Thursday, May 26, 2011

To Walk or Not to Walk

That is the question.  Montreal's SlutWalk is happening this Sunday (May 29th) from 2-5.  Since the appearance of SlutWalk on the scene a few months ago following a Toronto police officer telling women at a York University gathering they could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like "sluts", I have been contemplating whether or not to attend.  The word slut felt heavy in my mouth and it seemed difficult for me to rally around it as a vehicle through which women can combat victim-blaming and violence.  I rally around the word feminist and I am not sure how the two go together.  One of the most thoughtful commentaries I've seen was written by Aura Blogando entitled SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy.  She points out that, in essence, the event has become an exercise in white supremacist hegemony as it has located its discourse around the word slut, as opposed to discussing how institutional racism and violence is leveled against women of color.  Blogando points out that immigrant women of color who report sexual violence are at risk of being deported, and that black sex workers are criminalized.  She says, "The event highlights its origins from a privileged position of relative power, replete with an entitlement of assumed safety that women of color would never even dream of.  We do not come from communities in which it feels at all harmless to call ourselves "sluts".  Aside from that, our skin color, not our style of dress, often signifies slut-hood to the white gaze."  The organizers, by assuming that women can spontaneously "reclaim" a word that is used to stigmatize and shame continue only to further the myth of meritocracy so prevalent in our society.  The organizers want women to be free to call themselves sluts, forgetting that women, and women of color in particular, are not free from that word when it is used as a vehicle for hate.  Although I am positive the event coordinators have good intentions, a horde of scantily clad women does not necessarily challenge sexist culture and ideas.  Aside from that, one of the organizers, Sonya Barnett says she rejects "man-hating, hairy-legged, Birkenstock-wearing" feminists.  She proudly proclaims that she takes "no feminist stance".  Besides being annoying, her comments divert the walk from its awesome feminist origins (anti-victim blaming) and turn it in to a sort of watered down, "mainstream" feminism which is cool for dudes who can call women sluts because its empowering!  Why be ashamed to call yourself a feminist?  Those hairy-legged women are the reason we made it here.
In conclusion, instead of suiting up in my sexist lingerie to march through the streets of Montreal, I think I will stay at home this Sunday, sit myself on the couch and indulge in Jessica Yee's Feminism FOR REAL.  Or maybe just watch some oh-so feminist Disney movies with my kid.


  1. Well, if you are not going I am not going.

    Did they all have hairy legs?

  2. I think I agree with you--I can appreciate an anti-blame movement for victims, but I don't think this is quite doing what it needs to. I don't want to be marching around holding a picket sign proclaiming "slut and proud!" while the perps that actually believe that's what women are stand on the street corners picking their new targets. I really don't agree with what that police officer said, and I do think some kind of action should be taken to discourage that kind of attitude (especially in our law enforcement!), but this feels like a poorly planned stunt that plays right into the hands of the people perpetuating the supremacist/hateful attitudes. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in and for not being afraid to start intelligent discussions about our society.