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This Sunday: Wear your slut pride at SlutWalk

March 29th, 2011     by Anastasia Szakowski     Comments

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a victim-blaming renaissance in the pages and websites of many North American media outlets. From the New York Times blaming an 11-year-old girl for her gang rape to a Manitoba judge not jailing a rapist because the victim “wanted to party;” to punishing a school clerical worker for being in a porn film and disrespecting a young woman’s death by focusing on her being an escort—there is no shortage of evidence that we’ve a long way to go in battling slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

So I was excited to learn about SlutWalk Toronto, an event planned for this Sunday to put pressure on Toronto Police Services and to challenge dangerous stereotypes. I contacted Sonya Barnett, co-founder of SlutWalk, to learn a little more about it.

What inspired SlutWalk? I know you mention the “don’t dress like a slut” advice given by a Toronto police officer to York University students, but is there anything else?

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.

How did you come up with the name SlutWalk?

Since the officer decided to sling the epithet “slut,” we decided to sling it back, only with our own spin.

What effect do you hope SlutWalk has on authorities, media, and overall negative attitudes towards sluts?

We want Police Services to truly get behind the idea that victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and sexual profiling are never acceptable. And that in order to adjust that mindset, training needs to be reevaluated within their institution and community initiatives need to be created for the general public. The idea that a slut is a lesser person and deserving of sexual assault isn’t exclusive to the police. Media also has to get behind this idea. The best examples of this are the recent reporting of the murder of a young woman whose body was found just outside Toronto, and the Texas gang-rape of an 11 year old girl. The media decided in both instances to blame the victims. It’s with their help that slut-shaming runs rampant within our society.

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.

What practical changes can we make to prevent slut-shaming?

You can simply not use the word “slut” as a slur—if you don’t agree with our definition, then you can still refrain from using it to describe someone whose sexual proclivities differ from yours. The more people who stop using pejoratives, the more the word loses its power. At best, people can demand from others that despite the fact some people have different ideas surrounding frequency of sexual activities, there is never an excuse for violence.

Action like writing your MP for institutional changes, and spreading the message—whether it be through social media, personal networks or through education within your own organization—are strong moves in the right direction.

SlutWalk takes place this Sunday, April 3rd, beginning at central Queen’s Park, Toronto. Awesome T-shirts and buttons are available to help you wear your slut pride.

Tags: activist report, media savvy, rape culture

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