Debating “SlutWalk”

Submitted by Matthew on 18 May, 2011 - 12:28

On 4 June “SlutWalk” — a march to protest against blaming rape victims who dress “provocatively” for what happens to them — will take place in London. The original SlutWalk took place in Toronto in April after a policemen said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

One aspect of SlutWalk in North America and here in the UK is to reclaim the word “slut”. Older feminists here have apparently objected to the march on those grounds. You can’t and shouldn’t try to reclaim such language.

Back in the 80s and early 90s I would probably have agreed with that point of view. I’m not so sure now.

In a very general way — in music, art, culture — it is getting easier to break linguistic taboos. The power of language when used to express sexist attitudes has not usually been in its content but in its context. In my view it is easier to create different contexts for these words so that they take on different meanings and still be clearly understood.

SlutWalk is a case in point. I think it is very obvious that SlutWalk is a piss take; it is a way of saying “I don’t accept your agenda”, women shouldn’t be blamed for abuse.

The reality behind SlutWalk — of ubiquitous victim blaming — is of course depressingly familiar and reclaiming the language cannot be the main point of a political action.

Only this week the media was emphasising the fact that the hotel worker who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault had a “satisfactory” employment record. So if she had been moonlighting as a prostitute, or was a “bad worker” in some respect, an assault on her would have been okay?

SlutWalk is an interesting departure on the feminist scene. What do other readers think?

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