We’ve seen it on tv, on web news and pictures, but we may not have known that it had a name until today.
Slutwalk is a march on the street calling out for a change in attitude towards women. When it started, it was a counter response against a general social attitude that women by the clothes they wear have brought sexual abuse on themselves.
Today, the message for Slutwalks around the world has evolved to include respect for women’s behavior and identity in general, a move to influence law enforcers, law makers and legal proceedings.
The first time this social movement started was on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
A Toronto Police officer made a public statement three months back in response to a local concern on occurrences of campus rape at York University. He publicly opined that women should not be dressing like “sluts” to avoid being victims of sexual abuse.
When the police officer’s statement made it to the press, it had a counter reaction. Though he later apologized, his words have made a social reflection, leading to a question on the value of the word “slut”, not just about its negative social stigma but also where the real blame should be and what needs to be done.
Two co-founders of the slutwalk movement, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis decided they were going to redefine the word “slut” as a woman who is in control of her own sexuality. It was a move to reclaim the word to empower women.
And so, the first public women demonstration began with this specific message. It was a planned day of speeches and a walk to the Toronto Police Headquarters. Where 200 were expected for the march, 3,000 gathered at Queen’s Park to participate. They called each other fellow sluts with invitations to singles, couples, parents, siblings and children. Some came on their jeans and T-shirts, while others wore skimpier clothes.
And, that began the characteristic look of the movement that eventually sprang up in cities around Canada, the United States around the world.
When you participate in any of these Slutwalks, there’s a variety of things happening around you beyond listening to speeches, chanting, holding up signs and walking to an agreed destination at any given time. There may be live DJs making music, there’s sign making, there’s educational booths, there’s photo ops and selfies, free breast cancer exams and even HIV testing.
Since Toronto 2011, there’s been events in New York, New Brunswick, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Melbourne, Geneva, Lausanne, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bhopal, New Delhi, Singapore and even in Jerusalem.
Slutwalks are now often supported. Pop stars like Amber Rose, Nicki Minaj and Blac Chyna have not just participated in them but even organized one. Major companies such as Subway, T-Mobile and beats by Dre have sponsored them.
Not all were agreeable to everything the movement stands for.
Black feminists in the United States have accused Slutwalk of excluding colored women. Organizers of slutwalk are often white women, making it a challenge for colored women to take on that same message in the same way.
Black feminists feel that the word “slut” has a different meaning for colored women. They see the term as an emphasis of generations of sexual racial prejudice against them. It’s just that much more difficult for a black woman to “own” the word “slut”.
Black feminists feel they have to make Slutwalk their own, speaking from their own people. Amber Rose made that happen when she hosted her own slutwalk with other colored women.
Others see clothing as part of managing their risks in life. What you wear does have an impact in how likely you get into sexual abuse incidents without you intending it. This is something the slutwalk movement is questioning. It’s ultimately about educating and enforcing respect and safety between genders and people of different classes.
Slutwalk is a movement by women against rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, a message to everyone for the safety and future of its women.
When you do get to participate in one, ultimately, it’s about being able to live life without fear.