For the past two years, SlutWalk has taken over the streets of Vancouver to raise awareness of victim-blaming issues and to counter rape-culture. The rally and march has garnered both attention and criticism, and has been subject to misinterpretation and confusion that organizer Caitlin MacDonald helped to clarify in an interview with the Georgia Straight.
The third annual SlutWalk Vancouver will take place on Sunday (June 2), starting at noon at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Women Against Violence Against Women will speak at the rally along with other community members still to be confirmed. The rally will be followed by a march through the downtown shopping district.
"We really are about being seen and being visible," MacDonald said by phone. "So we're going to have some outreach volunteers who are going to be handing out messages about what exactly SlutWalk's message is and try to bring some awareness to that, and visibility is definitely a big part of that."
That said, when it comes to visibility, MacDonald is quick to point out that what participants wear to the march is completely up to individuals.
"That's something that's been maybe misconstrued from SlutWalk quite a bit….It's not focused on what you're wearing," she said. "We invite anybody to come and dress in what you're comfortable. A lot of participants choose to dress in provocative ways and that's part of bringing the message that it's about consent."
Yet the march was originally inspired by a Toronto police officer who made comments about what women wear. At an Ontario 2011 crime prevention forum, he said that for women to remain safe, they should avoid "dressing like sluts". The first SlutWalk was held in Toronto but have since been held in cities around the world, including in the U.S., the U.K., Brazil, India, Australia, and Poland.
While the original comments that inspired the march were directed at women, MacDonald stressed that the march is about all genders and is inclusive.
"We absolutely want to have a male presence," she said. "That's another message that we're trying to get out, that I think there's a misconstrued belief that in a message about not shaming victims that we're inherently shaming men for their actions, and that's not it at all. We understand that victim-shaming is across all genders. Anybody can be a victim. And anyone can be a perpetrator."
She added that they'd love to have male speakers to give their perspective on issues.
A repeated issue that the walk faces is that concerns and criticism have been raised about the word "slut" as part of the event name. MacDonald pointed out that they did hold a vote about whether or not to change the name and the majority voted to keep the name.
"By virtue of the controversy, it shows just how powerfully charged that word is and it does bring attention to the movement and I think that it opens up dialogue," she said. "We are an inclusive movement so we absolutely respect people that think that they can't reclaim the word for themselves, and if they don't want to participate in SlutWalk for those reasons, then so be it. But we do think that there are wider issues at stake and we sometimes need to get past the name."
Although the term is increasingly being used to refer to male behaviour, both gay and straight, MacDonald pointed out there are some gender differences.
"I think that it is a very gendered term and definitely more degrading and more powerful in the way that it's been used by men towards women. However again, we're trying to maintain that SlutWalk is an inclusive act. Anybody can be a slut and anybody can be an ally. It's the basic message that sexual violence is not okay and we need to really open ourselves up to shifting ourselves away from blaming the victims and excusing perpetrators, whether they're male or female."
She says the relationship between SlutWalk and feminism is one that is extremely complicated. She says that SlutWalk's emphasis is on ensuring that everyone understands these issues are not just for women to deal with or address.
"Naming it a feminist movement and putting the onus on women as a women's movement is the same attitude that we're trying to avoid," she explained. "We're shifting the onus that this is a women's problem. It's not a women's problem. It's everyone's problem and even moreso it can be a men's problem because they need to take the responsibility to not commit violent acts. And we all need to take a look at why anyone would."