Because We’ve Had Enough: A Look at the Slut Walk Movement

By Katie, 6:40 am

Hold onto your hats, folks. I’m about to express some really strong views about sex and sexual violence. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

When I first heard about the representative of the Toronto police force saying that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimzed,” I can’t say I was surprised.

Angry? Yes. Frustrated? Absolutely. But surprised? No way.

 (Source)

That’s because I’ve heard the language of victim-blaming time and time again. When a woman is sexually assaulted, too often the finger is first pointed at her. Too often someone says “she was asking for it” because she was wearing a miniskirt and high heels, or because she has a “reputation” for being sexually promiscuous.

In other words, she brought it on herself because she’s a slut.

My response to that claim has always been this: I don’t care how short her skirt is. I don’t care how low her top is. I don’t care how sexually active she has been. Indeed, I don’t care one bit how “slutty” she is. None of it is an excuse for sexual violence against her. None of it implies that she deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. None of it.

In the end, sexual violence has less to do with sex or lust and more to do with power.

I’m obviously not the only one who thinks this, as illustrated by the international Slut Walk movement that has sprung up as a result of the Toronto police force’s comments.

(Source)

Here’s the explanation given by the founders of Slut Walk Toronto:

With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation…whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

I do want to emphasize that my understanding of the Slut Walk Movement is not to claim the “right to be a slut.” Rather, it’s about coming together and stripping the word “slut” of its ability to turn a victim of sexual assault into the instigator. It’s about recognizing that the word doesn’t really have any meaning anyway, as you can be accused of “sluttiness” no matter who you are or what you have or haven’t done.

Indeed, the movement even goes beyond the word “slut” to challenge the all-too-accepted notion that there is something wrong with a woman who enjoys sex or embraces her sexuality. It’s refuting the idea that those women are somehow inciting violence upon themselves and it’s up to them to change instead of the perpetrators.

 (Source)

I like how Lindsay Beyerstein describes it:

[Slut Walk] organizers told people to wear whatever they wanted. The message was: Who’s a slut? We all are. Or none of us are. And who cares? It’s a stupid, meaningless concept anyway.

“Slut” is just another way of saying “worthless” without having to come up with a reason. Little girls get called sluts before they even know what sex is.

If someone calls you a slut, there’s nothing you can say to refute the claim because it never had any cognitive content anyway.

In reclaiming and reappropriating the term, the women (and men!) participating in the Slut Walks are effectively saying we’re taking back the word “slut” so it can no longer be used as a weapon against us. We’re coming together to make it known that we will not succumb to the unwarranted shame and blame thrust upon us.

 (Source)

Of course, some might argue that even though the message is sound, the means are inappropriate and ineffective. They could say it’s too easy to think that the movement is about promoting “sluttiness,” instead of about breaking the mythical link between a woman’s sexuailty and the violence that is done against her. They could say that the bawdiness of the walks will turn people off and make them uncomfortable, inhibiting the spread of the underlying message.

And yet isn’t the raciness exactly why the walks have garnered so much attention already? On some level, isn’t it worthwhile to push the envelope in the name of reaching a larger audience? In any case, they must be doing something right, considering thousands upon thousands of people have participated in the walks thus far, with many more planned.

In the end, to me the message is this: there is something deeply wrong with blaming the victims of sexual assault for the violence that was done to them, and we’ve had enough of it. That’s a message I can get behind.

Ok, stepping off my soapbox now!

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Have you heard of the Slut Walks happening all over the world? What do you think of the movement and its attempts to reclaim the word?

**As always, I welcome an open discussion in comments. Feel free to express any opinion you have; I will not delete any comments – no matter what angle they take – so long as they are respectful and serve to further the dialogue on this issue.

35 Responses to “Because We’ve Had Enough: A Look at the Slut Walk Movement”

  1. Kelly says:

    This is such a tricky issue. It drives me crazy when women dress in such provactive manners and hang all over every man. It is disgusting and degrading and it DOES send to wrong message to said man she is hanging all over. BUT in the end, NO MEANS NO and if she says no then it is never okay to abuse a woman and take what you want. Ever.

    • Christine says:

      It’s sad to think that in 2011 you still believe the issue of womens’ dress and rape are ‘tricky.’

      Ever hear about elderly women that are raped in their own beds at night? It happens–Do you think her cotton nightgown was so titillating that a man couldn’t help but rape her? That’s doubtful–Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power and hatred.

      The ‘message’ is man-made, please consider your thoughts and words and how the effect the rest of women.

      • Kelly says:

        Wow. Christine I am so sorry if I accidently upset you. I didn’t mean anything insulting about what I said above. I 100% completely agree that rape is about power. I live in the top death penalty state (Texas) and I fully believe that men who rape women deserve the death penalty. I think it is one of the worst crimes committed and it violates the victim on the most personal level.

