In the Blog

Slut Walk: The London, Ontario Edition

April 13th, 2011     by Meg Pirie     Comments

This Sunday, around 300 women from across the city came together in Victoria Park to participate in London’s Slut Walk, inspired by recent events in Toronto. The event was co-organized by Amazon Collective, a local pro-woman action group, and VDay Western, a global movement to end violence against women and girls, that has brought the university and London communities The Vagina Monologues for nine years, along with a slew of other campaigns and events that benefit local organizations committed to non-violence.

This experience was, in a word, inspiring.

While walking my incredible dog Layla through the park while participants began to congregate, I saw people of various ages united to challenge the culture of victim blaming that exists on a societal level. It was amazing, especially in a city that is … er … how should I say this? Oh right … conservative as hell. Buoyed by my observations, I rushed home with my pup to record some of my thoughts concerning this event.

Well, first thing’s first: context. London, Ontario is my home and I love it; there are some incredible things happening here and there is loads of potential in spite of some inept local politicians. That said, London is a “student town,” a title that really grinds my gears. There is a mantra of permissive chauvinism at work here that allows students at The University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College to run rampant in a culture of consumption, binge drinking, and hate speech that manifests itself in myriad forms, one of which is victim blaming.

I remember in high school—probably around grade 10—that the word “slut” first started getting used with regularity. As a sheltered only child who spent a lot of time playing solitaire, I may not have immediately understood this word, but its implications were clear. At 14, my initial, uninformed, self-preserving reaction to watching the silencing that happened when this title was hurled about was, “I don’t want to be that.” The word held so much power.

After a short time, it became clear that this was a word that revolved around shame, violence, and stereotypes. And, while I may not have realized it at the time, this was one of those moments in which my own interest in language, and the significance of the words we choose to use, took shape. The vocabulary (and confidence) to challenge and confront these norms, at least in my case, took some time to take shape.

So, with this in mind, The London Free Press picked up the Slut Walk story this week, focusing on the divisiveness of the word “slut” among local women’s groups. Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, has been speaking out against the use of “slut,” saying in Friday’s paper, “I think that Slut Walk is going to take us back years.” Err, really? [Tugs collar uncomfortably]. Walker went on to say that this is misogynistic word “that was given to women by men.” When Walker asked organizers to take out the word “slut” and re-name the event an “Equality Walk,” this request was denied since it would defeat the purpose of reclaiming slut and drawing attention to widespread victim-blaming.

While I have the utmost respect for Walker’s work in this community, this one-dimensional view only gives this word and the culture of victim-blaming in which London is steeped more power, and moreover, is firmly rooted in male/female, heteronormative binaries.

I can’t help but go back to Emma Woolley’s earlier post on the Toronto Slut Walk. Sonya Barnett, the Toronto Slut Walk organizer, made some astute points concerning language that I align with. Language is powerful. Language can absolutely hold us hostage—paralyze us—if we give it that power. But the beautiful thing about language is its capacity to change. Language is metamorphosis and we get to be the filters. This is exciting! So, appropriating slut and working together towards a new meaning that signifies a sexually confident person who takes part in healthy, consensual sex—whatever shape that may take—speaks to the regenerative powers of language.

This sort of disregard for experiences, bodies, and the choices we make concerning our sexualities is endemic. We see it with the police, the judicial system, and mainstream media, certainly. We can observe this in the United States with the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood. We hear it, often in its genesis, in high school classrooms.

What events like Slut Walk show us is that language belongs to everybody and is ours to collectively change.

If the ever-evolving-ness of the words we speak, read, and hear is an issue that grabs you, keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming spring 2011 issue of Shameless. The theme is … I can barely stand it … language. I’ve no doubt this conversation is just beginning.

Tags: activist report, rape culture

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