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The Story Behind Slutwalk: A Slut by any Other Name Would March the Same

Ashly Lorenzana’s Avatar Article by Blog Slixa Late Night

The thoughtful advice and opinions of the author of this article are meant to be informative and entertaining and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Slixa.

Believe it or not, some languages don't even have an equivalent word for "slut." Brazil and Honduras are two examples of cultures in which a word with this meaning has no place.

In Western culture, "slut" has evolved almost as much as the word "gay" has over the past fifty years or longer. Just as the latter was once used as a way to express "happiness," and now is largely used to describe homosexuality, "slut" emerged from its original derogatory darkness and has now become a word that some women not only take as a compliment, but even go as far as to celebrate.

Let's backup for a moment though, before we move on from this topic. We all know that the old adage is a lie; words can cause incredible amounts of damage to individuals. There is no sensible person who will try to say otherwise.

In fact, that's how all of this was set into motion. All it took was one person's poorly chosen and insensitive words to spark a global movement to represent all of those who disagree.

That person was Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who on January 24th, 2011 spoke to students about crime prevention at York University. Against the better judgement and advice of others, Mr. Sanguinetti came out and said that in order to stay safe from sexual violence, " "women should avoid dressing like sluts."

Although I'd like to believe that in this day and age people have come to realize that there is no excuse for sex crimes like rape, statements from law enforcement like this one are an alarming reminder that many people still cling to the old "she was dressed that way, so she was asking for it," mentality.

Needless to say, many of the women present took great offense to his words and two in particular decided that something needed to be done. Women needed to have a voice and they wanted their response to be heard.

Those two women were Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, the co-founders of Slutwalk which began on April 3rd, 2011 in Toronto, Canada and which has since gone global.

Their message is clear; that dressing like a slut is in no way a valid argument for excusing sexual violence and rape and that the shame involved in such crimes is not meant to be aimed at victims, but rather the criminals who hurt them.

Both women have backgrounds that include gender studies and sex positive initiatives prior to starting Slutwalk. And neither of them were impressed by the apology later offered by Mr. Sanguinetti when he came out and publicly stated that "I am embarrassed by the comment I made and it shall not be repeated."

In an interview on Feministing.com, Ms. Jarvis responded by saying, "That them casually saying an apology was apparently going to come out is not enough, because this was really despicable. So we said ok, let’s do something."

And something is exactly what they did, along with 3,000 other women who joined them for the first official Slutwalk.

Ms. Jarvis also goes on to say that the campus at York University "has a violent history of sexual assault, and of their campus police and institution really not backing up their policy with protection for marginalized communities."

She shares a story from one of the other Slutwalk organizers about a fellow "queer," as she puts it, who was harrassed in a campus pub while on her way to use the restroom.

According to her story, this person was questioned about which bathroom they were going to use and then physically attacked by this group of men. When police arrived, they seemed to take their time and the incident did not appear to be high on their priority list, which is a troubling part of this story.

While later in this same interview they claim that it all started by coming up with the idea and putting up a Facebook page, Slutwalk marches have sprung up all over the United States. Among the larger and most notable US cities are Chicago, Austin, Seattle and Philadelphia.

Internationally speaking, Slutwalks have taken place in countries including Poland, Australia, United Kingdom and even India, where fifty brave women gathered on July 16th, 2011 for the nations first Slutwalk.

It's important to keep in mind that women in countries such as India are facing much more frightening realities than being called names. The safety of women in these countries is threatened by everything from female feticide to dowry murders and honor killings.

Similarly, women in Saudi Arabia demonstrated in July 2011 by getting behind the wheel of cars. As difficult as it is for me to believe, Saudi Arabia is the last nation in the world where it is still illegal for women to drive. That means these women were risking arrest by participating in this protest.

One women who was stopped by an officer was issued a traffic ticket rather than taken into custody, which is a small victory in a country where women's rights are limited to a precious few.

As far as theories on the origin of slut shaming and how the trend was started, Christopher Ryan, co-author of Sex at Dawn, argues that it was among a suite of behaviors which were introduced to human societies around the same time that agriculture was, within the past 10,000 years or so.

He argues that prior to the concepts of "private property" that is customarily passed down within families in modern society, men were more or less unconcerned with matters of paternity.

While it does seem true that this would place more emphasis on mutual respect within a family unit than it would blood lines, as Mr. Ryan suggests, others claim that males have always had an obsession with paternity certainty. I'm inclined to agree with points made on either side of this issue.

However, he is wise to come to the conclusion that regardless of why or how slut shaming began, the fact is that it has resulted in many forms of violence against women and the battle against it wages on even now.

So do you have to be a slut to be a part of Slutwalk and help end slut shaming? Of course not. In fact, the organizers had originally encouraged women to dress normally because the violence they were protesting was aimed at normal, everyday women.

However, many of the participants showed up in clothes which were intended to be perceived as "slutty." While it's my opinion that Slutwalk is a positive and empowering movement to end violence towards women, it is not without its critics.

Among them is Melinda Tankard, who expressed her concerns by saying, "“I believe the name will marginalise women and girls who want to be active in violence prevention campaigns but who don’t feel comfortable with personally owning the word slut."

Personally, this makes no sense to me. You don't have to identify with the word slut to stand up for other women who do. Ultimately, this is about freedom of choice. Not just about what kind of clothes you wear, but about your fundamental right to safety in all situations.

Saying that Slutwalk discourages women who don't think of themselves as sluts from taking part is like saying that women from the United States shouldn't stand up for the rights of women in countries where less rights are afforded to them, simply on the basis that they cannot relate.

That might be true enough. As someone who has lived here in the US my whole life, I will admit it's incredibly hard to imagine the life led by women in such parts of the world. However, l do not feel that the cultural divide constitutes being excluded from standing up for the rights of all women and demanding change.


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