The other night I had dinner with a male friend. Afterwards he walked me to my car and I was glad he did because even in a very nice neighborhood, it always feels a little bit unsafe to walk alone, especially after dark. In 50 plus years of living, I’ve long since lost track of the number of times I’ve been harassed on the street, usually minor incidents, but even minor incidents are intimidating and uncomfortable. And that is why I attended SlutwalkDC.
According to the dictionary, the word “slut” means:
- a dirty, slovenly woman.
- an immoral or dissolute woman; prostitute.
The origin of the word can be traced back to the 1300’s, from the Norwegian word slutte, meaning impure liquid. A derogatory label to say the least. Which is why I was extremely uneasy when I first heard about the slutwalks that have been taking place in various cities around the world.
The slutwalks began after Toronto police proclaimed that, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. And that is precisely what this is about.
Time and time again, violence and harassment is blamed on the victim–what they wore, what they said, or simply their lack of penis and courts and police have all to often reinforced this in the way they investigate and prosecute these incidents. Slutwalk isn’t saying that we like the word slut, it is about saying it doesn’t matter what we are wearing or saying or how we are acting, we have had enough of being harassed because we dared to walk down the street while being female.
So on a hot, humid and at times rainy day, hundreds of women and male allies marched down the streets of of Washington, DC. Holly Kearl of the DC based Stop Street Harassment put it this way in her remarks to the crowd,
…we are taking back that power with our activism, with our SlutWalks and by refusing to be silent. We are creating power by being here today and walking and speaking out together.
Could this movement be called something like, “Women Against Street Harassment” instead of using the word slut? Yes, but it would get a lot less attention. Women have been speaking out against harassment since forever, and yet here we are with the problem continuing, so you know what? If even the Toronto police are going to call us sluts because of how we dress, then it is time to use the word to turn the tables. It also opens the door for great visuals and awesome signs, costumes and art were out in abundance at the walk in DC. In addition to the pictures I’ve included here, there are more on the Feminist Peace Network Facebook page.
Finally, shared with her kind permission, Australian poet Susan Hawthorne recorded this poem about the use of the word slut:
Am I still uncomfortable about claiming the word “slut”? Yes. But that isn’t the issue here. The issue is that women should never be blamed for the actions of their abusers and when that blaming continues to be institutionalized by those who are supposed to protect us, then that is what should make us uncomfortable, not the name we chose to give to our response.