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The Issues with SlutWalk

The misplaced comments of a Toronto policeman have inspired a series of anti-rape demonstrations calling for the of our culture’s tendency to blame the victim of a sexual assault, and not the perpetrator. SlutWalk is a cultural phenomenon that has swept through Canada and the US and has now made its way over to the UK. The purpose of the campaign is to reclaim the word ‘slut’ and demonstrate that the way a women dresses is not an invitation to be raped. Women should be able to wear what they like, feel comfortable with their own bodies and sexualities and not be subject to sexual harassment, assault and rape.

My problem with the SlutWalk craze is that it simply is not representative of the different demographics affected by rape and sexual assault. To claim that all men are latent rapists and women their sole victims reinforces dangerous social stereotypes that are a detriment to eradicating this entrenched culture of victim-blaming and gender stereotypes altogether. Reclaiming the word ‘slut’, in my opinion, is a little self-defeating. Not only is it an insult that has been used over hundreds of years to abuse and humiliate women, but it is also a representation of patriarchal social constructions that have oppressed and demeaned females for as long as memory allows. Why would you want to reclaim it? Perhaps an anti-SlutWalk would be a better representation of the kind of message the protesters involved want to send out. As an empowered woman myself, I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘slut’ for fun, or call any of my friends one, because despite being a woman and therefore being ‘allowed’ to use the word, it is still a sign of misogyny.

I really do not believe that dressing like a ‘slut’ and then protesting about the unfairness of inaccurate gender stereotyping is going to penetrate the psyche of the average Joe Bloggs on the street any further than that person thinking: ‘oh, there goes a bunch of sluts and whores.”

SlutWalk is attractively advertised as female emancipation from the shackles of a patriarchal society that has ruled the women’s body politik for too long. I certainly agree with some of the motivations behind the event, and I am not disputing that victim-blaming is an incredibly troubling feature of our respective justice systems and societies at large. I also find it abhorrent that our legal system cross-examines victims of rape in the extremely insensitive and impersonal way that it does. SlutWalk and I can both agree that this pervasive attitude needs to change.

However, a better use of time would be mobilizing people from all walks of life–men, women, teenagers and children, demographics who are all affected by rape and sexual violence in varying degrees and encouraging an all-encompassing social movement that demands change for all survivors of rape.

The last high profile rape case to be taken to court in the UK was that of a man who primarily targeted elderly men and women. Too often certain groups of people get overrepresented in the media as the only victims of sexual violence. Were these infirm and elderly victims dressed as ‘sluts’? No. But they still deserve our attention, our support and our protest. Women are generally disproportionately affected by rape, but the campaign, in my opinion, should be mindful of those who do not have a voice with which to protest the inherent unfairness of victim-blaming. This is something SlutWalk fails to do in my eyes.

About Katherine Williams

I am a final year student of German and Politics at Swansea University in the UK. From October, I will be taking a part-time Masters in International Security and Development. My main areas of academic interest include (but are not limited to!): gender, sexual and reproductive health, crimes against humanity, HIV/AIDS, development and women's issues.

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One comment

  1. You do a great job presenting pointing out that this campaign leaves out many groups that are essential to fighting rape and sexual violence. Although the SlutWalk campaign seems to have a good message behind it, I completely agree with you that they are leaving out a wide range of people who have been affected by rape. In order to truly stand up against sexual assault, all victims should be represented rather than just the largest group.