Who You Calling A Slut? SlutWalks Lead New Feminist Movement

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In January, a Toronto police officer suggested women could do one key thing to protect themselves from sexual assault: “avoid dressing like sluts.” In response, thousands of women took to the streets of Toronto in protest of the objectification of women and the inclination that a woman’s style of dress is an open door for sexual abuse. Because of Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who made the flippant comment, protests took root and flourished in Toronto and cities all over the world; “SlutWalks” have spawned in cities like D.C., New York, Chicago, Boston, and internationally throughout Australia and London.

Today’s vernacular makes room for words that once had a negative connotation mutate into terms of endearment; “bitch”, “nigga”, “queer” and their colloquial counterparts have integrated themselves into our culture. The word “slut”, however, isn’t as readily seen or heard but when it is, it evokes feelings that are hard to erase. Merriam-Webster defines the word “slut” as a promiscuous woman; saucy girl. Additionally, the synonyms associated with “slut”, bimbo, hoochie, hussy, Jezebel, floozy, tramp, whore, harlot, temptress, and even prostitute, are equally jarring.

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Constable Sanguinetti’s words (for which he later apologized) misappropriated the blame for sexual assaults on women but also revealed the unsaid sentiments of how violent attacks against women are viewed socially and legally. Women were now not only responsible for their own actions but the actions of men whose sense of entitlement shifts responsibility from them to us. During the 1970’s and 1980’s a “no means no” mantra swept the country in a forward movement towards the voice of women’s safety.  Decades later, we’ve moved from this liberation song into a “teach women how not to be raped” versus a “teach men not to rape” culture.

Many SlutWalk movements have called for the reclamation of the word noting on the official SlutWalk website: “Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation… 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.”

Does a re-appropriation of the word “slut” change its meaning or connotation? Many would argue that use of the word gives the power back to the assailant while others say that its use empowers women and furnishes the necessary shock value to continue the discussion in mainstream forums. U.K. journalist Gail Dines takes the former stance: “The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal ‘madonna/whore’ view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources.”

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Whether you can agree that use of the word has its place in the discussion against sexual assault against women or not, the power of the SlutWalk movement has been one of the most productive women’s advancements in the last 20 years. In many SlutWalks across the globe, women have paraded the streets in the very clothes they were raped in; sweatshirts and jeans, pajama bottoms and a college t-shirt, business suits, some even what we may consider risqué clothing: fishnets, miniskirts, and halter-tops. The resounding message, however, was to tell the world that regardless of what a woman wears, no matter where she is or how many drinks she’s had, she is not an object for violence and blame cannot be placed on her head for someone else’s inability to exhibit self control.

Over the next few weeks Hello Beautiful will explore the different components and lasting impact of SlutWalk; the objectification of women, how music like Big Sean’s new song “Dance (A$$)” perpetuates sexual abuse, and a one-on-one interview with school psychologist Erin Harper about how to save our daughters and liberate their voices against the sometimes silent cry of sexual assault. As we take a virtual walk to end the abuse against women, we hope you will use your voice to bring light and freedom to women in your own circles.

Do you think “SlutWalks” are reclaiming the word “slut” and giving it new meaning?  Follow on on twitter @hellobeautiful and let us know?


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