Archive | June, 2011

Slutwalk transcends race, class, and gender barriers

21 Jun

I am in love with the idea of the Slutwalk.

Last January, a policeman in Toronto* angered university students after telling women not to dress like “sluts” during a campus information session on safety tips for women.

When I first heard this news, it made me want to cry.

Women had to make sure to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to get every little scrap that we have in Canada, and that an authority figure like a law-enforcement officer would come into an academic setting, an environment where women have already been oppressed for hundreds of years,** and make such a hateful comment was like spitting on all of the accomplishments of modern women — a reminder that we still have so much farther to go, and that the end is nowhere near as close as we’d like to think.

Then something awesome happened.

On April 3, One woman decided to organize a local protest, and invite all her Facebook associates. This elicited such a powerful public response that what was intended to be a one-time local gathering of mostly Torontonian university students became an international annual movement. This girl cleverly titled the march “Slutwalk,” which was a catchy, tongue-in-cheek response to the cop’s misogynistic comment.

Of course, as we live in a predominantly patriarchal world, the statement of that particular Torontonian cop was not a one-off remark caused by a temporary moment of insanity; therefore, despite that it roused tonnes of feminists to the point of protest, these protesters also received huge backlash.

One of the major issues that people had with the Slutwalk was the title itself. It’s been accused of being contradictory, misguided, counter-productive, offensive, degrading…and so much more. How can women march for equality while referring to themselves using the very title that men have used for so long to assert their superiority?

Although I can see where such arguments are coming from, I disagree. That women in Canada could overcome such hurdles only to be proverbially pushed back into place by the malicious interjection of one boor is testiment to the fact that we need to stop letting men hold the power. As long as they hold it, they can always use it against us. The word “slut” is like an invisible weapon that can be whipped out at any time, anywhere, against any woman. Although women do not hold the power in our society, and therefore cannot truly take back what they do not possess, it is essential that we try.*** I acknowledge that we may never be able to reclaim the word “slut,” but that does not mean I will not support the women brave enough to own it. Calling the protest the “don’t rape women” walk may still be semi-affective, but the “Slutwalk” is somehow more compelling, it makes us do a double-take because it’s so in-your-face — and frankly, this issue is too urgent for us to be worrying about political correctness. I realize that the title of the protest is controversial, but this incendiariness is also part of what makes it so fabulous.

Other people resent the Slutwalk because they feel it represents a very white, middle-class ideal of women’s liberation based on the Western conception of what it means to “dress like a slut,” while in other parts of the world, or within the sex-industry, the clothing of the survivor is not necessarily what is used as the primary scapegoat for sexual offenders. They say that the Slutwalk disregards women in sex trade by not considering their safety or ordeals as one of the key values to fight for in the Slutwalk. To this I would respond that although the seeds of the Slutwalk sprouted from a Western university campus, women from any profession, in any class-background, in any nation can find relevance in its ideals because despite that what it means to “be a slut,” “be promiscuous,” or “ask for it” varies between social environments, yet the underlying root of misogyny is what draws all of these sundry notions together.

Moreover, in the new age of social networking and globalization, the world is a much smaller place than it used to be. Sure, the first Slutwalk was a retort to Western conceptions of “slutiness,” but as one tweeter living under a dictatorship in Tunisia sparked an international uprising, why not follow suit, especially with a cause as important as women’s rights? On June 12, a Slutwalk was held in Mexico City, and this Saturday, New Delhi will become the first Asian city to hold one. I hope that all global cities will do the same. It is so amazing and inspiring to see the world-wide outrage that the Toronto cop has sparked.

* As a sidenote, this particular cop was from the 31 Division of Toronto — the division dealing specifically with the locally stigmatized so-called “ghetto” of the Jane and Finch area. Cops in this division are known for their police brutality, specifically towards black male youths. In fact, within the community they are even known to get away with murder.
** In fact, women were not even allowed into Canadian law schools until 1950.
*** I firmly believe that a day will come when the patriarchy is fully dismantled, but as Martin Luther King Jr. united a country by inviting all Americans to participate in the Civil Rights movement, similarly, men cannot be isolated from our freedom struggle. I am excited to see that although the Slutwalk was initially organized by a woman, many men have come out to join the protest.