Last year, 2011, saw “Slutwalk” burst on to the feminist scene worldwide.
The UK saw Slutwalks in Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Bristol, Newcastle, Birmingham and Cardiff.
Slutwalking was a response to police officer, Michael Sanguinetti, who told women at Toronto’s York University to “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. Aside from perpetuating an inaccurate image of sexual assault as something which is most likely to happen when you’re drunk and walking home alone at night, Sanguinetti’s comments highlighted a broader culture, which places responsibility for rape on women.
In 2012 marches were again held in Toronto, Melbourne, Washington DC, Berlin, New York City, Johannesburg and elsewhere. Slutwalk London took place on Saturday 22 September and was again a positive, inclusive and diverse event. The turnout dropped from 5,000 to around 2,000 but, as in 2011, this was not a march padded out by left-wing groups. The majority of placards were homemade and I spoke to many women who were new to Slutwalk — or feminist marches of any kind.
Debate continues over the concept of “slut pride” — some find it empowering, while others find the attempts to “re-appropriate” patriarchal language offensive. Organisers in Vancouver opted instead to hold interactive community film showings and discussions.
In London speakers from the Slut Means Speak Up campaign, Women Against Rape, the English Collective of Prostitutes, and the YouTube feminist sensations Those Pesky Dames reminded us of Slutwalk’s core message. Women can make a stand and say we’re not ashamed of enjoying consensual sex — but we won’t stand for anything else and won’t be made to feel guilty for this! Rape is not the product of sexual attraction, a person’s dress sense or behaviour — it is a form of violence; a way to demonstrate power over another person.
The focus this year was fighting against the appalling way the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts treat women who report rapes, and the low 6% conviction rate (90% of rapes go unreported).
Placards and speeches took into account the multiplicity of factors which can affect women’s experiences around sexual assault; one placard highlighted how migrant women reporting rape face exploitation of their immigration status and racism.
Women’s Fightback marched with the Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance and others in a pro-choice bloc in recognition that “slut shaming” and undermining women who are sexually assaulted are part of the broader attack on women’s right to control our own bodies. This ranges from the anti-choice “vigils” many women accessing sexual health services now face, to the cuts and closure of reproductive rights and rape support services, to government attacks on sex and relationships education.
Slutwalk remains a unique opportunity for feminists in Britain — in contrast to movements such as Reclaim the Night. Men, trans people and sex workers are actively invited and play a central role in the campaign. This year I saw a broadening of the issues and diversification of the movement, which can only be a good thing.
The spark for Slutwalk is not gone: rape is trivialised or made into a subject for “jokes”, and women still face blame and mistreatment by the police, courts and wider society. Recently, the response to the Julian Assange case has shown that even parts of the radical left are willing to justify sexual assault if it fits with their pseudo anti-imperialist worldview.
We need to fight against these attitudes in society and within our movements. Let’s keep debating tactics, the use of language, and how to make events and campaigns accessible and inclusive to all — that’s part of a healthy movement — but let’s make sure we keep fighting!
Because whatever we wear, wherever we go; yes means yes and no means no!