Guest asks: Thoughts on SlutWalk?
Short answer? I’m all for it. I applaud the premises, I think it’s great to see grassroots activism go global, and I’ll be marching in the London one if I’m in town that weekend.
How I got to that point is a somewhat longer story. I have to admit, when I first heard about SlutWalk, it didn’t “grab” me in the way it has grabbed so many other people. It’s not that I found it offensive, so much as I acknowledged its existence and moved on, thinking: “I can see this has good intentions, but it’s not for me.”
Not because I’ve never been called a “slut” (what woman hasn’t?). Not because I’m not comfortable with people using or attempting to reclaim the word, either. But because, philosophically speaking, the idea that “slut” equals progressive and liberated and “prude” equals conservative and repressed doesn’t gel. Sexual freedom doesn’t always mean sleeping around; it means behaving in a way that is authentic to your values and desires.
Of course, SlutWalk doesn’t claim any of these things - not directly. But when I first heard about it, at least, I felt like it played into a broader discourse that does.
Then I got commissioned to write a story on SlutWalk, thought about it a little more deeply, and realised that my initial concerns were beside the point.
Here’s why. In the past year or two, there have been occasional stories in the femmesphere addressing what is usually referred to as “prude shaming” (personally, I prefer “compulsory hypersexuality”, but basically we’re talking about a critique of the idea that everyone is getting laid all the time, and if you’re not there’s something wrong with you - be it psychological, physical or political).
Whenever these articles are published, there’s inevitably a comment from someone saying that "prude shaming" doesn’t exist, because they don’t see no prudes being shamed. All they see is a whole lot of slut shaming. And I always think to myself, “Oh, for god’s sake! Just because slut shaming is alive and well, doesn’t mean that its reverse isn’t, too.”
But that frustration goes both ways. Just because there is cultural pressure - on both men and women - to behave in ways that are cartoonishly sexual, doesn’t mean slut shaming doesn’t also exist, or that we shouldn’t be doing something about it. You can be angry about both at the same time.
SlutWalk isn’t about shaming people for not being “liberated” enough, just as it’s not about whatever else your pet issue might be (“compulsory hypersexuality” being mine). It’s not representative of the entire women’s movement, or even the entirety of conversations taking place around gender and sexuality.
SlutWalk is a protest and subversion of the way in which the word “slut” is used police women’s (and gay men’s, and trans people’s) sexualities - who we sleep with, how we sleep with them, what we wear, where we walk at night. In particular, it’s a protest of the way in which the word “slut” is used to scare, shame and invalidate sexual assault victims. And these are all things I unequivocally support.
Getting down to an even more micro level, it is a specific response to a specific remark by a Toronto police officer, who told a group of university students they “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. As co-founder Sonya Barnett said when I interviewed her for my article: “If he had said something else, we would have called it something else.”
There probably is a debate to be had about the kinds of issues and activists that attract the most supporters and media attention, but none of this means SlutWalk deserves less support. It just means that others deserve more.
Got a burning question you’d like me to answer? Leave a comment, or send it to rachel dot hills at gmail dot com, and I’ll answer it here.