        I simply meant that it drives me crazy when I see women dress in overly “slutty” outfits and hang all over a man. I think that is degrading to the woman and she shold never have to lower herself to such standards. I do think that can send the wrong message to a man but like I said above “no means no” no matter how you act or how you dress.

        I aologize if I in any way didn’t make it clear.

        • Katie says:

          I think this is opening up an interesting dialogue, and I appreciate that both of you are willing to share your views. It sounds to me, Kelly, like you’re pointing out that often women’s style of dress is directly connected to their personal level of (in)security. So perhaps part of the solution is to continue building women up and increasing their self-confidence apart from male attention. At the same time, Christine makes a good point in saying that there are tons of examples where power, not lust, is the obvious motivation behind sexual violence. So in the end, sexual violence cannot be stopped by altering women’s behavior or clothing; any solution that does not address men is not a solution at all.

        • Christine says:

          I appreciate your response. Yes, the topic is upsetting. No, I’m not going to give an inch until women stop condemning other women for their sexuality/appearance/manner of dress (read: slutty outfits/hanging all over a man).

          Does it really hurt you when a “slut” is “hanging all over a man”? I mean, I am a *lesbian* and think that a woman has a right to hang all over any man she wants–Who is she hurting? Not me. Not you. Not herself.

          To be clear, a woman should be able to walk around all day nude and not be raped. The human body isn’t something intrinsically shameful–Men put that shame on women to enable society to blame her for crimes committed on her *innocent* body. The rhetoric works so well because females condemn other females–They don’t even need a man around to shame us into “dressing appropriately” when women have been so completely indoctrinated in hating other women.

          Of course not all men are this way, there are some lovely men who’ve studied women’s history and work to make society better for all of us.

          –Christine

          • George says:

            Look Christine I was raped by a woman and abused for years by the same, what is this about that only men rape? Women do it too in a different way. some of the worse cases I’ve heard about is same sex rape. no I never dressed as a male slut however that superposed to look. like many women who wore non slutty clothes, yet the abuse still happened. you women have to stop pointing the finger at just men, you also have some responsibility in this too.

  2. McKella says:

    I haven’t heard about these until now, but I agree with you completely. I don’t believe that sexual promiscuity or wearing skimpy clothes is a good thing, but it is absolutely no reason for violence. Men can control themselves. I know men are visually driven, but they aren’t wild animals, and they can and should control themselves. Blaming a rape victim because she was wearing a miniskirt is like blaming a mugging victim because she had money in her purse. It’s ridiculous and no violence is ever the victim’s fault. Steps can be taken to minimize the risks (like staying out of unsafe neighborhoods, being aware of surroundings, etc.) but no one ever “asks for it.” I don’t agree with the manner of dress, but I think these “slut walks” need to happen, and it’s a good way to get attention.

  3. They used to say that women who dared show an ankle were “racy.” Right now (see Ms. magazine) there are Orthodox Jewish newspapers who are Photoshopping out pictures of Hilary Clinton and other women in the administration from the pictures they print, because to them, ANY photos of women, dressed in ANY manner, are “sexually provocative.”

    I’m planning to Slutwalk, and have posted about it on my FB page. I am sick and tired of men blaming women because THEY can’t keep it in their pants, or because they are afraid of women in power, or… I am bored and unimpressed by the excuses. Hey! Man up, you whiners! If you can’t think and behave rationally simply because you see a woman’s:

    ankle
    cleavage
    uncovered head
    lips
    belly button

    and it simply drives you into an uncontrollable frenzy of lust (which is BS, we all know) then maybe you’re not rational enough to be allowed to vote or hold political office.

  4. Write/right on Katie! And it does come down to the desire for power and control…and that desire comes from fear. It is my firm belief that waaaaay back…back in the stone ages or whatever, men feared women because first, they “bled” once a month and didn’t die, and second, they seemingly “magically” gave life. Back then men had no idea that they had any part in creating that life. It was all about the Earth mother…it was a very feminine-oriented world. But men were bigger and stronger than women and because they feared them, they felt the need to dominate them and violently forcing them to have sex, was one way to do that. Then certain “paternalist” religions came about and many of them were about controlling people (especially with sex). Did you know that the reason many religions are against masterbation and homosexuality is because it used to be believed that men only had a set amount of sperm and the powers-that-be didn’t want men to “waste” it?

    For eons it’s been all about control (and power).

