Last week I took part in London’s Slutwalk. The movement started back in 2011 in response to the comments of a Toronto police officer who suggested that to stay safe, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” Here’s my attempt to understand and explain what the movement is about.
The Slutwalk movement is predicated on “The radical notion that no one deserves to get raped.” It seeks to reverse a cultural and legal system whose first instinct is to pin blame on the victim. By interrogating their clothing and behaviour – rather than focusing on the perpetrator – this is a system that presumes to judge and infer consent on their behalf. Another attempt to own, know and control women’s bodies.
Some of the best placards I saw were: “My clothing is not my consent”, “My human rights don’t end where my body begins”, (Which highlights the point that discourse around rights is very different to the practice of encountering an embodied human.) “My body, my rules” and “I’ll tell you when I’m asking for it.”
The best chant was probably “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no.” (I guess the final line of the chant would ideally be “an absence of positive consent means no”, but that wouldn’t be as catchy.)
Anastasia, the lead organiser of the London event, explained why the term “slut”, and the surrounding mental and cultural processes, perpetuate rape. “We are divided by the myth that some of us are worthy of protection and some of us are not.”
There’s a division between people who “have it coming” and people who are legitimate victims. I reject the idea that anyone “deserves” to be raped. And I don’t understand how anyone is asking to be raped. The idea that some people “have it coming” is just an excuse that we accept by social convention.
Even if you don’t see yourself as someone who “has it coming”, the label is easily applied after it’s happened to you. You become a “slut” and are outside the pale of protection – in fact, you had it coming all along. If there is a problem, you are the cause and embodiment of it. You are Eve/Pandora and you bring rape into the world and upon yourself.
This bogus reasoning leads to inquisition and vilification of the victim, attempting to determine whether (s)he’s a slut or not rather than on prosecuting the attacker.
If this system is to change, we all need to become sluts. By claiming this label, there will be no gradations from “asking for it” to “not asking for it” and no judgement and vilification. I’m not sure how easy it will be to achieve this aim, but I’m in agreement with the analysis of the problem and what needs to be done, so I hope the movement continues to build momentum.
Whilst there are some good challenges to the attempt to break down the worthy of protection – slut dichotomy through reappropriation of the word “slut”, noted on Wikipedia, my current thinking is that the movement has to go to the indecorous, indecent, “undeserving” places if it is to break down the harmful binary.