Just a few weeks ago, my university held “SlutWalk 2012: A March to End Victim Blaming”. The now worldwide movement of similar rallies originated in Toronto, Canada in 2011. Co-founded by Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, the first walk originated in response to a statement made by a Toronto police officer that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to remain safe.
I could not agree more with the principles behind the marches, including the unacceptable nature of victim blaming for rape and that a woman’s clothing in no way determines consent. I find it beyond absurd and upsetting that sexual abuse of any kind has failed to be eliminated in our supposedly progressive and democratic 21th Century society. On these terms, I would be the first person lining up to march in support of these causes. But the incorporation of the word “slut” is a major deal breaker that not only discredits what should be the purpose of the movement but also alienates many potential supporters who are put off by the offensive title.
Barnett and Jarvis decided to incorporate the word “slut” into their rally in order to redeem the word from its negative historical connotation. However, I’m not buying the idea that reclaiming an insulting term empowers women and reclaims their sexuality, and I’m not alone. It wasn’t until I attended The State of Women 2012 panel at the Connecticut Forum, which featured Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Connie Schultz, and Michelle Bernard, that I realized that I wasn’t the only one who feels that these walks are degrading in their word choice. Accepting and adopting a misogynistic term used to belittle and demean females does not empower women but rather perpetuates gender stereotypes.
To put the issue into perspective, many have equated the concept to the application of the “n” word to African Americans. In “SlutWalk is Not Sexual Liberation”, Gail Dines and Wendy J. Murphy assert that “the term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal ‘madonna/whore’ view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption”. They also make the point that, “Women need to take to the streets – but not for the right to be called ‘slut’. Women should be fighting for liberation from culturally imposed myths about their sexuality that encourage gendered violence. Our daughters – and our sons – have the right to live in a world that celebrates equally women’s sexual freedom and bodily integrity”. Instead of making the point that this term is 100% unacceptable, whether uttered from the mouth of a male or a female, it gives the impression that women are not only okay with the label but in fact proud of it. Just as any word that aims to judge and elicit shame on a specific group is inexcusable, so too is this label; it is simply morally unjustifiable in any sense. So long as condescending words such as this one continue to be used in our speech, and in the case of these rallies, by women themselves, they are perpetuated through generations. If women themselves can’t take a stand that enough is enough with the countless insults that degrade our bodies, sexuality, and status as females, then it’s almost a sure bet that true equality will never be reached.
Many have claimed that these walks symbolize modern day feminism at its finest. Despite what some may like to hope, the movement is not even vaguely reminiscent of second wave feminism. The female liberation movement of this era fought for equality in multiple realms, reproductive rights, and the general freedom of women from the enduring repressive nature of a patriarchal system. The execution of “SlutWalks” is inherently flawed in that it draws attention away from the true issues at hand. Much of the movement aims to shock. From promiscuous getups to a look-at-me title, many of these rallies use attention-grabbing clothing, diction, and signage in order to draw people in and gain publicity. This waters down the matter at hand. These issues should not require jazzing up in order to bring them to the forefront. They are ideals valid in and of themselves because they are fundamental human rights, and protesting for the right to be called a “slut” certainly isn’t one of them.
What proponents of “SlutWalks” fail to address is that women should not attempt to redefine themselves within the constraints of masculine terms of female sexuality. Women should instead abolish these outdated and offensive labels and assert their value as an equal sex that will not tolerate violation of the intrinsic right to live freely. As it stands today, the “SlutWalk” movement does not serve as a shining example of female empowerment but only a symbol of how much progress is still required before women attain full equality.