“Slut”Walk: Can’t we just be “people”?

By Madeline Montgomery
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Part 2 of 2: These two blog posts provide two different reactions to Rebecca Traister’s New York Times piece, “Ladies We Have a Problem“, about the anti-victim-blaming rallies in Canada & the US known as SlutWalks. If you’ve heard any of the public discourse surrounding SlutWalks – from local TV stations, to blogs, personal Facebook pages and radio – you know that among people of all backgrounds, the reactions are mixed. That’s also true of two fantastic FMF activists, Caitlin Smith & Madeline Montgomery.

I cannot dispute the fact that the SlutWalk movement, particularly through the first SlutWalk in Toronto, has given a voice to the movement against victim blaming. However, I also can’t help but feel that the emphasis on the term “slut” is confusing the message. As journalist Rebecca Traister argues, “while the mission of SlutWalks is crucial, the package is confusing and leaves young feminists open to the very kinds of attacks they are battling.”

The first SlutWalk in Toronto was appropriately named as a pointed response to a Toronto cop’s comment that women could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like “sluts.” The argument was clear: on the one hand, we have a man in a position of power telling other men that, if a woman dresses and acts a certain way, she is inviting violence. And on the other hand, we have a very clear display of thousands of people, many dressed in what they think is a “slutty” fashion, fighting against that slut-shaming, victim-blaming concept. I’ve seen some particularly powerful photos of women dressed in revealing Halloween costumes or lingerie and holding signs that said something like, “This is what I was wearing the night I was raped.  I still didn’t deserve it.”

So I do understand the original connection between the movement and the word. But I personally am not at all interested in reclaiming the word “slut.” In fact, I wonder if having SlutWalks all over the world and making that term central to the movement is actually taking away from the original message. I feel as though this has morphed from an anti-victim-blaming movement to a “slut”-reclaiming movement.

And of course, that’s fine for people who identify as sluts and want to reclaim the term, but I think it needs to stay separate from the fight against victim-blaming. There are plenty of sexual assault survivors who don’t identify as sluts, many of whom may have been called sluts, who are being pushed out of this movement as the term becomes more and more central to the walks.

I also suspect that playing into this idea of sluttiness in our society is actually establishing the term and the image more firmly in our culture. Why can’t women be empowered without being “sluts”? Why does there need to be any label at all?

Take one look at the comments on a Facebook page for one of the events and you’ll see what I mean: “To be honest I thought this event was for the biggest walk of shame in history,” “yessss! I love sluts!” and “So I’m confused… Is there a high probability of me getting laid if I go to this thing or the opposite?” (all copied from the SlutWalk DC page, and all posted by people with traditional male names and male-presenting profile pictures).  How is any of this empowering?

I understand that the idea is to reclaim the word “slut,” thus eliminating stigma around female sexual desire and empowering women sexually. But if our goal is to be equal to men in the way our sexuality is policed–or rather, isn’t–then why do we still need a label? Even if “slut” somehow becomes a de-stigmatized term for a woman who is in control of her own body (which we know is terrifying for much of our society), why do we still need a separate category? Men who like sex are still just men. We may jokingly call them “man whores” or “pimps” (problematic on a whole different level), but at the end of the day, men interested in sex are just the norm.

So, for the SlutWalkers whose goal is to achieve equal status for women– why would you want to do it under the label “slut”? Why not just be a person?

5 comments

  1. “TAKING SLUT BACK”: the meaning of the word IS changing. young girls prefer to be called a slut rather than a bitch.when I was at highschool, if they started calling you a slut, you could forget it. not one guy would ask you to go out. this has changed, I think. I even found a brand of t-shirts using the word slut, and not in the negative way: http://slutshirt.spreadshirt.com/ it IS changing.

