SlutWalk Toronto: Resisting Sexual Violence & Slut Shaming

Slut. Whore. Skank. Tramp. These words are used on an every day basis to characterize women who do not abide by the gender norms thrust upon them by society. These words are weighed down by stereotypical understandings of femininity: a woman who is passive, virtuous and chaste. Through this lens, the issue of sexual violence against women is the result of a woman’s actions and behaviour and not of her perpetrator. Feminist movements such as “Take Back the Night” and the French “Ni Putes Ni Soumises” (Neither Whores Nor Submissives) challenge these problematic patriarchal ideologies. Despite feminist activism around the issue, Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti made an inappropriate comment while conducting a safety information session at York University that ultimately catapulted a worldwide feminist movement (Nguyen, 2013, p. 159).

On January 24, 2011 before a group of university students, Michael Sanguinetti stated that “women should avoid dressing as sluts in order not to be victimized” (Reger, 2014, p. 49). This motivated feminist activists Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett to organize the first ever SlutWalk protest in Toronto, Ontario (Nguyen, 2013, p. 159). Drawing in over 3000 people on April 3, 2011 and spreading across the globe to over 75 cities, SlutWalks have become “the most successful feminist action in the past 20 years” (Valenti, 2011). Thousands of men and women felt inspired to challenge the idea of victim blaming and slut shaming in modern society. Women are too often held responsible for the sexual violence they experience because of what they are wearing, how they are behaving and in front of whom. In contemporary discourse, women are encouraged to responsibilize themselves as though they are walking targets of rape and sexual assault. The words of Sanguinetti enraged countless people because yes, it was offensive and yes, and it was misguided but more broadly, it was a reflection of a dominant patriarchal discourse that must be overturned.

The annual SlutWalk is a form of resistance and female empowerment. Women are tired of being oppressed and feeling unsafe walking in the streets of their own city. Protestors are standing in solidarity with victims of sexual violence and attempting to shift the blame from the victim back to the perpetrator. Thousands of men and women are protesting, a lot of them wearing the kinds of clothing that they are discouraged from wearing because it “provokes” sexual violence. Some women show up half nude, others in bra and underwear and still others fully covered. Women are reclaiming their bodies and re-appropriating the word “slut” (Nguyen, 2013, p. 160) through this movement. They are using a technique of language by taking on a word that is supposed to be harmful and offensive and using it to achieve their own goals. The title of the movement is controversial and provocative on purpose in order to stimulate meaningful conversation about the issue of violence against women and destabilize seemingly fixed understandings of femininity and victimization.

References

Nguyen, T. (2013). From slutwalks to suicidegirls: Feminist resistance in the third wave and postfeminist era. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 41(3 & 4), 157-172. doi:10.1353/wsq.2013.0102

Reger, J. (2014). Micro-cohorts, feminist discourse and the emergence of the Toronto slutwalk. Feminist Formations, 26(1), 49-69. doi: 10.1353/ff.2014.0005

Valenti, J. (2011, June 3). Slutwalks and the future of feminism. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/slutwalks-and-the-future-offeminism/2011/06/01/AGjB9LIH_story.html

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