There’s a new kind of protest going on in contemporary Third Wave feminism. Slut Walks have turned into a global experience. These marches were sparked in response to a comment made by a police officer at a safety program held at Toronto’s York University in 2011. The policeman apparently criticized women who dress “like sluts” as being partially responsible for a number of sexual assault incidents against their gender. To retaliate, 3,000-4,000 women (and men) marched to voice their right to wear spaghetti strap tank-tops without being told they were “asking for it”. Fastened to this celebration of sexual empowerment was a protest against sexual violence itself.
The Toronto event made such a raucous as to spread globally, influencing the U.S. along with Brazil, Australia, India, and other countries to hold their own version of a Slut Walk. Jo Reger, a professor at Oakland University, attended one of these walks in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her article titled “The Story of a Slut Walk: Sexuality, Race, and Generational Divisions in Contemporary Feminist Activism”, offers readers a down-to-earth exposition of her experience. Reger’s goal was to explore the ways in which “contemporary girls situate themselves in a world that objectifies and simultaneously empowers them” (Reger, 96). After all, the issue of sexual violence against women is an old one and has been a focus of the feminist cause in decades before. What the Slut Walks does, it seems, is to reveal “an old issue that reemerges with new ideological packaging” (Reger, 96). However, the question is…
Is There Anything to Be Gained by Presenting Ourselves as Sluts?
Reger cited two different critiques about Slut Walks.
- A Rejection of the Use of “Slut” Imagery
One group of feminists, notably Gail Dines and Kathy Miriam, claim there is no way women dressing as sluts can turn the gaze of the male to one of respect as opposed to objectification. In a world chock-full of “disempowering (and often pornographic) sexual images of women” (Reger, 88), they believe all these scantily clad women are doing is perpetuating the stereotype and giving males even more license to objectivity them. An article in a May 2011 issue of The Guardian cited Dines and Murphy as arguing that, “Women need to take to the streets—but not for the right to be called “slut.” Women should be fighting for liberation from culturally imposed myths about their sexuality that encourage gendered violence” (Reger, 88).
- Women of Color Point-Out That White Women Organizers Have Not Been Empathetic to Their Historical Situation
Here’s the thing: many Black women say they don’t want to be involved with any kind of cause that calls themselves “sluts”. Members of Black Women’s Blueprint spoke-out in regards to this notion and basically claimed there is no space for them to be involved in these marches because to call themselves “sluts” would be essentially “validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is” (Reger, 88). In response to this statement, some marches have renamed themselves a “Stomp and Holler” so as to include the histories of all women. The march in which Reger attended in Northampton, for example, was renamed a “Stomp and Holler” for this reason.
A Space for Healing…
Despite criticism, Slut Walks, or rather Stomp and Hollers, have operated as spaces where women who have been victims of rape or other forms of sexual assault can come, talk, and deal with the trauma they’ve been through amongst a group of supportive women. These events have often been a place for the beginning of healing, where participants can go from being victims to claiming survival. Many women who have undergone such treatment have found that to call themselves “sluts” is a way to reclaim an agency over their own bodies. They are saying, “Only I can call myself that.” What these marches do then, is allow them to voice what’s been held deep inside and to ultimately, hopefully, thrive again.
The authors of the article “Reclaiming the Feminist Politics of ‘Slutwalk'” cited an article by Melanie Klein on the Ms. Magazine blog in 2011 to sum up the overall goal and point of Slut Walks: “Some of us embrace the word slut. Some don’t. But we’re all marching for two vital liberties: both the freedom to be sexual and the freedom from violence, harassment and rape” (Borah, Rituparna & Nandi, 419).
Reger, Jo. “The Story of a Slut Walk: Sexuality, Race, and Generational Divisions in Contemporary Feminist Activism.” Sage Journals. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Feb. 2015. Web.
Borah, Rituparna, and Subhalakshmi Nandi. “Reclaiming The Feminist Politics Of ‘Slutwalk’.” International Feminist Journal Of Politics 14.3 (2012): 415-421.Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.