According to Nancy Sinatra, boots are made for walking and finally people have given them a reason, route and a destination; SlutWalk, now a global protest movement, was first organised by Sonia J.F.Barnett and Heather Jarvis. It comes as a response to a Canadian police officer’s advice to female students at York University in Toronto on how to evade rape; on January 24, 2011, Constable Michael Sanguinetti stated that the students “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. SlutWalk has now grown into a global quasi-feminist movement. It is an interesting and feisty movement where women all over the world have been encouraged to walk the streets near naked, in order to protest that it is not the clothes women wear that invite rape, and it is in truth, men who incite it. The protest movement is also about words, and the meaning of them. The SlutWalk manifesto states: “Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative association. Aimed at those who were sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality…”
But can the word slut be reclaimed? Has there ever been a time in history when the term slut was not used as an insult? Sluts are dirty. At least the C word has been washed a few times a decade, but slut has never been clean. So why is it that this is what SlutWalk wanted to fight to reclaim? Maybe it is because words are powerful, especially when we reclaim them, and for the most part, in our now globalised world, the internet relies on them. The internet is how the SlutWalk movement spread around the world, to even as far as Australia and India, and it is in blogs where most of the discussion formed. From the art bloggers, to fashion bloggers and beyond, blogs written by women lit up in debate about the SlutWalk movement. Artists began to create works in reaction to it, just like the piece below:
Fashion bloggers were keen to discuss the political meaning of fashion, just like Claude Smith of Asheville Fashion, who wrote a blog post entitled SlutWalk Asheville: Fashion Gets Political, which not only discussed why choice in what we wear should have no impact on sexual judgement, but also included links to “The 30 best signs at Slutwalk Toronto”, directly connecting fashion to the protest arts.
Here in the UK, Anna Clover, a culture blogger, wrote about how the SlutWalk protest movement is merely a controlled rebellion, widely reported exactly because it is not especially threatening, and easily shelved amongst the various views about women’s bodies in the media. One interesting point she raised was how the movement confined itself to staying within a capitalist ideology, because however much the movement was fundamentally about choice, the choices were already preordained by the society in which we live. Her points are echoed by Marina DelVecchio, who wrote in a recent HerCircleEzine inContext article, that the SlutWalk protests were merely a way of protesting in the confines of respectable female behaviour, and that this will not win any fight for women or women’s rights. Even if these two women, separated by an ocean but brought together by an issue, had not read each others’ opinions, they will have read many more like them, which would have informed their pieces. This has been one of the reasons why SlutWalk has been important to women—the connections that it has forged. It seems odd then that the SlutWalk movement’s manifesto seems so defiant on the reclaiming of the word, slut, when it could be about so much more. It has connected so many women, reaching out to bloggers across the world who may not normally participate in political debates until now, because this debate seemed to contain the fundamental question of whether women have truly been given sexual equality. But in actively avoiding the question altogether, instead focusing on claiming a word for women that has never been used in a positive context, the movement has left some women feeling disappointed and confused, and the movement itself without a long term or realistic focus.
But then something changed that brought the SlutWalk movement deeper into political debate; Ken Clarke, the justice secretary in the UK, recently stated in an interview for BBC Radio 5, that all forms of rape should not necessarily be classified as serious crimes, which led to a furious outpouring from women, and liberal politicians, on the fundamental definition of rape. Instead of whether or not women should have the right to wear short skirts and not be called sluts, the women involved in the movement started to question the fundamental nature of rape. Can one form of non-consensual sex be seen as less serious as others? Wasn’t all rape the theft of freewill, the forcing of someone on to another? On the SlutWalk main website there is an anonymous story section, where anyone can submit a story of either rape or sexual assault, and then it appears unedited on the website (it can be published under a pseudonym). This active form of sharing information is also how the SlutWalk movement has evolved from a reactionary protest movement into involving itself in deeper political arguments, for it is these stories that will give a voice to those affected by acts of violence, and forever change the silence that rape has historically been forced to adhere to. The definition of rape, and the very nature of how women’s sexuality is viewed in regards to it, are being called into question, and are now being debated by politicians, lawyers and most importantly by women themselves, who for so long now have had no one to reach out to.
The SlutWalk protest movement as it stands must move further—it must involve itself in the debates over rape laws, and must remember that although its fight to reclaim the word slut is important, so is the fight against the conflicting pressures on young women to act sexually active and still be considered virginal, moral and pure. The movement must be aware of, and actively publicise the consequences in, any proposed changes to rape laws, and understand that the fight is not only about choice, but also about the nature of women’s sexuality as seen in the eyes of the law.
Kylie Grant recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Kent at Canterbury, earning a distinction. Her short fiction has been published in print and online. She works as a librarian in London and obsesses over orderly bookshelves and stolen stationery. The House that We Built is her first novel, and she was inspired to write it by her teenage years spent reading crime novels and an overabundance of broken hearted poets. If you would like to know more or would just like to say hello please contact her at email@example.com.