    Anyway, I have never heard about slut walks until now, but I am 100% behind the message!! Go sluts ;-)

    • Katie says:

      This is so interesting, Karen! I’m really fascinated by the way women’s bodies have become a battlefield of sorts. I had no idea about that connection between traditional religion and a misunderstanding about human anatomy; it makes me want to do some research on other religious rules that probably have similar, distorted roots.

  5. Becca says:

    Firstly, we need to get off our high horses about supposedly-sluttish behaviour. There is nothing wrong with wearing whatever you like. There is nothing wrong with flirting and and behaving how you like around single men. Just because it’s not something that you want to do doesn’t give you the right to judge other people for it.

    Morality is completely personal – the “sluttiest” girl I know is an avid animal rights supporter and heading towards a career in diplomacy in the Middle East. At the same time, the most vehemently puritanical about sexual behaviour are often those who are intolerant towards other religions and races. We all have our baggage and different things that matter to us.

    Also, there is no “wrong message”. Sure, if you put yourself in dangerous situations by being alone with strangers, that’s foolish, but it’s not saying “read what I’m doing now, and disregard anything I say or do later – I’m all yours!”. If you find it amusing to give people the impression that you’re going to do something and then change your mind at the last second, then you don’t sound like a particularly sensible or nice person, but you’re still not offering yourself like a piece of meat.

    The most important thing is that only a rapist will rape. You may not be able to spot a rapist, because most probably look and act like normal men. Normal, decent men, however, do not rape – they cannot be lured over to the dark side by a girl who presses herself against him in a bar, or who wears a short skirt or – would you believe I actually heard this somewhere? – has wet hair in public. There are so many grey areas in life, but I just do not believe this is one of them. A man who does that to a woman was always going to do that to some woman, somewhere.

    Also, do people not consider how enormously offensive the whole thing is to men? Poor, weak, phallo-centric creature – you just can’t be expected not to go “Ug” and hit the next woman you see over the head with a club. If men are really like that, why are we friends with them? Why bother getting married?

    I think the Slut Walk is an awesome idea, in theory. I just hope it’s taken seriously by those involved and those spectating.

    Anyway… So this issue gets me kinda fired up! I’ll end with this – I read this article recently and found it very, very interesting:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/30/rape-is-not-a-compliment

    • Katie says:

      Becca, I’m glad you’re fired up because I am too! I especially like your point about the whole thing being offensive to men, making them seem like complete animals. It’s just ridiculous. Also, thank you for sharing that article. It reminded me of the post I wrote last week about the cruel things people will say to fat people. One tweet – which I decided not to re-post – told the story of a cop turning to an overweight woman who had just been sexually assaulted and saying, “who would rape YOU?” SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?! My blood is boiling.

  6. Stephanie says:

    (HA! That top picture is just up the street from my office…which was my 3rd thought after “right on” and “wow, I wonder where she got that bra, stunning!”)

    Totally agree with you. What you wear is not an invitation for an attack. Above all, we should treat people like human beings and in a manner how we would like to be treated.

    Besides, are they really saying that men are so stupid that they can’t control themselves? That’s a horrible thing to say about an entire group of people!

    • Katie says:

      I’m totally with you, Stephanie! And how cool is it that one of the walks was right by you!?

  7. peacebeme says:

    I have never heard of this, but I like the message. I was arguing with someone a few weeks ago that, in my opinion, there is not really any such thing as a slut.women that are commonly considered sluts are either women who like to have sex, which is fine, or women who are using sex to deal with something. Honestly, men do both of these things. I don’t blame anyone for either of them. The term is an old-fashioned, one-sided word that seems to never go away.

    • Katie says:

      I completely agree! The standard definition of a “slut” seems totally obsolete and meaningless.

  8. Katie, thank you so much for writing so eloquently about this topic. I couldn’t agree more! (BTW, my favorite poster is the one that says: Don’t Tell Us How to Dress; Tell Men Not to Rape.)

    I also totally agree with what McKella said: “Blaming a rape victim because she was wearing a miniskirt is like blaming a mugging victim because she had money in her purse.”

    That’s like saying you shouldn’t wear your good jewelry or nice designer bag out in public, because you’re just asking for it. Fortunately, we live in a free country, and we can wear what we want. While I tend to dress more conservatively (though I guess it depends on your definition), I still like to wear short skirts and shorts; and I wear spandex to the gym. I live in Florida, where it’s ridiculously hot. If I have to reconsider my outfit for fear of sexual assault, how ridiculous and horrific is that?!?! That’s why that poster is so true!

    • Katie says:

      EXACTLY! The idea that if you dress a certain way, a man simply can’t HELP but sexually assault you is downright ridiculous. Way too much attention is spent policing what women wear, when that’s not the problem in the first place.

  9. Meg says:

    I’d never heard of this before I read your post. I think my favorite line was that slut is just another word for worthless. Bingo. Getting raped certainly doesn’t make you a “slut” either.

