41-month prison sentence for stabbing and killing a man after being harassed and slashed across the face.[28]

On April 4, 2011, a Slutwalk in Sackville was organized through the Sociology Student Association of Mount Allison University, and was coordinated to follow exactly a day after Toronto’s SlutWalk. According to Rebecca Cheff, one of the organizer of the SlutWalk, “the goal is to walk towards the police station and speak to [the police officers] about victim blaming and to raise awareness as they’re the frontline worker in sexual assault scenarios.” “There is a big misconception that people that dress a certain way ask for sexual assault, and that needs to stop now,” said SlutWalk student organizer, Lauren Hutchison.

Dr. Vanessa Oliver, a professor of Sociology and faculty organizer of the SlutWalk, stated. "We have had enough of this slut shaming idea […] owning our sexual selves should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence,” she said. “No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault." The protest contained a visible male presence. “While this event is not geared towards myself, it is a worthy cause,” said Chris Vizena, a second year science student. Two protesters dressed in morphsuits participating in the protest also said. “As men we can also create awareness”.[29]

According to SlutWalk London, the rallies aim to end a culture of fear and victimisation:

"All over the world, women are constantly made to feel like victims, told they should not look a certain way, should not go out at night, should not go into certain areas, should not get drunk, should not wear high heels or make-up, should not be alone with someone they don't know. Not only does this divert attention away from the real cause of the crime – the perpetrator – but it creates a culture where rape is OK, where it's allowed to happen."[30]

Jessica Valenti said: "In just a few months, SlutWalks have become the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years. In a feminist movement that is often fighting simply to hold ground, SlutWalks stand out as a reminder of feminism’s more grass-roots past and point to what the future could look like."[31]

It has been compared to the 1970s movement Take Back the Night (also known as Reclaim the Night), which promoted marches to raise awareness and protest against violence against women; although some tension between the two movements has been noted. As with SlutWalk, it asserted women's right to be on the street at night without it being considered an invitation to rape.[32]

To a lesser extent, it has been compared to activist groups like FEMEN, the Ukrainian women's group,[33] and Boobquake,[34] an atheistic and feminist response to Iran's Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi who blamed women who dress immodestly for causing earthquakes. Both integrate nudity and protest.

Latin America[edit]

Slutwalks in Latin America were renamed “Marcha das Vadias” in Brazil[35] and “La Marcha de las Putas” in most Spanish-speaking countries,[36] sometimes using PUTAS as an acronym for “Por una transformación Auténtica y Social (For an Authentical Social Transformation)”[37][38] Countries like Argentina,[39] Brazil,[35] and Colombia [40] were known to host simultaneous Slutwalks in different cities. In all countries, Slutwalks were repeated annually at least once, although not always in the same cities. Some protests selected their dates to match significant events such as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women[41][42] and the World Youth Day.[43]

There were interactions noted between the organizers in different countries. Organizers from Argentina had previously contacted their counterparts in Mexico and Venezuela through social networks, and artist Adriana Minolitti participated in Mexican Slutwalks before becoming an organizer herself at Buenos Aires.They were, in turn, contacted by organizers in Bolivia and Uruguay to get assistance.[44][45] Also, the organizer of the national Slutwalk at Colombia had some previous interaction with organizers in Peru,[37] and Argentine activist Leonor Silvestri travelled to Chile to help organize La Marcha de las Maracas in Santiago.[46][47] There was also an active participation of the LGBT community,[40][48][49][50][51][52] and there was a common presence of sex workers,[36][52][53] or expressions of solidarity with them.[54][55] There was also a common regional chant: “!Alerta, alerta, alerta que camina la Marcha de las Putas por América Latina!” (Alert! Alert! Alert, the sluts are walking down Latin America!).[51][56][57][58]

All protests shared the rejection of Sanguinetti’s sayings, and some of them were also directed to local state authorities[51][59] and Catholic church representatives[60] whose public comments reinforced gender stereotypes and violence against women. Costumes representing Catholic characters were also found across different countries,[43][49] and many protests demanded a secular State and pointed at the Catholic church as the reason for women’s rights to be held back.[35][61] There were some exceptions like Colombia, in which Catholics marched among people of all other religions, under the banner of La Marcha de las Putas,[37] and the Marcha das Vadias against the public spending for the visit of Pope Francis in Copacabana, Brazil, featured dissident Catholic groups marching among the protesters.[43]

