April 12th, 2011
It isn’t just the one-off comment (“women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”) by one police constable that’s the issue, rather it’s the fact that society needs a big wake-up call. SlutWalk Toronto‘s issue wasn’t just with the police force, it’s with the fact that even in 2011, there are still many people who don’t understand why rape occurs, and more generally why abuse occurs. Some people still blame the victims.
The name “SlutWalk” may seem offensive and confusing to some, until you read SlutWalk Toronto’s “Why”, which also explains why the police officer’s comment is invalid when discussing rape.
As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.
Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.
We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.
To the above “Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex”, I shall add “It’s about power. Power and control.” Assault, abuse, rape – they are all about power and control. It’s about power of the abuser over the victim whom the abuser likes to control. Abusers choose their victims based on a perceived weakness (or weaknesses) in their victims. In the case of rape, just because an abuser “gets off” on the power and control they have over their victim(s) does not mean rape is about sex – at the core, the issue is about power and control. Some years ago, I wrote a blog article, “Angry, Controlling Behaviour, and Abuse”, after reading Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. As I said previously in that blog, “At least read Bancroft’s book and be aware of the issue. He exposes many myths about abuse and abusers and clarifies what really needs to be done.” Now, I would add that I think this book is crucial for everyone to read. Victim-blaming can only stop when everyone stops believing the myths about abuse and starts to understand the mind of the abuser. In that blog article, I point out that Bancroft is also aware of abuse on men and that women can be as abusive as men. Fundamentally, no one deserves to be assaulted, abused, or raped. Under human rights law, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person”. (Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)). Furthermore, Article 5 of the UDHR states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” I consider assault, abuse, and rape to be “cruel, inhuman [and] degrading treatment”.
Some people have misunderstood SlutWalk’s mission as encouraging people to be “sluts”. Clearly, some people haven’t read SlutWalk’s website. For a better understanding of why this movement is called “SlutWalk”, “The Shameless Blog” asked Sonya Barnett, co-founder of SlutWalk a key question:
What is a “slut?” Why do you feel it more important to reclaim the word rather than do away with it?
One of SlutWalk’s mandates is to work toward the appropriation of the word Slut to mean someone who is sexually confident and is not ashamed to enjoy consensual sex. Language is very powerful in that it can hold people hostage if they let it. We’ve managed over time to change, adapt and manipulate it for our benefit; appropriation is nothing new. A few decades ago when a small group of people decided to take the word Slut for themselves—it’s really not that far a cry from the stereotypical meaning of someone who is promiscuous—it launched a conversation about sex and about what it means for someone who takes great pleasure in it. Nowhere do we state that a Slut, by our definition, is someone who engages in sex using deception, betrayal or lack of basic ethics. Nor do we state, by any definition, that a slut is deserving of assault.
In The Shameless Blog interview, Barnett also clarifies why SlutWalk was formed:
The incident at York was really the straw that broke the camel’s back. The year started off poorly with one bad news story to the next: the US was declaring war on women’s sexual health by dropping funding for women’s services, as well as redefining the word “rape.” Then there was the case in Manitoba where Judge Dewar made a horrific example of victim-blaming in a sexual assault trial, giving the accused a slap on the wrist and saying “sex was in the air” merely because the victim was wearing a tube top with no bra. Once the York U story broke, enough was enough.
Point taken. Enough is enough. And of course, mainstream media has not been helpful in helping people understand assault, abuse, and rape. In the Guardian article, “Rape is Not a Compliment”, Hadley Freeman refers to the case of Delroy Grant, a serial rapist of elderly women, and states that “the public seems unable to accept the idea that rape has nothing to do with desirability”. She points out that media was too quick to dismiss Grant’s actions as something born out of depravity and perversion. “London’s Evening Standard, for one, felt that this was so extraordinary that it merited its own little article in the middle of its double-spread report of the case, expressing “bafflement” at a “family man’s sexual attraction to the elderly”.” At the end of the article, Freeman hits the nail on the head when she writes “Rape and sexual harassment are not compliments doled out only to the beautiful and alluring. They are an extreme form of bullying, and they can, tragically, happen to anyone.” Just like your schoolyard bully, rapists (and abusers) pick on the perceived “weak ones”, the ones they think are most vulnerable.
SlutWalk’s first demonstration took place in Toronto, Ontario on April 3, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. Since then, SlutWalks have been held in Sackville, New Brunswick; London, Ontario; and Ottawa, Ontario. Vancouver, British Columbia; Edmonton, Alberta; and Calgary, Alberta are currently organizing SlutWalks. The U.S. has quickly caught on to SlutWalk – SlutWalk is heading as far south as Dallas, Texas! Hopefully, SlutWalk will get some attention overseas. So far, they got New Zealand’s. For more information, see SlutWalk Toronto’s Satellite SlutWalks. If you want to organize a SlutWalk, please contact the co-founders. They’ve been really busy, but as per the SlutWalk Toronto Facebook page, they will try their best to respond to everyone.
Below is a video from CityNews Toronto which highlights events prior to the SlutWalk Toronto demonstration:
Here are some photos I managed to get at SlutWalk Toronto on April 3, 2011:
This is the first video I took at SlutWalk Toronto – CityNews interviewing one of the demonstrators:
Here’s the second video I shot. It’s a look at the general crowd gathered at Queen’s Park:
Here’s the first video of the walk to Toronto Police Headquarters:
I have more videos on youtube. Some I still have to upload – youtube was giving me problems last week and I’ve finally gotten a chance to upload more videos today. I shot a total of thirteen videos. To see my uploaded videos, just go to my youtube channel. I will try to get all thirteen videos uploaded today. For those who may be curious, all my videos are raw footage.
Additional articles on SlutWalk can be found at SlutWalk Toronto’s SWTO in the Press.