SlutWalk Vancouver raises the bar in movement against victim-blaming
What did I wear to SlutWalk? Well, like many Vancouverites do most mornings of the year, I rolled out of bed, saw that it was wet and grey outside, and pulled on my rain boots and raincoat.
My mother was wearing jeans and a black track coat. On our way out the door, my dad tried to foist these hideous neon pink hats on us, saying that we didn’t look flamboyant enough for SlutWalk.
When we arrived at the Vancouver Art Gallery just before 1 p.m., we were relieved to see that we were not the only ones who decided to dress warmly (and blandly) for the weather. Except for the brave few who dared to bare skin to demonstrate that no manner of dress is an invitation for rape, the majority of us were bundled up.
However, an earlier estimate of 1,500 participants swelled to more than 2,000 as the march took off—showing that a little rain did not keep Vancouver participants from taking a stand against sexual violence and victim-blaming.
"Since 2008, rates of sexual assault in Vancouver have skyrocketed," said SlutWalk organizer Katie Raso as she rallied the crowd. "We are here to say that no matter where we go, and no matter what we wear, yes means yes and no always means no."
The participants seemed to have gotten the message. They carried signs such as "Let’s Change a Don’t Get Raped Culture Into a Don’t Rape Culture" and chanted slogans like: "My little black dress does not mean yes!"
As we marched toward the Vancouver Convention Centre to the beats of a Balkan brass band and a Native drum group, I spotted a young man striding along in a short skirt and four-inch leopard-print stilettos.
"It's my first time in heels," said Billy Taylor, "but I brought my sneakers in case I can’t make it the whole way."
Taylor's slightly more conservatively dressed friend, Casper LeBlanc, added: "We're here today because we want to support the end of rape culture and spread the message that there is no excuse for sexual assault."
As I moved through the crowd to interview other walk participants, I felt a surge of pride for my hometown. I was inspired by the diversity of people around me. There were parents pushing strollers, groups of guys strutting around in Canucks jerseys, a roller derby crew, people in suits with name tags coming straight out of a conference, kids running around, and maybe most inspiring of all, almost half of the walk participants were men.
Men of all ages carried signs saying things like "Bought Her Dinner? She Doesn’t Owe You Anything" and "Real Men Take No for An Answer".
The energy peaked when we marched through the Granville Street club district: a place where SlutWalk organizer Katie Nordgren says it’s hard to find a woman "who has ever been to a club along the Granville Strip who hasn't been harassed or assaulted to some degree."
While SlutWalk Vancouver seeks to raise awareness about high rates of sexual assault and victim-blaming in the Greater Vancouver area, it's also part of a worldwide movement. More than 60 other walks have been held already or will take place during the next few months in cities such as London, New York, Johannesburg, and Dublin.
In the huge outburst of impassioned debates that have accompanied the proliferation of SlutWalks around the world, one of the recurring criticisms that has emerged is that "slut" is too sexist and triggering a word for feminists to reclaim.
The Vancouver organizing team had carefully deliberated over whether or not to use the name SlutWalk. Nordgren explained their decision to me: “We realized that the problematic nature of the name of SlutWalk itself has been able to start so many important discussions about what the word ”˜slut’ means and about how ”˜slut’ is used to devalue and shut down women as unworthy of consideration, protection, and justice.”
“We're hearing from a lot of people that the name put them off at first, but that they've come around to the idea that there's no better word that sums up the culture we're trying very hard to deconstruct,” Nordgren added.
Since sex workers often suffer the most extreme consequences of slut shaming, I thought it was incredible that a sex worker, Lilliana D’Amour, had the courage to give a speech during the last stop of the route, where she called herself a slut (which she defines as anyone who has ever pissed anyone off).
"When a serial killer [Robert Pickton] can get away with killing more than 60 women and people turn a blind eye because those women were sex workers, that’s whorephobia," said D’Amour, as the crowd hushed in somber reflection.
Joyce Arthur, a representative of FIRST (a coalition of feminists who advocate for the decriminalization of adult sex work), commended SlutWalk Vancouver for supporting the rights of sex workers and other marginalized groups. But she said, "We have to remember that there are people who are not at the march today because they oppose SlutWalk."
Last week, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote a scathing critique of SlutWalk, in which she claimed that participants were engaging in "narcissistic self-indulgence". She dismissed SlutWalks as "what you get when graduate students in feminist studies run out of things to do."
I wonder what Wente would think if she had attended SlutWalk Vancouver and witnessed participation from people of all ages, ethnicities, and walks of life—and the range and depth in which the speakers and organizers addressed topics such as the intersectionality of different kinds of oppression and the various meanings of the word slut.
When I asked Medina, a 14-year-old Port Moody secondary student, about what she wanted people who had not attended SlutWalk to know about the event, she said: "People are being raped and being blamed for it. SlutWalk is trying to correct that. I think that people should learn more about SlutWalk in order to understand it better."
For more information on SlutWalk Vancouver, visit go here. Review the Twitter updates or join in on the dialogue using the hashtag #slutwalkvan.
Follow Joanna Chiu on Twitter at twitter.com/joannachiu.