SlutWalk Vancouver marches on in spite of criticism

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      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."

      Comments

      21 Comments

      Honk Honk

      May 30, 2013 at 8:49am

      Free Country Brother (& Sisters :) wear what you want or don't wear anything.

      March or don't march, Free Country makes us way better off than folks who live in Communist China or Russia.

      A Man's Perspective

      May 30, 2013 at 12:53pm

      I can't blame women for being upset about the officer who chose his words in such a idiotic way, but I mainly hear the word 'slut' being used by women to insult other women, although a more modern term would be 'skank'. Regardless, I don't think these sorts of protests do much at all to prevent rapes directly, and stats show that as well. I believe that like pedophilia, rape needs to be understood through research on rapists themselves. It appears to be more complex than just men not being aware of what rape is or the media somehow causing it. What these sort of events could do is to encourage governments to invest more money in to the research portion. You can't stop something until you fully understand it.

      Meaning of Slut

      May 30, 2013 at 2:26pm

      In my circles, since teenage years, "slut" has NOT meant an empowered woman who has a healthy, uninhibited sex life with as many partners as she chooses. What "slut" meant, and still means to me and my male and female friends, is a woman who is desperate for male approval, will do anything to get it (even if she doesn't like the guy), has sex with most any man who asks/buys her a drink/tells her she's pretty...even if she is NOT attracted to him. "Slut" to many people means a woman with no self-respect and no boundaries, a woman who places no value on her body and lets anybody 'have at it'. So why be proud to walk under the Slut banner? Women who sell their bodies have more dignity. And by the way, a "slut" is easy for anyone, but a "skank" is the phoney woman who smiles to your face and then fucks or tries to fuck your husband. Big difference.

      Martin Dunphy

      May 30, 2013 at 5:50pm

      Meaning:

      Perhaps grab a dictionary and look up "claim", "reappropriate", "repurpose", "empowerment", etcetera.

      you are right about the dictionary

      May 30, 2013 at 9:30pm

      Dictionaries only go so far. A person's interpretation and experience of a word is shaped by more than what a dictionary or movement says. The negative interpretation of "slut" will always stay with many people. Making "Hitler" a positive word isn't going to happen either, even if you want that to be the case.

      RUK

      May 30, 2013 at 9:47pm

      Slut, as far as I know, used to mean unclean, disorganized, untidy, as opposed to being promiscuous, which is what it means now.

      Slutwalk is not the most appealing of banners but given what it means, and the context in which it arose, I don't see much reason not to support it.

      Gregg

      May 30, 2013 at 10:20pm

      These females are marching to make fools of themselves.

      Oy Vey

      May 30, 2013 at 11:23pm

      "Reappropriate"? "Repurpose"? Oh, dear--it's 'Night of the Living Naive 20-Somethings' all over again. A segment of the African-American population has attempted to "reappropriate" and "repurpose" the N-word. But I guarantee that were you to call an African-American the N-word (of course assuming that you are not of that ethnicity) you would not be greeted with a filial response. Some terms just have too long and venomous a history to rob them of their power to wound.

      Enjoy your stroll through downtown but don't think for a second that you're educating or enlightening anyone or changing society for the better in any fashion. You're not making any would-be rapist rethink his or her actions with this little bit of agitprop theatre.

      canali

      May 31, 2013 at 8:46am

      face it: how you dress reflects your personna and views to the world...get over it....dressing up a bit sexy is one thing and not to be denied, but there are boundaries. you want respect, then dress, talk and act respectfully....simple....doesn't mean it has to be 'traditional conservative garb, either'

      RUK

      May 31, 2013 at 9:56am

      @Oy Vey

      You are right, the rapine is the rapine. Slutwalk is not a statement to the offender, as I understand it - it is a statement to the law and to the lawful, that a woman or girl was not "asking of it" no matter what she was wearing or drinking, in whatever quarter of town, at whatever hour of the night - that her person is inviolable, respectable, rights not abandoned.