  2. I agree with much of what you are saying here. I don’t think a term that was never ours to begin will can be reclaimed. While things may be changing slowly, people are still using that word to degrade a woman somewhere in this world, so the big question is not whether or not we can take the word back, it is whether or not we can make the word meaningless/less painful. We (Women) have be struggling to find means to get recognized as human beings and have yet to accomplish that so, the fact that we are trying to find a way to take the word “Slut” and make it empowering, seems, in my opinion, to take away from the real goal. I don’t identify as a slut but I do support other aspects of SlutWalk, however, I have noticed that a great deal of SlutWalk followers are more into dressing in “slutty” clothing than looking at the other aspects of the movement. They go to the event, then head home and become inactive for the rest of the year, until SW two is announced. We need people to take action, to not only attend the event, but to educate their friends and family. To volunteer, to vote, to get out there and challenge the status quo. You can be a Slut that one day, but will you identify as such the rest of the year? Will you be loyal and call out people when they are victim blaming also? Will you be active after SW? I think it is a great name to get attention, I just wish everyone was on the same page and it was more organized. I kind of wish the organizers went a different way of things and discussed how Slut hurts and dehumanizes women. I feel like they try to do this, but their point isn’t getting through, or at least I don’t think it is.

  3. I can’t help but feel that you haven’t spent any time researching the Slutwalks or speaking with organizers, because the prevailing message is how slut-shaming is directly related to victim-blaming. If you look at the news it won’t take long to see some very high-profile cases in which victims are dragged through the mud and the slut-slur applied to them (DSK, the Texas child gang-rape, the 2 NYPD officers who were acquitted despite a plethora of evidence, the Judge Robert Dewar verdict giving the rapist house arrest). Imo, we can’t adequately support some victims without challenging how slut-shaming affects them. We can’t really say we support survivors of sexual violence if we reserve our support for only those who fit into society’s narrowly defined box of “the perfect victim” (the perpetrator’s a stranger, the victim’s a virgin or a mother of impeccable character, church-goer but it has to be a “good” church, the victim was completely sober, is a cis-woman, was dressed in modest and gender-appropriate clothing, has never lied about anything ever, is pretty but not too conventionally attractive as to be considered gorgeous, etc etc etc). We can’t make our society safer from sexual violence if we continue to “other” women who can somehow fall under the so-broad-as-to-be-meaningless slut slur. We can’t begin to address perpetrators of sexual violence and hold them 100% responsible for their crimes while simultaneously spreading and maintaining rape myths that deflect blame onto the victim.

    I support the Slutwalks because they have the audacity to state unequivocably that they will not participate in our cultural game of “othering” women and making them targets because someone decided to label them with a broad slur against their sexuality. They’re calling out this phenomenon and naming it and making us talk about it. Because, really, hiding from the term does us no good because, at present, the slut-slur needs neither our permission, our participation, or any basis in facts or reality to do us harm.

  4. @Nat Bro, I actually spent my summer at FMF working on addressing the rape kit backlog, so, as far as the roles of slut-shaming and victim-blaming in the perpetuation of rape culture in this country, I’ve certainly done my research. You’ll note that I very clearly acknowledge these injustices in my post.

    However, my primary argument here is that it might be best to do away with the term “slut” entirely, rather than trying to reclaim it. Even in reclaiming the term (if that’s possible), we would still be creating a different category for sexually empowered women, which doesn’t exist for men. I don’t know about you, but that’s not my idea of equality.

  5. ” I feel as though this has morphed from an anti-victim-blaming movement to a “slut”-reclaiming movement.”

    But surely you realize that these movements are one in the same?

    We can’t simply do away with the word “slut” because you can be absolutely SURE the opposition won’t. In a perfect world, we could do away with the word and that would be that, but if they held an “anti-victim-blaming” walk instead……people would still be calling them sluts. I think it’s better, then, and more effective to draw attention to the word, to say, “Yes, you call me a slut, I might be a slut, but I still deserve respect.” Taking the negative power away from that word might have to be the first step if we ever want to get rid of it.

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