SlutWalk Vancouver raises the bar in movement against victim-blaming

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      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.

      Comments

      74 Comments

      Elaine Murray

      May 16, 2011 at 8:46am

      The problem that many females have with the slut walk is that they are as guilty as males in perpetuating the societal value that if you act or dress a certain way, you are asking to be raped. It is just something that is ingrained in our society, As many mothers blame their daughters for getting raped, as fathers. To pretend that what a female wears or where she is, does not factor in rape cases as to how they will be treated, supported or judged in our justice system is a big lie. It is a good time to tackle this issue of good girl bad girl, as it is a sign that females feel empowered enough to do so.

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      wiser

      May 16, 2011 at 9:12am

      these gals have no common sense. Of course it's not their fault if they're raped.however, there are a lot of crazy people in the world and more folks who won't get involved to help someone, so don't you think dressing wisely would help to prevent rape? They act like they can do whatever they want, dress any such way and everyone in the world will curb their actions. Grab a brain...

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      ALi

      May 16, 2011 at 9:36am

      So calling a vicim a slut is now done with pride? these whores are as ugly on the inside as they are on the outside.

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      May 16, 2011 at 9:36am

      Interesting - I never used the word "slut" on a woman, just maybe as a joke and as an immigrant I didn't even think that this is a fine word to be used in the English language, but obviously you don't need to be ashamed to use the word on someone anymore. It is now a part of our language as it is with "fuck", which I hate to hear so often nowadays with the kids English is degrading more and more into a simple language for stupid people...

      Raymond W

      May 16, 2011 at 9:42am

      I am going to start this by saying rape is wrong. Now to the part where people are going to get mad at me. These slut walks is no different then when "african-canadian's" asked for a only "african-canadian" school in Toronto.

      Being a middle twenties man, I have seen growing up how women are dressing and when you have 14/15 year old girls dressing where their butt cheeks pretty much hanging out of your pants. I also knew a 15 year old girl who's dream was to become a "porn star". There is something wrong with society and the way people are raising their children.

      Also the amount of under age drinking or people who can't handle their booze is amazing. Last Thursday night I was standing in line at a ice cream shop waiting in line,with a woman in her early 20's behind me going on how last weekend she drank so much that 15 mins after getting into the bar she completely blacked out and doesn't remember anything that happened. Going on with her story she then tells her companion that she was so "out of it" that she almost went home with some random guy and it was one of her friend that saw her getting into a cab with someone and they went out to grab her. Here I will let you take a guess at what the next part of the conversation was..... It was her asking her friend to come out with her the next night for a party at a bar. So we can tell that this woman didn't learn her lesson and is back at it again. Hopefully nothing happened to this woman.

      Another thing which I have seen in my days is the amount of women where all they do is use men to get things from them. Lead them on, do like things like kissing and then ditch them once they get what they want. It is unfair to men to have women lead them on and use and abuse them. I am not saying that men don't mistreat women cause there are some that do.

      In general I think the women that are going for these slutwalks need to look at the big picture. I am guessing 50% of rape is a 2 way street and can be avoided. I understand that some creep sitting in a alley way waiting for someone is not avoidable (unless they are able to break free and get away) but women using men for money/gifts and leading them need to look at the big picture of having to actually work for what they want.

      My last 2 comments will be this. I have 2 theroies in life when it comes to this subject and had a late 20's woman who is a paramedic agreed with me:
      1) If you cannot dress is normal cloths and need to dress in pretty much nothing to be "sexy" you are not sexy.
      2) Act like a slut and you will get treated like a slut.

      I am sure this has pissed off alot of people but we as a society need to look at the way some women are presenting them selfs and do something about it.

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      jin

      May 16, 2011 at 10:08am

      @wiser: you're comment is perpetuating the ignorant belief that rape is about sex. rape is not about sex - it is about POWER. the ONLY thing that causes rape is RAPISTS.

      perhaps you should "grab a brain" before spouting off your uninformed opinion.

      Cate

      May 16, 2011 at 11:36am

      To some of the other commenters: Yes there are bad women out there who abuse men. There are bad people of both sexes doing all kind of things. This isn't about that. This is about the pervasive attitude in society that projects a certain role onto women and then expects them to live up to that role or they are bad people and worthy of contempt. No one has to play a role that anyone else wants them to play. We all have the right to be who we want to be without being condemned for it. If some women like to party or want to dress in a certain way, that is their business. It does NOT make them deserving of being physically or verbally assaulted. If you feel that it does, you should start looking within yourself as to why you feel this way. The issue is with you, not anyone else.

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      Cate

      May 16, 2011 at 11:48am

      Also commenter Elaine Murray has a point. Many women buy into this attitude as well. These negative belief systems need to be challenged in everyone who holds them. Many women call other women whores and look on them with contempt, they should ask themselves what need is being met within by holding this attitude and if anyone is being helped by it.
      The point that it's not realistic to expect to be treated well in a rape case if you have dressed in a short skirt etc, THAT is what this is all about. Making it so that it is not an issue.

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      Myself

      May 16, 2011 at 11:48am

      No one has the right to force anything on you, no matter how you dress. In fact when its hot and men yank their shirt off, it should scandalize no one for a woman to do the same thing when she IS hot.

      We are not cavemen and women and should not act like them. Control yourselves beasts!

      Barb Altman

      May 16, 2011 at 12:35pm

      Great article Joanna...thanks for being there...it was fun and inspirational and empowering!