I guess that unless you've been living under a rock (or, I'm betting if you're my husband -let me check- yep, this is the first he's heard of it. Honestly, does the man never listen to the radio?), you've heard all about the movement provocatively named "Slutwalk".
For those of you that have missed it (I'm doubting there are many), earlier this year,a couple of officers in the Toronto Police force were holding an information night on Campus safety at a local university. And one of the safety tips given by an officer was that if women didn't want to be victims of sexual assault, they shouldn't dress like sluts.
Cue a LOT of offended people. And probably rightly so. It's disheartening to realise it's 2011 and the police force (and let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this attitde is limited to just a)the Toronto Police force or b) just law enforcement in general) still, deep down, believe that somehow women are at least partly to blame for sexual assault.
According to organisers, the idea was to highlight a culture in which the victim rather than rapist or abuser is blamed. Walks have been held all over the world, beginning in Canada and the United States, and in a groundswell, sweeping through other nations, ours included.
According to organisers in Boston "The event is in protest of a culture that we think is too permissive when it comes to rape and sexual assault.
"It's to bring awareness to the shame and degradation women still face for expressing their sexuality... essentially for behaving in a healthy and sexual way,"
And why "Slutwalk"? According the the original organisers, at http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/ -
Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.
Here's the first part of my concern. I'm not sure that the word 'slut' can (or even should) be 'reappropriated'. I think that there are some pejorative terms that ought to be simply retired. Not accepted, not changed. Banished forever. Nigger. Retard. Faggot. Kike. Slut.
(I apologise if anyone is offended by my typing out the actual words instead of resorting to "the 'N' word' but I didnt' want any confusion, and the "K" word or the "F" word might not have been as obvious).
I think that these are words that are nothing but hurtful. They are dehumanizing words hurled at innocent people with the intent to insult and hurt. And in my opinion, parading on the streets in a bra and your fishnets with the word "Slut" scrawled across your stomach doesn't 'reclaim' the term. At best, it turns you into a spectacle, enabling noone to take you or your message seriously. At worst, it perpetuates the stereotype.
They occurred here in Brisbane and in Melbourne today, and there are walks planned in Sydney, Canberra, Darwin and Adelaide.
And depending on which one you go to, or which organiser you ask, the whole reasoning behind using the term "Slutwalk" is a little confusing, even contradictory. Some want to claim the world as something to be proud of. "If I want to wear clothes that show of 'the girls' and that makes me a slut, then I'm a slut. And proud of it'. Others say that they want to "take back the word, take away the power people have over us when they use it".
According to writer and commentator Leslie Cannold "Reclaiming the word slut is going to disempower it. Gays have reclaimed the wordqueer and good on them. today the women and men of Melbourne are reclaiming the word slut."
Opinion writer and author of "The Great Feminist Denial", Monica Dux says "Enough of the judgements about our sexuality. Enough of living in a world where we do not feel safe".
Which is it? Are we embracing the word slut and deciding it is something to be proud of? Or are we saying that we shouldn't be judged on our sexuality and don't deserve to be called sluts because of it?
The thing is, that last part of Monica's statement is where my heart truly lies. "Enough of living in a world where we don't feel safe". And I think that this is where the organisers have simply missed the point.
Do I care that a woman can't wear whatever skimpy outfit she wants to a club and be subjected to crude comments and uninvited sexual advances? Sure. While I don't know that it's necessarily advisable to dress that way , I believe a woman deserves the right to wear whatever she wants and be safe.
Do I care that there is still a prevailing attitude that a woman dressed that way who is raped in some way 'had it coming'? More than I can tell you. I believe with every fibre of my being that it is NEVER the woman's fault. I believe that not only does "No mean no". But anything other than a loud, clear and sober "Yes" means no too.
But do I think that this is what feminism really means? No. I don't. I think that the feminism movements and women's rights were about equal rights for women, an end to sex-based discrimination and (in theory at least) an end to exploitation and trafficking of women. It is about promoting women's rights, rights and issues. The right to vote. the right to hold public office. The right to purchase a home. The right to an education. The right to have a voice. The right to apply for and be paid equally for the same job as anyone else and not be discriminated against based upon gender.
The feminist movement (also known as the Women's Movement, Women's Liberation, or Women's Lib) refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment and sexual violence. The movement's priorities vary among nations and communities and range from opposition to female genital cutting in one country or to the glass ceiling in another.
Now, of course, I think that the issue of sexual objectification comes well and truly under the umbrella of the women's movement, or feminism. And of course, I believe it to be a genuinely important, and currently relevant part of it. We are really no closer to winning the fight against the objectification of women, the trafficking and exploitation of women and girls into prostitution than we were 50 years ago. Sometimes I think we're further away than ever.
But it infuriates me a little that it took a dozen or so offended university students being offended (and rightly so) to start this movement. That this is all about what we can and can't wear and who we can and can't sleep with. That those things don't invite sexual assault.
And they don't. And good on you for standing up for what you believe in. The safety of young women in a modern metropolis to safely wear next to nothing and get drunk off her face, safely.
But why is it so hard to get people this passionate* about how women are treated elsewhere? Where in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, a woman (or a boy) can be (and usually is) brutally punished as an 'adulteress' if she reports a rape.
Why can't you get this worked up about the "corrective rapes" now rampant in South Africa and Zimbabwe, where gays and lesbians are raped (and often murdered) to 'cure' them of their sexual orientation. The latest reported victim is a 13 year old little girl. It is reported that at least 10 women a week are subjected to 'corrective rape' in Cape Town alone. It is said that this practice is now growing more common in schools.
Did you know that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is considered the 'rape capital of the world'? That the prevelance of rape and butchery is so high that it's been said “Sexual violence in Congo reaches a level never reached anywhere else. It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide.” Women and children (as young as 5 months old) are raped for months on end and butchered. Those that survive are usually shunned by their families and villages, and so incredibly physically injured that they can never have children again, and need colostomy bags as their reproductive and digestive systems are so badly damaged.
(This video isn't necessarily easy to watch, it is heartbreaking rather than graphic, but these women deserve, if nothing else, our attention and 3 or 4 minutes of our time).
A few months ago, I blogged about my heartbreak at a 4 day mass rape of over 300 women and children in Eastern Congo, just a few kms away from a UN mission.
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated at that around 30 percent of women in the eastern Congo are survivors of conflict-related rape.
Honorata, is an 18 year old girl who was kidnapped and held captive as a sex slave for 3 months. Most of the time she was tied to a tree, unchained every day to be gang raped.
But please. Open your eyes. Look at the world around you and how horrific it is to be a woman in Africa or the Middle East or the Sub Continent.
Don't march for me. Don't dress in costume and turn this issue into a mockery, declaring it a march for human rights if you can't see the big picture.
March for them.
Fight for them. They need it more than any of us.
Adding this to this week's FYBF. Head over to The Glowess for details.