Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Slut Walking Around the World

The first time I heard the phrase "Slut Walking", I've got to admit, I was taken aback. Had women, seriously, set up a new protest movement to highlight sluts?

But it wasn't the movement that named themselves, it was a Toronto police officer by the name of Michael Sanguinetti, who, when giving advice to women students, said that they should "avoid dressing like sluts" to stay safe on the streets.

Everyone knows what he was trying to say - but it came out all wrong. Of course, women have to do everything they can to protect themselves but does it follow that just because a woman wears skimpy clothes she can be described as a slut and be "asking for it"? No.

Although it is sometimes used by young women (usually relating to another girl who's just started dating their ex-boyfriend), it's at its most derogatory when used by men, as there is no correlative response.

Even in the 21st century, a woman who has multiple partners is labelled a tart or a slut, whereas a man is sowing his seed; doing what comes naturally; scoring another notch on his bedpost; a hero with his mates; has had a good Friday night (or all of the above). But women have bigger problems in the world than name calling.

Do I feel uncomfortable about the name Slut Walk? Yes. But if they had called it Women Against Victim Blaming, the viral nature of the campaign - needed for it to be a worldwide Internet and media success - would have failed. What the inclusion of the word slut does, is to get people talking about Violence Against Women again. This is one of the cases when the end does justify the means.

No matter how a woman dresses, she has no right to be sexually assaulted. Indeed, there is no correlation between the two: In repressive countries such as Saudi Arabia, rape is just as prevalent. Children are raped. Older people are raped. Men are raped. One in five women in the UK will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life. They are victims, not procurers.

But women also don't want double standards. All women wish we had the Diet Coke break window cleaners to look at every day, so we can't (or shouldn't) complain if men give women a wolf-whistle or a friendly Cor blimey luv! if they're looking particularly good on a night out. It's a healthy appreciation for the opposite sex.

Hopefully, a defence lawyer arguing that it was how the woman was dressed that enticed their client to rape them, is confined to the annals of history. You don't hear many lawyers defending a client who's accused of stealing a Lamborghini Gallardo saying: "It was the car's fault for looking so good".

After starting as a Toronto campaign, the Slut Walkers are now a global movement and the Sluts and Allies include both women and men. They're marching in Scotland this Saturday and in London (@slutwalklondon) on June 4th.