Days to go before SlutWalk London takes to the streets on
Saturday and it's already one of the most-discussed feminist events
of the year. In terms of radio and television time, column inches
and internet coverage, SlutWalk is already a huge success.
It's easy to see why. The event's provocative name has
kickstarted a heated, multi-media debate about the wisdom of
"reclaiming" the word slut (and whether that's even possible).
Pictures of scantily-clad young white women marching on the first
SlutWalk in Toronto last April have gifted the story with a "sexy"
spin that's made it headline news. Feminists protesting against
rape in their undies!
Who doesn't want to read about that?
As a result, we've all heard about SlutWalk's origins in
Cananda. We know about the Toronto policeman who told a room full
of students that in order to avoid being raped, women should "avoid
dressing like sluts", the rage this provoked in local women and the
colourful, noisy protest that ensued. We've heard that women around
the world have taken up the banner and the cry: No means no and yes
means yes - wherever we go, however we dress. We've seen the
homemade placards and read their angry messages: Believe it or not,
my short skirt has NOTHING to do with you. It's MY hot body, I do
what I want. Sex is something people do together, not something you
do to someone else. Men of quality respect women's equality.
Thousands have signed up to SlutWalk London's Facebook page and
hundreds are expected to join the march and rally on 11 June.
For many women, self-defined feminists and others, the event is
an unmissable opportunity to strike back at the shaming of rape
survivors, who are held responsible for "provoking" their
attackers, and the huge impact that rape myths have on all women's
According to the equality organisation Fawcett, more than a
quarter of people in the UK agree with the Toronto cop that a woman
is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was
wearing sexy or revealing clothing. And it doesn't stop there.
Twenty-two per cent hold a women totally or partially responsible
if she has had many sexual partners, with 8% believing such a woman
is totally responsible. A third of people think that a woman who
behaves flirtatiously is partially or totally to blame if she's
raped, and almost a third take the same attitude if a woman is
raped when drunk.
That's an awful lot to keep in mind as you go about your daily
life, hoping you won't get raped. Because if you are, your chances
of seeing your attacker charged, prosecuted and convicted are not
Currently, 47,000 rapes are reported in the UK each year - very
probably just the tip of the iceberg - and only 6.5% of these
result in a conviction. That's the lowest conviction rate in
Europe, and - shamefully - it's sinking lower. The ridiculously
common belief that women are ever to blame when they are raped
obviously lies at the heart of our pathetic legal record where rape
SlutWalk London organizers want to shine a bright light on the
justice system and the many ways in which it fails women. And they
want to shift the blame back to where it belongs: with rapists.
"The biggest rape myth is that the victim does something to
provoke a rapist. This is not statistically backed up and makes no
sense," asserts Aimee on the SlutWalk London website. "It's strange
how so much emphasis is put on the victims of sexual assault and
not enough is asked of the rapist - SlutWalk is highlighting this
injustice and trying to show society that nothing a victim does
made them a victim - someone was raped because a rapist decided to
rape them. There is no such thing as an invitation or a provocation
for something that, by definition, is forcing someone to do
something that they don't want to partake in."
But not everyone has greeted Slutwalk with enthusiasm and the
criticism has come from many different quarters.
Mainstream commentators have argued that encouraging women to
identify as sluts is as good as promoting promiscuity. In the
UK, women who are already involved in anti-violence campaigns such
as Take Back The Night and Million Women Rise are dubious about the
sense in trying to reclaim the word slut and, in North America,
black feminists have taken issue with Slutwalk organisers' lack of
effort to accommodate the voices and concerns of women of
One thing's sure, wherever it's coming from, the controversy
around SlutWalk adds to the chatter about its mission. And whether
they choose to march in their bras or their burkas, when women take
to the streets of London this weekend, their message will be the
same: none of us are ever "asking for it".
Picture credit: Crossroads Women's Centre
SlutWalk: London 11 June 2011
March departs from upper Piccadilly (near the Hard Rock
Rally in Trafalgar Square, 2-5pm.
Everyone welcome. No dress code.
For more information and access details, see the