Some protests evolved into permanent organizations, which kept working throughout the whole year to fight violence against women,[37][62] and participated or organized events other than the typical Slutwalks to raise awareness on sexual assault.[63][64]

Slutwalks in Latin America

Marcha das Vadias in Brasilia, on June 18, 2011. The sign reads: "Changing the world through Feminisms"
Marcha de las Putas in Costa Rica, August 14, 2011
Sign from La Marcha de las Putas saying: "I don't want your catcalling, I want your respect"

India and the world[edit]

On July 16, 2011, about 50 people rallied for India's first Slutwalk in Bhopal, called Slutwalk arthaat Besharmi Morcha.[65][66] Rita Banerji, Indian feminist and author reports that SlutWalk was criticised as irrelevant in the face of female feticide, infanticide, dowry murders and honor killings. She argues: "The issue at the crux of the SlutWalk is one and the same as for all the other above mentioned afflictions. It is about the recognition of women as individuals with certain fundamental rights, including that of safety and personal choices, which no one, not even the family, can violate."[67]

On July 31, 2011, Besharmi Morcha took place at New Delhi, sometimes referred to as "The Rape Capital of India" for having the highest numbers of such crime. The estimated number of protesters was around 500. To ensure that no untoward incident took place, police personnel were deployed all around the area. "No one can ever be safe in Delhi. When we leave our homes, even we are not sure whether we will return safely or not," said a police constable on the condition of anonymity. Actress and social activist Nafisa Ali was present. "Basically, we need to work towards the safety of women on streets. It's an issue of mindset. If a boy can go out at two in the morning, so can a girl," she said. Trishala Singh, one of the organisers, said in reference to the number of participants: "I am not at all disappointed with the walk. A good number of people turned up to support the cause and I am happy with it. I know one walk can't change the mindset of people but it will at least be a beginning."[68]

Another Slutwalk was held in Kolkata on May 24, 2012, gathering around 300 people. As described by the Times of India, young girls walked in all kinds of dresses right from sari and salwar kameez to jeans and skirts. "We want to bring fore the point that one can be sexually harassed even while being clothed from head to toe," stated Film Studies student Sulakshana Biswas, one of the organizers. At the end of the rally, artists from Fourth Bell Theatre group performed short plays and recited poetries on sexual abuse written by famous Urdu poet Saadat Hassan Manto and Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi.[69]

A new Slutwalk took place at Kolkata on June 7, 2013. The walk started at Jadavpur University and continued until Triangular Park. Many participants had 'slut' painted on their bodies in bright colors. Sulakshana, Jadavpur University student and organizer over two consecutive years, said that she intended Slutwalks to be an annual affair in the city. Sayan, another of the organizers said, "We are under no political banner. This is a gender inclusion movement, catering to all."[70]

Singapore[edit]

Previous to the first Slutwalk, a public exchange between the organisers and the local authorities took place, regarding the particularly strict laws on streets demonstrations. Organizers stated there was no need for a permission to hold the protest, while the police sustained the global nature of the movement and expected presence of foreigners made it necessary. Finally, on November 30, a permit was approved for the Slutwalk to take place at a free-speech park called Speakers' Corner. Social critic and gay rights activist Alex Au commented on the issue: "maybe our senior civil servants can’t get past the word 'slut' and have begun to hyperventilate".[71] The Slutwalk finally took place on December 3, 2011. None of the mostly female crowd assisted in revealing clothing, though some did wear skirts above the knee.Others wore T-shirts protesting against blaming rape victims on the grounds of their outfits or because they had been drunk or flirting.[72] A new Slutwalk was held in Singapore on December 15, 2012.[73]

SlutWalks have occurred in cities around the world.[74]

Responses[edit]

Risk management[edit]

Australian commentator Andrew Bolt observed that guidance on how to dress in any given context is simply risk management, and such advice need not exclude opposition to victim-blaming.[75] Rod Liddle agrees, saying "...I have a perfect right to leave my windows open when I nip to the shops for some fags, without being burgled. It doesn’t lessen the guilt of the burglar that I’ve left my window open, or even remotely suggest that I was deserving of being burgled. Just that it was more likely to happen."[76] Mike Strobel even suggests that the approach SlutWalk is advocating is dangerous, and he would not advise a daughter to dress "provocatively in iffy circumstances."[77]

Trivialising approach[edit]

