A new phenomenon has hit our shores all the way from Toronto, Canada. The controversially named ‘SlutWalk’ is a demonstration made mainly by women dressed in outfits deemed somewhat revealing and/or provocative by society (i.e. the standard evening-wear of many UK university students), and is a protest against the idea that – as a result of the outfit they may be wearing – women are even in part to blame for being raped.
In January this year, after a police officer told ten students from Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto, in a talk regarding safety, that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”, campaigners decided to take a stand. Protests have railed against the gender prejudices that appear so ingrained in society that they are even manifest within the police force; a force duty-bound to protect victims of rape in the first place. And having crossed the pond with a demonstration on June 4th across London, SlutWalk is aiming to raise questions about sexual double-standards in the UK too. Considering the frequency with which young women at university go out at night – usually dressed up and sometimes alone – the issue is rather pertinent to students.
How many times in the last week or so have you heard or even used ‘slut’ to put down a girl, in describing an outfit, for example? If not ‘slut’, then ‘slapper’, or ‘slag’? These words are so common-place that they seem to have been deemed harmless by most. Even girls have jumped on the bandwagon – we insult other women with the words created to put our sex down. These words have pervaded society to the point where we often use them without thinking twice about their connotations. Not only are they innately sexist but they consistently support the belief that when women choose to dress in a particular way, it is absolutely fine to pin a nasty label on them.
To say that women have achieved absolute gender equality is untrue, but females before us have already bull-dozed so many obstacles out of our collective way, that surely stopping ourselves from perpetuating presumptions made on the basis of clothing shouldn’t be that hard. Especially seeing as, if a night out at Ocean is anything to go by, the majority of female students at this university (myself included) are partial to the odd body-con dress or short skirt. So how can we go aboutdestroying the assumption that if a girl shows some flesh she should expect an unwanted sexually aggressive reaction from some of the men around her? We could first completely erase words like ‘slut’ from our vocabulary – after all, it is the social acceptance of a word which gives it any power in the first place. Of course, this is not to say that boys get away with branding girls ‘sluts’ just because we do it to each other, but we’re not exactly providing a shining example of female solidarity by reaching for the most degradingly sexist words we can find to spite girls we don’t like.
It seems that now, however, women all over the world are truly beginning to tire of the double-standard which presents some female victims of sexual attacks as provokers of the incident, rather than condemning the attacker for his complete abandonment of self-control. As females within the social environment of a university – a place where girls are usually not made to feel like lesser beings for admitting an enjoyment of sex that could parallel or even overtake a man’s – we should perhaps be more empathetic than most about wanting the freedom to choose to have sex, rather than being told that our clothes make those decisions for us.
Much has been made about the decision to name this protest the SlutWalk, with criticism focusing on the idea that the real message behind this mass protest could be lost with the adoption of this term. Whilst I think the concept behind the walk is great, I disagree with the idea that we should be reclaiming the word ‘slut’. Why should we have to join them in order to beat them? Instead, we should be rejecting the word and it’s negative connotations completely, and accepting the fact that women can and should be allowed to dress however they want without the fear of ‘provoking’ men into attack. More than the clothes we wear, this protest is about the freedom to live without being restricted on the basis of our sex.