Time to Slutwalk

ANNA SHEINMAN goes ‘slutwalking’ and discovers that this a movement for all – and one to be reckoned with.

Daily Mail Feminism international media protest slut SlutWalk telegraph walk

From Canada to Canberra, Cape Town to Cardiff – since that fateful phrase from a Toronto Policeman, SlutWalking has gone international. The movement concerns ending victim blaming in sexual offences and, more sensationally, reclaiming the word ‘slut’. Naturally, the world’s media has had a field day (and a naughty giggle) at pictures of be-lingeried women protesting their right to dress like sluts. Last Saturday, I SlutWalked in London, and found the experience rather different.

Despite a crowd of 5 000, it was clear that the press photographers lining the route had to work hard to get those pictures of ‘SLUT’ sloganned busts that top every article on the subject. As such, it became clear to me that a lot of the media coverage is kind of missing the point. SlutWalk is not about your right to dress like a slut, it’s about your right to dress like a slut if you want to.

And actually, most of us didn’t. I saw three or four women in bras and hotpants, but I saw just as many in hijabs, a lot of brightly coloured hair, and a whole lot more wearing skirts or jeans.

A headscarf but no hotpants

Whilst The Daily Mail’s coverage predictably focuses on the ‘scantily clad women’, The Telegraph takes issue with the reclaiming of the word ‘slut’. Critical opinion is divided, and the debate rages on. Is it irreparably demeaning, or is reclaiming it empowering?

But, whilst I’m sure it has done wonders for the profile of the movement, there seemed little care on Saturday about ‘reclaiming the word’. Indeed, instead of being full of women who one might suspect are at risk of being labelled a slut, the real joy of the SlutWalk for me was its inclusiveness.

A toddler on her Dad’s shoulders at SlutWalk London

There were toddlers on shoulders, a bunch of sign-wielding school girls, transvestites in skimpy dresses, a large group of cheery young men from the Socialist Workers Party, and an older lesbian couple marching hand in hand.

Why were they there? Because the SlutWalk is about bigger things than 20-somethings in short skirts being treated inappropriately in bars.

We were joined by victims of sex crimes (one sign read: My assault was not my fault), a woman who had been dismayed by her time in a jury for a rape case, and a group of 11 year old school girls (with a mum) who were sick of being leered at by the local builders.

My Assault Was Not My Fault

And it wasn’t just full of women. Men were there too. One man I met was supporting his girlfriend, another was there with work colleagues. They were there because women are their mothers, their lovers, and their friends, and so felt that when a woman claiming she was raped is asked how short her skirt was, it affects them too.

The warm atmosphere on Piccadilly was not due to the smattering of fishnets, or the joy of being called ‘sluts’. Rather, it stemmed from a recognition of the universality of the cause. We were all in it together, from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square, from Canada to Cape Town – a lack of respect for a woman’s right to conduct herself as she wishes, sartorially, sexually or otherwise affects us all. It almost felt like (whisper it) feminism.