SlutWalk has focused on being able to choose what to wear without being harassed, rather than the larger and broader discussion of consent concerning sexual assault. It has been accused of "[fixating] solely around liberal questions of individual choice – the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics."[78] But Jessica Valenti says: "The idea that women’s clothing has some bearing on whether they will be raped is a dangerous myth feminists have tried to debunk for decades. Despite all the activism and research, however, the cultural misconception prevails."[31]

"...at a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent, I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort..." —Rebecca Traister, The New York Times[79]

Some popular responses have also questioned the wisdom of using the word "slut," even suggesting that "far from empowering women, attempting to reclaim the word has the opposite effect, simply serving as evidence that women are accepting this label given to them by misogynistic men," concluding "Women should not protest for the right to be called slut."[80]

Sophie Jones wrote on The F-Word regarding this criticism: "This is a clear case of these writers simply misinterpreting the mission of SlutWalk, which is not a protest for the right to be called 'slut' but a protest for the right to dress however you want free of the presumption you are "asking for it". I have been called a slut while wearing long sleeves and thick black tights.[...]The assumption that rapists target women who look sexually available drastically misreads the nature of the crime. I will be marching in London not for the right to be called a slut, but for the right to be there."[81]

Culturally insensitive[edit]

Black feminists have accused Slutwalk of being exclusionary to women of color. Black Women's Blueprint said in an open letter "As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “slut” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is."[82] Keli Goff entitled her response: "Dear Feminists, Will You Also Be Marching In N***erwalk? Because I Won't."[83] [84]

Global women's strike disagreed with the letter and supported Slutwalk's naming. In an article responding to the criticisms, they referred to Nafissatou Dialloa, a Black immigrant domestic worker who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, of sexual assault. "[The case] did not always get the attention it deserved, despite electrifying protests in the US, led by domestic workers, immigrant women of colour who are among the lowest paid. We didn't hear much from professional women. Yet SlutWalkers in London, Paris and other cities marched with "We are all chambermaids" placards, connecting our struggles. That is anti-racism—giving immigrant women of colour and domestic workers visibility in the anti-rape movement."[84]

Male-defined vocabulary[edit]

Young girl protesting sexualization of women and girls in San Francisco SlutWalk, 2011

Others have noted that the use of the word "slut" raises the hackles of those anxious about the "'pornification' of everything and the pressure on young girls to look like Barbie dolls".[85] Melinda Tankard Reist, notable for her stance against sexualisation of children in modern pop culture, said: “I believe the name will marginalise women and girls who want to be active in violence prevention campaigns but who don’t feel comfortable with personally owning the word slut."[86] Feminists Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy have suggested that the word slut is inherently indivisible from the madonna/whore binary opposition and thus "beyond redemption." They say: "Women need to find ways to create their own authentic sexuality, outside of male-defined terms like slut."[18]

Sophie Jones answered to Dines and Murphy that reclaiming a word does not mean celebrating that word in its current form. "Reclaiming "slut" should not be about celebrating the male-defined word as something 'positive', but celebrating the indeterminacy of the word when detached from its meaning. We want this word in our court, but only so we can keep it in the air and over the heads of everyone who would use it against us."[81]

Recently the debate about using the word slut has emerged within the SlutWalk movement itself. Organisers of SlutWalk New York City "have made the decision to withdraw from the movement because of the name."[87][88] In Vancouver, the organisers decided to cancel the march and have a discussion instead,[89] and a debate was held to determine a different name. Of the four names suggested (Slutwalk, End the Shame, Yes Means Yes and Shame Stop), SlutWalk remained the favourite, though half the voters had voted against the old name.[87] SlutWalk Philadelphia renamed the protest "A March to End Rape Culture" in order to take into account concerns about inclusivity.[90]

Pornification[edit]

Former British Conservative MP Louise Mensch has objected to SlutWalk "on the grounds that it 'lionises promiscuity', which she says is harmful."[91] She also added "promiscuity is not equality."[92] Indeed, the inclusion of "Sex Party branding" has been criticised in Brisbane, where it was said by a rape survivor "...they are promoting sex positivity, which I personally have no problem with, but a lot of survivors of rape are at different stages."[93] Guy Rundle has contrasted SlutWalk with Reclaim the Night protests, saying they "resisted the deep cultural pull to make women into objects rather than subjects, to be constituted by the male gaze... there was no way to watch Reclaim The Night and feel like, or be, a voyeur."[94] At worst, it has been said that "SlutWalkers have internalised their abuse"[95] and SlutWalk is "the pornification of protest."[12]

See Also[edit]

References[edit]

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