“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” — Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti
Today marks the first anniversary of the social protest phenomenon known as the ‘Slutwalk.’ Originated in Toronto, Ontario as a response to Officer Sanguinetti’s address to students at a York University safety forum in which he famously invoked the ‘s word’ to describe preventive measures women could take against sexual violence, the pioneering Queen’s Park gathering amassed over 3,000 people. Although the website for the event advised women to dress in their everyday wear (symbolizing the outfits they were most likely to be assaulted in), many women chose to dress in provocative clothing – taking their open expression of sexuality to the extreme in order to further enable conversation.
Although Officer Sanguinetti apologized for his own comments soon after Slutwalk Toronto, the movement continued full-steam ahead . . . expanding to locations across the globe and receiving a large media following. Jessica Valenti, author and founder of the feminist blog Feministing.com, called Slutwalks “the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years.”
Not everyone, even fellow feminists, was on board with the idea, however. Given the baggage surrounding the word “slut,” many women are uncomfortable with an enthusiastic ownership of the label – even going so far as to say, as feminist Deborah Arthurs did in her 2011 article for the UK Daily Mail, that even attempting to reclaim the word smacks of tacit acceptance of its inherent misogyny. Others have found the sexual nature of the protests to be akin to a “pornification” of the issue and the scantily-clad female participants to be objects of male voyeurism.
But it remains hard to argue semantics when faced with the deep passion of the women and men actually attending Slutwalks. In the 21st century, when these kinds of myths and stereotypes should have been long defeated and it’s easy to get so frustrated with your culture that you just give up entirely, these are people who refuse to shut up! And shutting up, being silent, in a culture that is desperately forcing its labels on you and your body in order to devalue and dismiss you is absolutely fatal.
It isn’t about just being able to walk down the street wearing a shirt proclaiming, “I’m a slut!” Because maybe that won’t get you raped. It probably won’t. It’s about the systematic victim-blaming that has been codified in our legal system. As Frida Adler once said, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.” When a victim reports her crime to the police and she’s asked how much she had to drink – that’s a failure in the system. When a rape is reported in the paper and it’s noted that the victim was walking home alone from a party – that’s a failure in the system. When sex workers can be raped without the proper recourse, because, hey, they knew what they were signing up for, right – that’s a failure in the system.
However this issue gets talked about – and there is no denying that Slutwalks have been instrumental in bringing it to the forefront of mainstream media – women can only benefit. We’re talking a long-term game, here, and the kinds of responses to sexual violence that condemn the victim and therefore necessarily exonerate the perpetrator are entrenched in our culture. We’re not fighting a battle that will be won for us or even our children, but the fact that they see us actively rejecting our own victimization makes all the difference.