Sluts unite!

7 04 2011

“I was wearing pants and underwear, was it my fault too?” read one of many signs at Toronto’s first SlutWalk on Sunday, April 3.

Judging by the crowd that gathered at Queen’s park there are a lot of sluts in Toronto. And we are not afraid to show our pride. And not only women. A lot of men marched too. I observed one such man wearing nothing but black underwear as he shuffled amongst the throng, jeans down around his ankles. There were older women in leopard print and pink fur, young women in bold tights and tube tops, fishnets as far as the eye can see, and moms with kids in tow and signs that read, “Sluts R Us!”

The walk was founded after a Toronto police constable told a personal safety class at York University in January that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” We marched on Sunday because telling a victim that they are responsible, wholly or partly for being sexually assualted based on how short their skirt is, or how much cleavage they show, is bullshit of the most illogical, shameful, disgusting kind. Assault is an issue of gender and power inequality and a woman’s appearance often serves as a scapegoat for the abuser. Rape can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone, regardless of your wardrobe. Dressing “slutty” has nothing to do with it.

I’ve tried to remove “slut”, as a derogatry term, from my vocabulary because I think that it is a woman’s right to consensually fuck as many partners as she likes, as often as she likes, whether it is purely for pleasure or for work, without it being anyone else’s business. And women predominantly carry the slut label, not men. Many of us have had the word, or another form of it (whore, tramp, skank) hurled at us at one time or another. But by reclaiming slut we have the power to make it our own. “A slut is someone who enjoys a lot of sex, and why not?” said SlutWalk co-founder Sonya JF Barnett, and although everyone marching doesn’t claim the slut title we know that slut shaming is wrong.

Appropriately, we finished our march in front of Police Headquarters, where Barnett explained to the crowd that we were there to call foul on the city’s protective services. “We need and expect better.” Another speaker, activist Jane Doe, declared, “It’s not about one bad apple cop, it’s about the institution.” SlutWalk co-founder, Heather Jarvis, said that the group made three requests to the Toronto police; better sexual assault education and training, the use of an external party to provide recommendations, and community outreach about consent and assault. According to Jarvis, the police did not respond to any of these requests.

The reality is that victim-blaming attitudes still exist in the police force because they are prevalent in mainstream culture. News stories about cheerleaders who are penalized for refusing to cheer for their rapist, who is an athlete on the school team, are becoming more common. In Canada, as of 2009, only six percent of violent crimes, including sexual asault, were reported. And if women continue to be stygmatized by law officials that statistic will only decrease. Increased sensitivity in sexual assault training for police is a must. Apologies don’t cut it, we need action. As the SlutWalk crowd dispersed I spied a sign that articulated this urgency, brandished by a fierce-looking woman rocking jean shorts, black stockings and combat boots. It read, “Survivors have been through enough!”

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