The blogosphere has gone ablaze this week with talk of sluts. Ah yes, reclaiming pejorative terms is perpetually en vogue, especially given recent comments made by a Toronto police officer where he advised that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.
Last Sunday, thousands of outraged Torontonians took to the streets in the first ever SlutWalk to send a message to the police force that perpetuating the slut myth is simply unacceptable.
On January 26th, Police Const. Michael Sanguetti was brought in to give security tips at a campus information session at York University when he made the disparaging remark. Initially, the students and faculty reacted with shock and appall. After the local media caught wind of the story, it snowballed from there. Six weeks later, the SlutWalk was born and spread its message loud and clear across the city’s downtown: “no one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”
I seriously suggest you go to the SlutWalk website and read their manifesto because I couldn’t have said it better myself. For example: “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.”
Slut-shaming seems to be as old as the term itself. While the exact origin of the word â€˜slut’ is a mystery, its Middle English incarnation, slutte, first appeared over six hundred years ago, meaning a dirty, untidy or slovenly woman. Over time, it came to be used as an insult towards women of seemingly low morals, particular where sexual conduct is concerned.
By reclaiming words like slut, it helps to take away from their agency as insults. As one of the march’s co-founders, Heather Jarvis, explained to CBC news, “We are using <the word slut> to take its power away – from it harming us, from it damaging us, that we’re less worth it, that we’re less deserving of protection and respect.”
The crowd for Toronto’s SlutWalk, an estimated 3000 strong, filled Queen’s Park from sidewalk to sidewalk. According to Alyssa Garrison of Worn Fashion Journal, “The throng contained steam punks, fathers, queer folk, slutty dogs, roller-derby girls, grandmothers and everyone in between. Regardless of what they wore, attendees had one thing in common; they were all ready to challenge the right to wear what they want. Signs littered the crowd, sending out messages of sadness, frustration, and hope; more than one told of personal rape experiences.”
I am elated for the people of the city of Toronto for taking a stand on such a contentious issue. It sickens me that some, specifically those in charge of public security, can so be so brazen and blatant in a victim blame game. Yet it also bothers me that a small voice in my head feels that there is a tiny kernal of truth in what the officer said, which points a finger squarely at society.
Marches like these are important to remind us that as long as our society is patriarchal, women in charge of their own sexuality will be put down with pejorative names like slut and whore. They may fear us, but we’re proud of who we are and we’re here to stay!
With satellite SlutWalks popping over all over the globe, when will Montrealers get their chance to show solidarity and march for victims’ rights and to demand respect for all? Details have yet to be finalized but word on the street is that members from the local burlesque troupe Glam Gam have a hand in organizing the late May march.
Photo by Franz E. Kinkerzoink