    I personally think that out of respect for our bodies, we shouldn’t be dressing promiscuously.

    BUT whether someone chooses to do that is not my place to judge them, nor is it a scapegoat for rape. Time and time again I hear stories from friends or friends of friends who didn’t want to report a rape or press charges because they didn’t want to go through the “shame” of it. SHAME! Except they shouldn’t be the one who is ashamed. The rapist is the one who should be ashamed.

  10. maria says:

    Katie,
    Enjoying reading the comments, and great post. While NO always means NO, no matter what preceded the interaction or what the woman has on, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this issue. I do think that women need to accept some responsibility–not EVER for being raped–but for the messages they convey with their actions, including their dress. If women want to be treated as human beings rather than sex objects, they should keep in mind that dressing, acting, or otherwise behaving like a sex object perpetuates people treating you like one. If you’re out to get attention as a sex object, then you should be aware that you’re liable to attract men who are looking for a sex object.
    I disagree with a previous poster about there being two types of men: good guys, and rapists. I don’t think that men’s actions should be excusable because they can’t see past their lust, any more than lust motivates a woman’s actions. This being said, there are so many situations in this day and age when one or both parties’ decision-making powers are clouded by things like alcohol and other drugs. These situations can make even the “nicest” people do things they’re not proud of–including pressure people to have sex when they’re saying no, or take advantage of people when they’re passed out or incoherent. Both women and men are guilty of making poor decisions in these situations, and so I do think that there is sometimes a bit of a fine line. Anyway, FWIW.

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Maria. I am especially thankful that you’ve pointed out that sexual assault is not soley a women’s issue; men can be taken advantage of as well.

  11. I love it when you get on your soapbox, Katie! And not just because I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, but because I see the flames of passion and know that you are speaking from a deeply honest and powerful place. What a stellar piece, with such an important message.

  12. Alexis says:

    Just some thoughts…
    I wonder if men even believe the slut defence outside of hoping to be acquitted.
    I would rather see every high school incorporate a class in self esteem taught by a non-school therapist than see teens/young adults in these angry clothes. Cheap fabric, mostly black, cut badly, thinking they are making a statement on personal power and independence not having a clue what either mean.
    I don’t know about this march. Never heard of it. I can only judge by the picture. It seems a group of women are being asked to be taken seriously by mainstream USA. Well, mainstream is NOT going to agree with rape but they will agree about vulgar dress. I wish these women luck trying to convince the bible belt to accept a push up bra under a tiny tank with a mini-skirt as the right to personal expression.
    What I find sad and see too many times with women who dress in a “slutty” way is an obvious lack of confidence. They don’t own the slut. They play dress-up.

  13. Myrinda says:

    I’m going! I’m so excited! It’s right after my birthday! And my pal Heather is going to one in Chicago. I’ll probably just wear some kind of regular clothes (I’m kind of a chubby mom, lol!)
    No one EVER brings this on themselves. Even women who wear full burka get raped…old women, little kids, women who are jogging, working, leaving the gym…I DO think we need to make it CLEAR that what we wear has NOTHING to do with sexual violence being perpetrated on us as women.

    • Katie says:

      I completely and totally agree! Be sure to report back after you attend!!! :)

  14. Cara says:

    So, I agree with these women, dressing like a dirty slut is not an invitation to rape. But I think with these ppl missed was that the toronto police were saying that if you dress provocatively you’re more likely to draw unwanted attention to yourself. Gasp. What’s that? Common Sense?

    • Cara, what if you WANT to draw attention to yourself? As one eloquent young woman put it, blaming a woman for being attacked is like blaming a storekeeper for being robbed – obviously, he should have covered up and hid all the nice things in his store, so no one would have been tempted to steal them.

      Statistically, while 22% of murders are considered to have been provoked – by a look, gesture, etc., less than 5% of rapes are considered “provoked” by something the victim said, wore, or did.

      The majority of convicted rapists do not remember what their victims were wearing. What seems like common sense to you is actually a myth that benefits attackers, not victims.

  15. [...] few weeks ago I posted about the SlutWalk movement and the notion that a victim of sexual assault is never to blame for her (or his) attack. That post [...]

  16. Lori says:

    Perhaps the definitions identified under “Sexual Harassment” need to be modified. Perhaps punishment for any form of sexual harassment should be made more stringent. Even more so, perhaps state laws pertaining to “rape” should be enhanced and enforced so punishment would leave a lasting impression on the criminals!
    As for the way a person dresses: If it is justifiable to mistreat a person in any way simply because of their choice of attire (despite bad taste & poor judgement), then there’s a lot of golfers out there just aching to get their bums kicked.

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